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Purpose – If the ideal self is the emotional driver of intentional change, the purpose of this paper is to explore the components of a person's personal vision and how it comes from their ideal self. Design/methodology/approach – Based on the concept of the ideal self from intentional change theory, the paper examines a variety of theoretical foundations, from psychoanalytic to positive psychology. Each views the ideal self and its components as deficiencies needing therapeutic intervention or the heights of human experience and intrinsic motivation. Findings – The ideal self is a primary source of positive affect and psychophysiological arousal helping provide the drive for intentional change. Many current frameworks or theories examine only portions of this model and, therefore, leave major components unaddressed. The ideal self is composed of three major components: an image of a desired future; hope (and its constituents, self‐efficacy and optimism); and a comprehensive sense of one's core identity (past strengths, traits, and other enduring dispositions). Originality/value – Intentional change is hard work and often fails because of lack of sufficient drive and the proper intrinsic motivation for it. This model of the ideal self creates a comprehensive context within which a person (or at other fractals, a group or system) can formulate why they want to adapt, evolve, or maintain their current desired state.
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Journal of Management Development
The ideal self as the driver of intentional change
Richard E. Boyatzis Kleio Akrivou
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Richard E. Boyatzis Kleio Akrivou, (2006),"The ideal self as the driver of intentional change", Journal of
Management Development, Vol. 25 Iss 7 pp. 624 - 642
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The ideal self as the driver of
intentional change
Richard E. Boyatzis
Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University,
Cleveland, Ohio, USA, and
Kleio Akrivou
Department of Organizational Behavior, Case Western Reserve University,
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Purpose If the ideal self is the emotional driver of intentional change, the purpose of this paper is to
explore the components of a person’s personal vision and how it comes from their ideal self.
Design/methodology/approach Based on the concept of the ideal self from intentional change
theory, the paper examines a variety of theoretical foundations, from psychoanalytic to positive
psychology. Each views the ideal self and its components as deficiencies needing therapeutic
intervention or the heights of human experience and intrinsic motivation.
Findings The ideal self is a primary source of positive affect and psychophysiological arousal
helping provide the drive for intentional change. Many current frameworks or theories examine only
portions of this model and, therefore, leave major components unaddressed. The ideal self is composed
of three major components: an image of a desired future; hope (and its constituents, self-efficacy and
optimism); and a comprehensive sense of one’s core identity (past strengths, traits, and other enduring
Originality/value Intentional change is hard work and often fails because of lack of sufficient
drive and the proper intrinsic motivation for it. This model of the ideal self creates a comprehensive
context within which a person (or at other fractals, a group or system) can formulate why they want to
adapt, evolve, or maintain their current desired state.
Keywords Self development, Change management, Individual psychology, Leadership development
Paper type Conceptual paper
Much has been written about the importance of our dreams or aspirations in
motivating change or development (Oettingen, 1996; Snyder, 2000a, b; McClelland,
1985; Lewin and Dembo, 1947). Some of this comes from the goal setting and goal
orientation literature (Locke and Latham, 1990; Van Der Walle et al., 2001), and
reaching as far back as Lewin and Dembo’s (1947) conceptualization of levels of
aspiration as contrasted to a person’s level of activation. In recent years, a person’s
“vision” and visualization of desired behavior (Taylor et al., 1998) have been described
as an element in sports performance (Snyder et al., 2002), academic performance (Curry
et al., 1997), psychotherapy (Schecter, 1974), and helping recovery from illness and
surgery (Moyers, 1993; Matthews et al., 2004). Related psychological concepts, such as
hope, efficacy, optimism and positive expectations, have helped to elaborate selected
processes by which the person may look to the future, and a hopeful and/or positive
future, and drive the popularity of positive psychology (Seligman and
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Yet, little theoretical work has been done to integrate these
ideas or research.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Journal of Management Development
Vol. 25 No. 7, 2006
pp. 624-642
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/02621710610678454
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In this article, we offer a theoretical model of the ideal self. It is proposed that the
ideal self is the driver of intentional change in one’s behaviour, emotions, perceptions,
and attitudes. The ideal self is the first discovery of intentional change theory (i.e. ICT)
as described in the first article in this special issue (Boyatzis, earlier in this issue).
Because of misguided and incomplete models of how to stimulate desired, intentional
change, the ideal self is perhaps the least understood of all of the components of ICT.
The idea l self
The ideal self is a psychological component of the self (Baumeister, 1998, a, b; Higgins,
1989a) partially conscious and partially unconscious, varying from individual to
individual. It is both privately conceptualised and socially influenced (in Nasby, 1997;
Schecter, 1974). The traditional psychoanalytic therapeutic model sees idealisation as a
defensive function of the self and thus in need of therapeutic intervention (in Schecter,
1974). Within the perspective of positive psychology, the ideal self (IS) is not considered
a defensive function; it is the core mechanism for self-regulation and intrinsic
motivation. It is manifest as a personal vision, or an image of what kind of person one
wishes to be, what the person hopes to accomplish in life and work.
Although the capacity for cognitive-affective ideal self formation “is more strongly
rooted in some personalities than in others” (Schecter, 1974), the ideal self (IS) is an
evolving, motivational core within the self, focusing a person’s desires and hope,
aspirations and dreams, purpose and calling. Discrepancies or congruence between the
actual (i.e. real self) and the person’s ideal self result in unique emotional and
behavioral consequences (Boldero and Francis, 1999). The ideal self serves a
mechanism linked to self-regulation; it helps to organize the will to change and direct it,
with positive affect from within the person. Deep positive affect creates an affective
tone of the specific cognitive processes that take place in the formulation and
Nourishment of the ideal self. The result harnesses the will or drive for self direction,
intentional change, and desired future accomplishments, or in selected cases providing
the energy to maintain and sustain current ideal states in life and work.
