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The Hope Experiment..

Updated: May 23, 2021

As I was scrolling through some articles bookmarked for my future reading, I came across this interesting but an orthodox and cruel study conducted in the 1950s.


Dr. Curt Richter, a professor at John Hopkins and a Harvard Graduate, placed domesticated and wild rats in a cylinder of water to test how long they could tread this scenario. God knows, what he was thinking!


The first rat, Dr Richter noted, swam around excitedly on the surface for a very short time, then dove to the bottom, where it began to swim around, nosing its way along the glass wall. It died two minutes later.


Two more of the 12 domesticated rats died in much the same way. But, interestingly, the nine remaining rats did not succumb nearly so readily; they swam for days before they eventually gave up and died.


Now came the wild rats, renowned for their swimming ability. The ones Dr Richter used had been recently trapped and were fierce and aggressive. One by one, he dropped them into the cylinder of water. And one by one, they surprised him: Within minutes of entering the water, all 34 died.


He then brought in a small change in the experiment with a new similar set of rats. This time he plucked them out, dried them off, and let them rest for a few minutes just before they gave up. And after minutes of break, put them back in for a second round.


In this tweaked experiment - how long do you think they lasted?


Don't forget that - they had just swam until death only a few moments ago...

So, how long do you think they swam?


Another 15 minutes? 30 minutes? 45 minutes?


60 hours!


“In this way,” he wrote, “the rats quickly learn that the situation is not actually hopeless.”


As it appears, this small “pause” made a huge difference. The rats that experienced a brief reprieve swam much longer and outlasted the rats that were left alone.


When the rats learned that they were not doomed and that the situation was not lost, they had a reason to keep swimming—and they did. It made them to continue to persevere and not give up so easily.


“After elimination of hopelessness,” wrote Dr Richter, “the rats do not die.”


Do you think this would apply to us as well? There is some research on the connection between despondency and death.


Well, we are not rats. We are much more endowed physically, emotionally and intellectually than them.

Imagine, how much we can do if we keep hope and believe in our abilities. 

Sometimes, we are so much in a rut of hopelessness that we seldom try to step out of the situation. We are too much into the problem to get an outside in view. Honestly, I don't blame ourselves for this.


But good news - there is a way out, mostly always!

  • If you experience hopelessness in whatever you're pursuing, just step out of it. Find reasons for hope and believe in your abilities to swim out of it.

  • You may come across people at work and in life who would be in this situation. Remember, to give them hope first before opinions, advices, judgments, or criticisms.

  • If you're a leader, then giving hope to your people should be the number one thing you can't take your eyes off.

  • Resilience is an important aspect of wellbeing. There is no bravado in burning out.

  • Especially in this pandemic, remember that we are all in the same storm but not in the same boat. So, make it a point to reach out to people and just help them stay afloat.

Happy weekend. Switch off from what ever is bothering you. Do something that you love. Work towards your purpose.


And I'm sure you'll find a way out!


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