The Power of Hope

the power of hope

In 1957 Carl Richter did an experiment with rats. He put them into a glass container filled with water and watched them swim until they finally gave up and drowned. Not sure what kind of childhood Carl had, but I can only assume he was a little different from the other kids.

Carl wasn’t being malicious. He was testing a theory, and unfortunately some lab rats would pay the price so humanity could better understand the power of hope.

Back to the experiment. Most rats gave up and drowned between 2-15 minutes. Carl couold make the assumption that the stamina of rats concerning swimming was limited to 2-15 minutes, right? Wrong.

To test his hypothesis, he modified the experiment where just in the moment the rats gave up he would snatch them out of the water and save them. How kind of him. He let them rest for a moment and then put them back in the water. What he witnessed next was extraordinary.

The rats who were saved momentarily, when placed back into the water were able to swim for over 60 hours before they finally gave up from exhaustion! 15 minutes to 60 hours?! How is that possible?

It turns out that hope plays a massive role in our stamina and willingness to survive painful or exhausting situations.

In his landmark book, Man’s Search For Meaning Vitkor Frankl wrote about his experience during WWII as a Jew in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. He watched the degradation of his fellow men and women and watched just as many, if not more, prisoners die from despair rather than the gas chambers.

Frankl writes “As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners.

Looking at these two scenarios it seems clear that our ability to overcome and succeed in life isn’t just based on our abilities (though that surely plays some part) it’s based on our ability to persevere. And that perseverance comes, largely, from the power of hope.

So, with that knowledge, do you have hope? Do you believe that tomorrow could be better than today? And if you do have hope where does that hope come from? Many people in the concentration camps had lost their hope because it was based on their family, or their beauty, or their money, or some other fleeting thing that had been taken from them.

When you loose everything or are in a dark place you need to find a source of hope that will still be standing no matter what happens to you. And that hope can give you the grit to overcome almost anything you face.

Take a moment today to think about where your hope comes from and make sure it is secure.

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2 Responses

  1. Sam Pardue says:

    Beautiful essay, Scott. I also love the title of this site, “The Mediocre CEO”. So much of Linkedin is about creating this uber myth of success which is kind of like the preening so often seen on platforms like Instagram. My reality is so much more complicated: I’m great at somethings, still learning others, and sometimes astonished at my blind spots. Hope you have a great year, Scott!

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