In the model of the ideal self proposed, emotion, and more specifically positive
emotion, is seen to have a core role. Positive affect is defined as “a state of high energy,
full concentration, and pleasurable engagement” (Watson and Tellegen, 1985).
Although both cognitive and emotional processes are required for the person to
activate and articulate an ideal self, it is trait based positive emotion which becomes
the driver and the substance of the ideal self overall. Positive affect improves the
thoroughness, efficiency, and flexibility of complex decision making and influences
one’s sense of standards to evaluate your progress against a set of standards. Also, it
facilitates the quality and quantity of pathways of thought and seems to boost an
aspect of executive function, which is the ability to adjust efficiently to new
information and undertake new problem solving efforts in congruence with the new
information (Ashby et al., 1999; Aspinwall and Leaf, 2002).
We propose that once the force of the ideal self is activated, it plays an executive or
motivational function within the self. It monitors and guides all actions and decisions
in a direction which ensures deeper self-satisfaction through the articulation and
direction towards either: the emergence of a new state of being with self actualization
as a core quality evident in either an internal sense of the self in action, such as
knowing you are acting with character and consistent with one’s values, or as evident
The ideal self
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to others through one’s accomplishments; or the maintenance of a current character (i.e.
way of being) or state or condition in life or work, with increased clarity and
mindfulness. The latter requires effort, intentional effort, to sustain the balances
achieved, so it must be a result of focused effort to alter the likely forces of dissonance
and entropy.
Like the concept of “approach motivation” of the 1960s and 1970s in personality
psychology (McClelland, 1985), it is believed the ideal self will show opposite effects
than fear or “avoidance motives” (Boyatzis, 1973; McAdams, 1980; Kelner, 1990). It will
show a longer lasting effect, but has a slower, more complex start up rate than fear or
“avoidance motives”.
The role of fear and avoidance motives are to arouse emotional and cognitive
processes within the person that have the opposite effect of the ideal self, as mentioned
in the Boyatzis article earlier in this special issue and explained in more detail in the
Dyck and Howard articles later in the issue. Arousal of a fear stimulates neural
circuitry starting in the amygdala and emanating with dominant activity in the right
versus the left prefrontal cortex. At the same time, it promotes activation of the
sympathetic nervous system, creating a set of neural and endocrine processes that
stimulate negative or defensive emotions, resulting in a likely shift in perceptions of the
environment as more threatening (or merely anticipating that future events will be
more threatening). This results in defensive or hostile actions that typically result in a
person’s withdrawing or inhibiting new thoughts and alternative ways to approach a
Instead of moving forward, toward a desired future or condition, the person moves
away from and protects himself/herself from threatening aspects of the present or
future. In this manner, arousal of the ideal self engages the positive emotional attractor
(Boyatzis, article earlier in this issue) and its impact on intentional change. Arousal of
fear or avoidance motives engage the negative emotional attractor with its impact on
the person defending himself/herself or being forced to contemplate adaptation not
previously considered (Boyatzis article earlier in this issue).
The ideal self activates the person’s “will,” and by association the possibility of
increased self-monitoring, especially in terms of progress toward or behaviour
consistent with the purpose reflected in the activation of the person’s will. This is the
teleos, or the expression of the person’s will; in James’ terms it is the person’s
“conscious volition” (James, 1897). As he suggested, once activated, the teleological
effect of the will provides the possibility of increased self-monitoring in terms of the
decisions and choices. This can be translated into decisions to sacrifice certain
immediate rewards for the sake of accomplishment of more important and often
longer-term goals.
Components of the ideal self
The overall model offered of the ideal self is shown in Figure 1. As can be seen, we
propose that there are three major components converging into the articulation of the
person’s ideal self, and the resulting personal vision.
The ideal self contains imagery of a desired future (a novel one, or one existing over
time, or one continually forming and revisited). This image is the articulation or
realization of the person’s dreams, aspirations, and fantasies. It is of cognitive nature
yet, fuelled by the affect resulting from one’s passion, dreams, and values. Specifically,
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we believe the person’s dreams of the desired future/state are a function of his/her:
sense of calling or purpose in life; driven by their passion, values and operating
philosophy; and stage in life or one’s career.
Second, the ideal self is emotionally fuelled by hope. Although the psychological
processes related to hope are still under research, most researchers agree that hope is
caused by the degree of the person’s optimism. Also, it is the expression of their degree
of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy determines their perceptions of possibilities to
differentiate this component from “pie in the sky” or false hope (Groopman, 2004).
Some of the most prominent current literature on hope sees the concept as mainly
cognitive in nature (Snyder, 2000c). Yet we believe that hope is an experienced state
and, therefore, may be more accurately portrayed as an emotional state. This view is
supported by Aspinwall and Leaf (2002) and by Skinner (1996). Additionally, the hope
component of the ideal self model is defined by one’s ability to generate cognitive
processes that assess and judge the feasibility of that which is hoped. Even here,
though, the cognitions are less judgemental and more affective.
The third component of the ideal self is the person’s core identity. This is relatively
stable, and likely unconscious set of enduring individual characteristics, like his/her
unconscious motives and traits, as well as roles adopted consistently in social settings.
In this manner, the core identity is the personal context within which underlies the
historical and continuing aspects of a person’s ideal self and one’s deeply seated
autobiographical themes that make a vision coherent and intense.
A major confusion about the ideal self comes from the “ought self.” The ought self
as a concept is used in various labels in the literature (Baumeister, 1998; Higgins,
1989a; Markus and Nurius, 1986). It explains a version of the ideal self imposed by
others, or by a person’s internal desire to please others (Boyatzis, 1973). Reference
groups or social identity groups affect the individual by anticipatory socialization or
value induction. Groups that you wish to be a part of or identify with and feel that you
Figure 1.
