Aren Cohen, MBA, MAPP '07 is a learning specialist working with academically, motivationally and emotionally challenged students in the leading private schools in New York City. As shown in her website and blog, Strengths for Students, Aren uses the tenets of positive psychology to teach her students to use their strengths of character to change educational challenges into educational triumphs. Full bio. Aren's articles are here.
Over the course of the conversation, we talked about the fact that his new endeavor would require bravery from him. Yet the other thing that was apparent to me was that my friend was now a “seeker.” In planning this trip to another part of the world, and, in a sense, to a whole other world for him, my friend was preparing to find a completely new side of himself. As we talked, I thought more about this notion of the “seeker.” My friend explained that he needed encouragement to undertake this new adventure, but that there was no question in his mind that he wanted to do it. What was clear to me about my friend is that while he doesn’t know exactly what he will find, he does have goals in mind about what he wants to learn from this process. By comparison, I explained to him, he is different from a “searcher.”
We all know people who are “searching.” They are looking for something, but they don’t know what. There are no clear goals and they don’t know how they are going to find what they are looking for. Searching, as compared to seeking, feels aimless. In the article “Strategies for Accentuating Hope,” Lopez, Snyder et. al. (2004) explain that hope is a reflection of three different capacities, namely our ability to set goals and then find our own agency and pathways to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. What I noticed about my friend is that although he doesn’t know where his goals will lead him, he has set clear goals and has found the agency thinking (belief in himself that he can do it) and pathway thinking (the ways and things he is going to have to do to make it happen) to achieve these goals. As a result, the label “seeker” seemed to fit the adventure he was about to undertake. By comparison, the people I have met who are searching do not know their goals, and they are fuzzy on their agency and pathway thinking. Searchers expect that the thing they are looking for will come to them, and they do not actively set about in a process to seek it out and find it.
It is important for positive psychologists and coaches to note the distinction between seekers and searchers. A seeker has already set the path for herself. She may need help motivating to follow the course, to reach the goals, to keep envisioning and acting upon her own agency and pathways, but there is something already in her mind that she wants to achieve. A searcher, however, needs more help and clarification. Searchers have to be supported to help find their goals in the first place. They need to find the thing that will provide motivation and propel them forward. This will require a more in-depth examination of values and wants, learning what makes the person tick and what gives his life meaning. Here you are indeed helping a person find hope because you are aiding him in the process of naming and defining the goals that will give him a course of action. Once these things are identified, the searcher becomes the seeker, and you can move towards helping him find the ways and means to achieve the goals that he has set.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. McGraw-Hill Professional.
Lopez, S. J., Snyder, C. R., Magyar-Moe, J. L., Edwards, L., Pedrotti, J. T. Janowski, K., Turner, J. L., & Pressgrove, C. (2004). Strategies for accentuating hope. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.). Positive Psychology in Practice. pp. 388-404. New York: John Wiley & Sons.