Components of the
ideal self
The ideal self
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belong to become sources of either a person’s ideal self or your ought self. Parents,
teachers, respected or feared authority figures, or those with whom you wish to be
admired, respected, or loved become sources of one’s ideal self or ought self.
The dilemma is that it is often confusing, in the moment, when these forces or social
pressures for role conformity are occurring. Are they things you really wish to be or
accomplish, or are you compromising your deeper dreams and values to be considered
a “good” member of a group? Quite simply, the ought self is someone else’s version of
what they think your ideal self should be. To the extent this becomes intentionally
integrated into a person’s ideal self, there appears to be no conflict among the various
selves. But if they are somewhat different and a person works toward the ought self, at
some point in the future, they will awake and feel betrayed, frustrated, and even angry
at the time and energy they wasted in pursuit of dreams and expectations that they
were never passionate about.
Ideal self leads to a personal vision
As described in the first article in this special issue, by Boyatzis, discovery, or more
accurately conscious realization of one’s ideal self may appear as a surprise or an
epiphany. This emergence of a new insight or awareness is a discontinuous break with
prior consciousness about one’s aspirations or future. In complexity theory terms, it is
a phase change. It is a small adjustment to a person’s awareness of their desires that
has a huge impact on their perceptions and choices. The ideal self provokes a phase
change in the person’s change or adaptation process. In this way, it provokes or
invokes intentional change.
To have this impact on the person’s behaviour, feelings, and perceptions, the
articulation of the ideal self can be a strong personal vision. This engages the positive
emotional attractor, which in turn enables an assessment of a person’s capability as it
may help or hinder movement toward the ideal self. We call this the personal balance
sheet (see the Taylor article and the Dyck and Howard articles in this issue). This
promotes the development of a person’s learning agenda and then a more articulated
learning plan, experimentation and practice with new behaviour, feelings, and
perceptions, and the eventual desired changes in either the person’s actual behaviour
(their real self) or their aspirations and dreams of the future (their ideal self). As shown
in the ICT, each of these discoveries is facilitated by the observations, interpretation,
feedback, and encouragement of others with whom the person has a trusting
Hope: the affective driver
A major determinant of the ideal self is hope. Scholarly work on hope place its
antecedents in the motivational and cognitive literature of 1960s to 1980s, stressing the
desire to seek goals and the importance of cognition and the architecture of human
thought processes (Anderson, 1983; Ashby et al., 1999). Goals are seen to be the
cognitive component that is at the core of recent hope research. Accordingly, hope has
been conceptualised as a cognitive set which is built on the importance of goals
(Snyder, 2000c, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1991; Snyder, Ilardi, Michael and Cheavens, 2000;
Snyder et al., 1997; Lee et al., 1989; Pervin, 1989). Hope has often been seen as a
unidimensional construct related to a general perception that goals can and will be met
(Cantril, 1967; Erickson et al., 1975; Farber, 1968; Frank, 1973, 1968; French, 1952;
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Gottschalk, 1974; Lewin, 1938; Menninger, 1959; Melges and Bowlby, 1969; Mowrer,
1960; Stotland, 1969).
Ludema (1996) traced the roots of the concept of hope. He reported in his review on
the concept of hope in Western tradition, that in Greco-Roman times, there was an
ambivalence about hope. It was both a human projection of desire, with human failings
and limitations. Judeo-Christian tradition saw hope as a divine gift with practical
implications here on Earth. But it was the Christian theologians of the Middle Ages
that brought hope into an ethereal level. Augustine called hope a basic human virtue
and a path to God. Meanwhile, Aquinas claimed hope gave direction toward action.
From in-depth interviews, Ludema (1996) concluded that hope has four enduring
(1) hope brought people together and built relationships;
(2) hope assumes an openness to the future and imagination;
(3) hope is an “ultimate concern” of human nature; and
(4) hope feeds creativity.
Snyder referred to the myth of Pandora box in ancient Greece, as an early
conceptualisation of the concept of hope (Snyder, 2000a, b).
Among the recent research on hope as a psychological construct, Menninger
wrote an academic lecture on hope in 1959, and Erickson defined hope as a
psychiatric variable in his 1975 publication (Erickson et al., 1975; Menninger,
1959). The most extensive research on hope as a psychological construct has been
done by C.R. Snyder (Snyder, Rand and Sigmon, 2002; Snyder, Rand, King,
Feldman and Woodward, 2002; Snyder, 1996, 1994, 1991). He has outlined a
three-dimensional construct. In his terms, hope is “a positive motivational state
that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful a. agency (goal
directed) energy and b. pathways (planning to meet goals), as well as c. goals”
(Snyder, 2000c). As noted earlier, goals provide targets of thought processes. They
may be verbal descriptions or visual images. They vary in terms of temporal
frame and degree of specificity (Snyder, 2000c). They may reflect positive, or
approach goals or negative goal outcomes (Snyder et al., 2002). “Pathways
thinking” involves the perception that a path to the hoped future is feasible
(Snyder et al., 2002).
In Snyder’s model, his concept of “pathways thinking” is similar to our notion that
self-efficacy affects the person’s experience of hope by creating a belief in the
feasibility, or possibility that the desired future or state might occur. In this way, the
hope is genuine and not foolish (Groopman, 2004; Snyder, 2000c), therefore that it is
realistic and feasible. In contrast, that which is entirely out of one’s possibility is
discarded as unrealistic and therefore not worthy of effort or even dreaming. People
who are more optimistic and experience positive emotions set this marker high,
meanwhile more pessimistic people set this marker low (Seligman, 1991; Fredrickson
and Soiner, 2002). Therefore, we believe optimism must be incorporated into the
components that affect a person’s experience of hope. This helps to explain why some
people claim, or consciously claim that they do not dream. They do not want to be
disappointed. They lack optimism, or a sense of possibility, and therefore, place no
The ideal self
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affect on the desired image of the future, or even worse, they place a negative affective
label on it turning the positive force into a restraining force.
Snyder (2000c) said that people with high hope are also producing alternative routes
to their goals, and when in situations when they face goal impediment (Irving et al.,
1998; Snyder et al., 1991, 1996; Tierney, 1995). Agency thinking is an additional
motivational component of Snyder’s definition of hope (Snyder, 2000c). But this is
where we believe Snyder’s concept confuses different constructs, that of the emotional
condition toward and the conceptual image of the desired future. We believe, by
separating these two concepts, we achieve greater clarity on the internal mechanism of
a person’s ideal self.
In addition, in the above literature of hope there are overlaps and similarities with
the concept of efficacy, as described in motivational and personality literatures as self
efficacy and optimism. Literature on control beliefs shows confusion with agency and
pathways thinking. Aspinwall and Leaf (2002), and Skinner’s (1996) review of a large
number of control-related constructs found three related sets of beliefs, namely beliefs
about agent-ends relations (personal control beliefs), beliefs about agent means
relations (efficacy expectations) and means ends relations (response efficacy,
optimism). Agency thinking seems close to a combination of the first two sets of beliefs
(agent-ends and agent-means), while the pathways concept is parallel to means-ends
thinking (Aspinwall and Leaf, 2002).
In the model of the ideal self proposed in this article, optimism and efficacy are seen
as the main determinants and generators of hope, and therefore, key determinants of
the ideal self. Efficacy and optimism research provided insights on the nature and the
difficulty of goals selected and the mechanisms through which the ideal self becomes a
motivational force within the self, guiding the individual on goals selection, review, as
well as goal adaptation, focus and change in behaviours or the goals themselves the
face of adversity, integration of both negative and positive information. Self-efficacy
related research also helps to understand how the person can sacrifice immediate
rewards for the sake of accomplishment of the important ones.
Between the 1960s and 1970s, there had been a lot of research and theory developed
on the role of self-referent thought in psychological functioning (DeCharms, 1968;
Rotter et al., 1972; Lefcourt, 1976; Perlmuter and Monty, 1979; Garber et al., 1980).
Bandura’s research on self-efficacy (1986, 1982, 1977) emphasized the centrality of
self-perception of efficacy in human agency, through its influence on psychological
functioning during anticipatory and actual transactions with a person’s environment.
Self-efficacy is found to be the cognitive mediator in the relationship between
knowledge and actions (Bandura, 1997). A person’s perception of his/her capability
also determines what kind of goals people will be chosen, how much effort will be
invested and how much and how long one will maintain persistence in the face of
obstacles or aversive experiences (Bandura, 1997). This is where the hope component
of the ideal self interacts with the core identity component. That is, the person’s
awareness of his/her enduring capability and dispositions.
Strength of a person’s efficacy predicted behavior change (Kolb and Boyatzis, 1970;
Bandura, 1982). The stronger the perceived efficacy the more likely are people to
persist in their efforts until they succeed (Bandura, 1982). In Bandura’s social learning
theory, a source of cognitive motivation is directly linked to goal setting (Bandura,
1977, 1982). It requires personal standards of excellence against which one is able to
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evaluate his/her own performance. People create self-incentives for their actions
(intrinsic motivation) by linking self satisfaction with a certain level of performance
mastery self motivation is sustained through the adoption of feasible sub goals that
lead to large future goals (Bandura, 1977). According to Bandura (1977; 1982),
self-efficacy beliefs may vary on three dimensions:
(1) particular level of difficulty of the goal (magnitude or level dimension);
(2) certainty of the person about performing particular level of goals (strength
dimension); and
(3) generality across contexts and situations.
Recent research has focused in the third dimension, termed general self-efficacy, which
is a more stable dimension of self-efficacy, seen by many researchers as another
motivational trait (Chen et al., 2001), which they believe is resistant to ephemeral
influences and is developed through the aggregation of previous life experiences and
the role of successes and failures in an individual’s life history.
Attitudinal optimism has received much attention and been a driving force in the
positive psychology movement (Seligman, 1991). Scheier and Carver (1985) define
optimism as a stable personality trait of cognitive nature that is operationalized as a
measure of generalized positive expectancies in certain and uncertain times, thus
stressing the role of outcome expectancies in the prediction of goal-directed behavior.
Attitudinal optimism has been seen as enabling:
vigorous and effective goal pursuit;
cognitive evaluation and useful integration of negative information about the
capability for adaptation to changes in life brought about by unexpected
negative life events; and
ability for the individual to select which are the critical goals to engage, as well
as ability to disengage from goals that become irrelevant, not able to lead to
success, unsolvable, or misleading (Aspinwall et al., 2001, 2000, 1999, 1996;
Carver et al., 1993; Taylor et al., 1992; Scheier et al, 1986).
As mentioned previously, we believe this has confused the desired end states, the
goals, with the belief that they are possible to be achieved and the affective tone of each
of these thoughts or images. In our model, we are attempting to clarify each of these
elements, separately, to document their primary interactions and facilitate their
accurate assessment.
Current research on hope converges on the underlying base of hope as cognitions
(Snyder, 2000c; Snyder, Feldman, Taylor, Schroeder and Adams, 2000; Snyder, Ilardi,
Cheavens, Michael, Yamhure and Sympson, 2000; Snyder, Ilardi, Michael and
Cheavens, 2000; Snyder and McCullough, 2000; Snyder, 1995, 1994, 1991). In their view,
emotions are not seen to be at the core of hope, as they are seen as rather reactive and
evaluative in nature, with “feelings playing an important albeit contributory role”
which is not further defined (Aspinwall and Leaf, 2002). Affect is seen to be following
cognitive appraisals of goal related activities (Snyder, 1991). As individuals proceed to
goal attainment, emotional feedback reinforces agency thinking, resulting in the
The ideal self
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continuation of activity toward the goal (Aspinwall and Leaf, 2002). This confusion as
to the image, or goals, and the affect is a major problem.
Although we view emotion as a part of each of the components of the ideal self and
the driving force of a person’s intentional change, the positive emotion involved in the
experience of Hope is central to the power of the ideal self. Positive emotion emerges
from the sense of agency or self-efficacy, and the belief that there will be feasible routes
to the accomplishment of the hoped for image or state. All of this adds to the person’s
degree of optimism, resulting in the aggregate positive affect encoding of the images or
dreams of the future and the person’s core identity (their sense of their own enduring
dispositions, strengths, traits, and such). As we said earlier, positive emotion is defined
as “a state of high energy, full concentration, and pleasurable engagement, while
negative affect is defined as “a general dimension of subjective distress and
unpleasurable engagement that subsumes a variety of aversive mood states, including
anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, fear and nervousness” (Watson and Tellegen, 1985).
Does this mean that people who are relatively lower in self-efficacy and optimism
experience less hope? Yes. We believe that the experience of hope drives the energy,
through positive emotions, attached to the image or dream of a desired future. Without
these positive emotions, we believe that the person becomes defensive, loses “hope,”
and withdraws energy or commitment to the effort of change.
The image
If the hope component is the affective driver of the ideal self, and the core identity is the
personal context, the dream or image of a desired future is the content of the ideal self.
It is the picture of what is hoped to be. Again, whenever we refer to the dream or the
image of a desired future, it does not imply that a person has to change. For example, a
person may be in a current state that he/she feels in perfect or the best balance that is
possible. In such a situation, the dream of a future state is the continuation of the
current state. In such a situation, we believe there is still the need to formulate and
activate the ideal self for the investment of time and energy needed to maintain or
sustain this present condition. All of the dynamics of ICT apply here as well.
The dream or image of a desired future comes from many sources. Dreams and
fantasies are the expression of one’s inner needs, wishes, fears (Murray, 1938;
McClelland, 1985). They interact with each other in an on-going manner, over time. So
there is a dynamics quality to the dream. Among the major sources are one’s values
and philosophy. These are created and nurtured by a person’s family of origin, current
family, reference groups, and social identity groups to which one belongs or aspires to
belong (Boyatzis et al., 2000). A person history and enduring dispositions, including
those characteristics labelled as strengths, become a continuous input into one’s values
and philosophy. In other words, such perceptions of one’s own qualities, and the extent
to which they are positively valued (i.e. seen as strengths), will affect one’s values and
be interpreted by one’s operating philosophy.
But the images of a desired future is also a function of a person’s career and life
stage. What you consider a noble and worthwhile aspiration when you are 21 is
typically different from what you dream about doing or being when you are 58. In
addition, a person’s discovery of their purpose, or calling, also feeds into the dream.
Being aware of your own passion, that which makes you feel life is worth living and
you are fulfilling a promise of some higher being or life force, is your calling.
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Throughout history of mankind, humans are driven by their imagination and their
ability to see images of the desired future. Leaders, poets, writers, composers, artists,
dreamers, athletes have been able to be inspired, stay inspired and inspire others
through such images. These images, once shared, have the power to become a force,
and in that sense an inspiration for social development and growth, for intentional
change at many levels of social organization, not just for the individual.
The dream or image of a desired future is often a compilation of a variety of
preferences, aspirations, wishes, and fantasies. But the specifics of each dream or
fantasy are not necessarily insight into the person’s ideal self. Just as with dream
analysis, you must probe below the manifest level and extrude the insight from the
latent themes which are inherent in these dreams and fantasies (McClelland, 1985;
Boyatzis, 1998).
The dream or image of desired future is not what a person fears and wants to avoid.
it is a mental and emotional state in which a person is elated and aroused, we believe, in
their parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. PSNS). This is quite the opposite
neuro-endocrine process to that which is engaged when a person contemplates
something they fear or want to avoid. In such case, a person’s limbic system is aroused,
starting with the amygdale and their sympathetic nervous system (i.e. SNS) is aroused
(Sapolsky, 2004). This involves a stress response. Once engaged, arousal of the SNS
has the effect of limiting thought but focusing neural circuits on the object of fear or to
be avoided (Boyatzis, Smith, and Blaize, in press). The resulting “fixation” blocks out
other neural circuits or thoughts. At the same, the arousal of the SNS causes cortisol to
be secreted into the bloodstream and has the resulting effect of inhibiting neurogenesis
(i.e. the creation of new neural tissue from stem cells, which create the possibility of
new learning) and shrinkage or death of older neurons from over stimulation (Boyatzis
and McKee, 2005). All of this means that fear and stress arousal not only lead to
feelings of nervousness, depression, or sadness and fear, but also limit the person’s
access to their current neural circuits (their brain) and learning. It is believed that
dreaming about the future, experiencing hope, and arousing images of a desired future
leads to arousal of the PSNS and all of the positive effects on new learning, access to
more of one’s neural circuits, and a perception of wanting to spend more time in
thinking about these images (Boyatzis and McKee, 2005). The power of the ideal self is
not just emotional. It is physical in that it involves neuro-endocrine processes that
allow the body to renew itself, while ameliorating the ravages caused by chronic stress
(Boyatzis, and McKee, 2005).
But the process of evaluating or judging the worthiness of one’s dreams
immediately invokes stress. This results in limiting your openness to new ideas and
possibilities. This is the essential difference in the positive and negative emotional
attractors. Similarly, increasing a person’s commitment to their ought self, to the extent
it is different from their ideal self, can have the effect of limiting flexibility about even
considering the ideal self (Berlinger, 1994).
The core identity one’s context and resources
As we mentioned earlier, the core identity is the compilation of the person’s enduring
dispositions. Their unconscious motives, traits, roles taken consistently in social
settings, and other habits become the basis for their core identity. In addition, this is
evaluated by their reference groups, social identity groups, and anticipatory
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socialization (groups within which they would like to included). So these dispositions
take a relatively positive or negative value. In this sense, like Trafinow, Triandis and
Goto claimed, our concept of core identity is comprised of “social identity” in group
memberships, affiliations, and connections to different social collectives, and “personal
identity” often referred to as one’s attitudes, traits, feelings and behavior (Abrams and
Hogg, 2001, 2003).
A growing interest in techniques called “strength based” approaches to
development or training seek to help the person identify strengths they have shown
in the past. In a typical exercise, a person is asked to interview ten to 20 people with
whom they work, live, and play, asking them to recall “a time when I was at my best.”
Then, each respondent is asked to tell about the person’s actions and their impact on
others. The person takes all of these stories and conducts a thematic analysis, looking
for themes and patterns. The resulting list of ways they act when they were “at their
best” constitutes an inventory of their strengths as observed, experienced, and
remembered by others. It is a powerful exercise that makes people feel a surge of
self-confidence and often accompanying self-esteem. We believe this burst of positive
emotion and self-evaluation provides a boost to their sense of self-efficacy, and
therefore, hope about the future. It also arouses, we believe, the PSNS and creates a
neural condition in which they are open to new ideas. These may include new ideas
about the future.
But it is precisely this effect that is important but not sufficient to yield a potent
ideal self and driver of intentional change. Each person needs a clear image of a desired
future. By building the articulation and awareness (consciousness) of the core identity,
the person is prepared for the development of the image of a desired future, and the
accompanying sense of hope. Without this additional jump into the fantasized future, a
person may feel compelled to recreate conditions of the past in order to continue utilize
their “strengths” and not experiment with new behavior.
The three processes leading to a healthy ideal self
There are three paths or processes by which a person can develop a healthy and robust
(i.e. meaningful and useful) ideal self, as shown in Table I. One is to increase one’s
Phase change criteria When it is low
Is the ideal self
articulated, explicit?
Mindfulness or consciousness The person experiences catastrophic
jumps, surprises, or emergence. The
person is mindless or in denial of a
desired future
Is the ideal self
Salience or intensity of desire for
the components of the ideal self
Like New Year’s Eve resolutions, the
person makes superficial commitments
to change
Is it integrated with the
Coherence or a holistic inclusion of
all components of the person’s
desired life and future
The person experiences surprises and
unintended consequences in other parts
of their life even when making progress
or changes in other parts of their life or
Table I.
Three paths leading to a
healthy ideal self
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mindfulness about the ideal self and its components. Another is to test the salience or
importance of the components. A third is the determination of the coherence of the
image is it an holistic image of a desired future?
Each of these processes enables the person to establish increased congruence
between his/her unconscious and conscious, between his/her seemingly fanciful
dreams and aspirations, and thoughts and feelings. Without mindfulness or awareness
of the ideal self and its components, it would be difficult for a person to sort out and
evaluate the degree of importance each component has. Similarly, it would be
impossible to test the holistic nature of one’s image of the desired future. How can a
person discover that he/she forgot to consider his/her partner or spouse without
awareness of both the components and their spouse or partner’s wishes and dreams?
The power of the ideal self, in accessing more neural circuits, more learning
possibilities, and the emotional state of elation provides a fertile ground for
contemplating the future. The person is more likely to be engaging all aspects of
his/her hopes, dreams, and strengths. It diminishes the possibility of repressed wishes
or fears and less subject to undesired effect of their ego defence mechanism (Freud,
Implications for research and practice
This article proposed a model in which the ideal self becomes a motivational core and
the locus of positive emotion within the self. Further, it is our contention that this ideal
self drives the personal vision which, in turn, drives sustainable, intentional change.
Similarly, we believe collective, shared desired images of the future, shared hope, and
shared sense of a group’s identity and distinctiveness, in the same way, become the
shared vision that drives sustainable, intentional change at these other levels of human
and social organization as discussed in more detail in other articles in this issue.
Drawing from advances in positive psychology as well as classic psychological theory,
we proposed a novel and more detailed determination of the construct of the ideal self
and its determinants.
This is a prescriptive model that needs to be refined and tested through empirical
research. Research validating this model should primarily focus in three directions:
First, the links between the variables of hope and the degree of activation of a person’s
ideal self (increased consciousness, salience and coherence) need to be established and
validated through research. Second, the offered model linking the constructs of self
efficacy and optimism with the construct of hope needs to be further explored. In the
relevant literature the measures offered for these constructs seem to be seen as
unrelated and as measuring three distinct psychological processes. We believe that the
inherent assumptions in existing work require new ways of measuring the constructs,
as well as clarity as to their distinctions form each other. Third, the sources and roles of
one’s dreams, aspirations, and the components of a desired image of the future need to
be studies. This would include how a person’s values and operating philosophy is
affected by one’s life and career stages, the role of passion and calling, and so forth.
Conceptualizing and recognizing the ideal self as the driver of sustainable change
reverses common practice and common assumptions at all levels of change. For
individuals, people often believe a shock drives change. In organizations, the
assumption is that urgency and threat can provoke change. Intentional change theory
helps us to see that the ideal self at the individual level, shared vision and dreams at
The ideal self
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collective levels are the real driver of change. But even with the recent increase in
popularity and research in positive psychology, the actual mechanism is elusive and
often misrepresented as seeming to require mere feeling good and change and good
things will happen. The model of the ideal self and its counterpart at collective levels of
social organization provides a more detailed model of how emotion, conceptualization
of a desired state and one’s past and dispositions might fit into a personal or shared
While stories abound with this impact for sports figures, what is needed is careful
research to support or refute or modify the elements of this model and how they affect
each other. Current measures often confuse one of more of these concepts and make
divergent validity difficult to establish. The use of qualitative methods of thematic
analysis may be required to access and encode a person’s dreams, or a team’s or
organization’s. Cultures express shared dreams in their mythology and folklore (or the
current version of that as highly viewed movies, listened to songs, and repeated
archetypal stories). Research would then follow to help us understand how best to
arouse and help people articulate these dreams for themselves and shared dream that
will drive collective intentional change.
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Further reading
Abramson, L.Y., Seligman, M.E. and Teasdale, J.D. (1978), “Learned helplessness in humans:
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Aspinwall, L.G. and Richter, L. (1999), “Optimism and self-mastery predict more rapid
disengagement from unsolvable tasks in the presence of alternatives”, Motivation and
Emotion, Vol. 23, pp. 221-45.
Bandura, A. (1989), “Human agency in social cognitive theory”, American Psychologist, Vol. 44,
pp. 1175-84.
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Boyatzis, R.E. (1982), The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance, John Wiley &
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Boyatzis, R.E. (1999), “Self-directed change and learning as a necessary meta-competency for
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Employee Success in the Coming Decades, Greenwood Publishing, Westport, CT, pp. 15-32.
Boyatzis, R.E. (2001), “How and why individuals are able to develop emotional intelligence”, in
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About the authors
Richard E. Boyatzis is a Professor in the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western
Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. He is the corresponding author and can be contacted
Kleio Akrivou is a PhD candidate in the Department of Organizational Behavior, Case
Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
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... Given the research questions' focus on ELs conceptions of self, it is important to understand how self-concept is defined and understood. Self-concept is a general term used in psychology to refer to how individuals think about, evaluate, or perceive their behaviors, abilities, and characteristics (Bailey, 2003;Baumeister, 1999;Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006;Epstein, 1973;Harter, 2012;Lewis, 1990;Rogers, 1959). Psychologists categorize self-concept in a variety of ways. ...
... In positive psychology, the ideal self is thought to include three parts: an image of a desired future, hope, and a sense core identity. It is the emotional driver of intentional change and intrinsic motivation (Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006). If the ideal self conflicts with an individual's self-image, self-esteem is negatively impacted. ...
The purpose of this narrative inquiry was to explore the experiences of English learners (ELs) participating in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IB MYP) at a suburban middle school in Southeast Michigan. The International Baccalaureate Organization recognizes several key ideas that align with established theories of second language acquisition and culturally responsive pedagogy. While in theory, ELs should thrive in IB programs, little research is available on their experiences in American IB schools, and some research has brought to light discrepancies in the stated and actual language ideologies at play in such programs. The aim of this study was to document the lived and told stories of ELs who are participating in the IB MYP to identify how the program shapes their conceptions of self and acknowledges their academic, linguistic, and social needs. Findings suggest that key elements of the IB MYP, including the IB learner profile and focus on international-mindedness, contribute positively to participants’ strong identity as learners, self-esteem, and developing social and ethnic identities as multilingual students. Participants strongly believe their needs are being met, particularly through the efforts of individual teachers as they implement the IB approaches to teaching that remove barriers to learning and promote conceptual understanding of content through inquiry, real-life contexts, and collaboration. Examining the findings through the lens of LangCrit reveals that the IB MYP does not appear to overcome dominant cultural ideology that perpetuates meritocracy and traditional definitions of intelligence and success.
... Specifically, the key discovery was triggered by the one-on-one coaching sessions with the leadership development coach as it enabled the program participants to clarify their visions and build an agenda around these self-determined visions. These findings enrich the intentional change theory by demonstrating the implications and effects of one's desired state of visioning and exploring the ideal self [53], and how the coaching approach with a high-quality coaching interaction can help facilitate and reinforce the coached individuals' drive, agency, and determination to transcend and transform the conventional ways of working. ...
... Intentional change theory in the context of leadership development has been wellexplained by Boyatzis [36] and, to some degree, studied empirically in the organizational context [55] and individual leader level [53]. This study provides qualitative insights into the impacts of intentional change theory at the individual level-junior and mid-level managers in Vietnam, specifically as the guiding approach to coaching in the experience economy that relies on distinctive and high-quality interactions between customers and front-line employees. ...
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Coaching has been recognized as a valuable developmental approach in the field of leadership development, able to support aspiring leaders to attain their personal and professional goals, as well as support their teams in a rapidly changing, increasingly uncertain, and complex business environment. Coaching programs have the potential to support the creation of culture norms that can better support optimal working attitudes and behaviors, contributing to improved performance through evolved leadership capacity. However, the use of leadership coaching in the experience economy, and specifically the tourism and hospitality industries, is mostly unreported. In a case study of coaching tourism and hospitality managers and educators in Vietnam, the intentional change theory was used to support the development of coaching behaviors. The program learning evidence from a six-week long coaching program showed that those participants who aspire to become effective leaders can engage in coaching behaviors through leadership identity, engagement in intentional leadership development, and through more mindful and collaborative actions. This chapter presents a starting point for other “leader as coach” programs, advancing the field of evidence-based tourism and hospitality leadership development. Theoretical and practical implications are also discussed.
... Oftentimes, prospection is an adaptive process that can foster positive developmental outcomes. And conceptualizing the ideal self-that is, a vision for a desired future, hope, and a sense of identity-can facilitate intentional and sustainable change (Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006). ...
The stories we tell can shape our lives and our experiences. Unfortunately, many African American adolescents are often subjected to stereotypes and one-sided deficit narratives that can become self-fulfilling prophecies undermining their achievement, aspirations, and well-being. However, the college admission process offers an intervention opportunity to help these students tell a different story—their story. In this paper, the author presents an analysis of the threats and opportunities inherent in the college-admission process and a literature review on topics aligned to three pillars—beliefs, belonging, and becoming. The paper concludes with the application plan for an intervention that leverages the college admission essay and essay-writing process to reframe beliefs and shape positive personal narratives. Inspired by research from narrative psychology, social psychology, and positive psychology, OurStory challenges dominant deficit narratives and aims to improve academic outcomes, college matriculation rates, and adolescent flourishing and well-being.
... These suggestions to change themselves are indeed good for employees to adapt to their work environment. The problem is, changing oneself is a painful, long process, and requires a very strong internal motivation (Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006). Not many employees are willing to change themselves. ...
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... Several lines of evidence suggest that ideal self is aspirational (Boyatzis and Dhar, 2022) and is a prominent driver for intentional change (Boyatzis and Akrivou, 2006). Ideal self has the nature of being promotive, which indicates the acquiring propensity of hopes, advancements etc., rather than being preventive or avoiding possible negative outcomes (Higgins, 1998). ...
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... Lamb (2012) further defined IL2S as an individual's ideal image of the language user he or she wants to be, which encourages people to take action toward their goals. IL2S can also be driven by a person's passions, dreams, and values (Boyatzis & Akrivou, 2006). Researchers have found that IL2S is similar to integrativeness but can explain the variance in key standard measures more effectively than integrativeness (Ryan, 2009;Taguchi et al., 2009). ...
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Leaders matter to organizational performance and adaptability. Effective leaders matter the most in a dramatic and positive manner. This chapter is really about the role of intelligence in leadership, not the claim that the capability to be an effective leader is a distinct individual characteristic or a type of intelligence. Intelligent leadership, therefore, is leadership in which a person uses many forms of intelligence: cognitive, practical, emotional, and social intelligence. The chapter also examines how the role of the unconscious motive of the Need for Power, a sense of purpose, values, style and the quality of relationships (in terms of shared vision, compassion, and energy) are essential to effective leadership. There is also a brief review of the dark side of leadership.
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Introduction There is an emerging literature which suggests that personality can be changed intentionally through coaching methods, however, the long-term efficacy of such interventions has not been tested. This study aimed to determine the long-term efficacy of an intentional personality change coaching intervention used in Martin, Oades, and Caputi (2014) by conducting a four-year follow-up study . Method Of the original 50 participants eligible for this follow-up, 23 females and two males (total = 25) completed a NEO PI-R personality questionnaire and a COPE questionnaire on coping styles four years after completing the intervention . Results The findings indicate that significant personality change was still present four years after the original personality change intervention was conducted . Discussions These findings suggest that the step-wise process proposed by Martin, Oades, and Caputi (2014) is an effective means of instigating long-term intentional personality change . Conclusions These findings extend upon the preliminary findings of Martin et al. (2014), suggesting that intentional personality change coaching may be able to produce significant desirable changes in personality which remain stable over time .
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This study examined the relationship of goal orientation and performance over a series of 2 challenging performance events. After providing performance feedback on the 1st event, the authors found that the relationship between a learning goal orientation and performance remained positive for the 2nd event, the relationship between a proving goal orientation and performance diminished from a positive to a nonsignificant level, and the relationship between an avoiding goal orientation and performance remained negative. Data analysis also indicated that the relationships between the 3 goal orientation dimensions and the performance event were differentially mediated by goal setting, self-efficacy, and effort.
The relations of dispositional hope to various self-reported cancer-related coping activities were examined in 115 college women. Dispositionally high- as compared to low-hope women were more knowledgeable about cancer, and this relationship remained when the shared variances due to previous academic achievement, experience with cancer among family or friends, and positive and negative affectivity were removed. Additionally, high- as compared to low-hope women reported more hope-related coping responses in four separate imagined phases of cancer (prevention/risk, detection, temporal course, and impact), and these relationships remained when shared variances related to previous academic achievement, knowledge about cancer, experience with cancer, and negative affectivity were removed. Hope is discussed as means of maintaining a “fighting spirit” for coping with cancer.
Presents an integrative theoretical framework to explain and to predict psychological changes achieved by different modes of treatment. This theory states that psychological procedures, whatever their form, alter the level and strength of self-efficacy. It is hypothesized that expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences. Persistence in activities that are subjectively threatening but in fact relatively safe produces, through experiences of mastery, further enhancement of self-efficacy and corresponding reductions in defensive behavior. In the proposed model, expectations of personal efficacy are derived from 4 principal sources of information: performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. Factors influencing the cognitive processing of efficacy information arise from enactive, vicarious, exhortative, and emotive sources. The differential power of diverse therapeutic procedures is analyzed in terms of the postulated cognitive mechanism of operation. Findings are reported from microanalyses of enactive, vicarious, and emotive modes of treatment that support the hypothesized relationship between perceived self-efficacy and behavioral changes. (21/2 p ref)
Through a practical application in the municipality of Rivière-au-Tonnerre on the Northern coast of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, this article explores the advantages of using a vision of future desired conditions for planning adaptation to climate change. Such an approach was used in small “kitchen meetings” for the elaboration of an adaptation action plan that was approved by the municipal council in September 2013 and revised in November 2014. The impacts of climate hazards were discussed as obstacles to the desired future conditions expressed by participants. This approach allowed the planning of a number of adaptation options, to define roles and responsibilities of different actors involved and to articulate different plans that are either in existence or being developed, linking them with adaptation. Based on our observations and on other studies in the fields of social movements, psychology and risk perception, we suggest that the use of a vision in discussion meetings with local actors could increase their motivation by placing the avoidance of undesired situations in the context of reaching their aspirations, in other words by embedding a prevention problem in promotion logic. The expression of a vision of a desired future could allow them to express their values and could facilitate the “framing” of a plan in a way that is coherent with them. The visions could then also be used to frame awareness-raising activities along the values they express.