To hope, by definition, is ‘ to want something to happen or to be true, and usually have a good reason to think that it might’ *
There seems to be a growing global feeling of hope as vaccination programs commence in some countries. Many see this as ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ and speak of the hope now felt. At a time of year when so many of us cling to the comfort of holiday traditions, we do so in the hope that this time next year, life will feel easier and safer for all of us.
Hope appears to present itself as a feeling; an inner energy or belief; it features in the stories told by survivors of extraordinary circumstances, as the one thing that got them through when all else failed.
The neurobiology of hope
Could ‘hope’ be likened to what scientists call the placebo effect? By definition this is the experience of a positive or desired outcome, influenced purely by a person’s desire or belief that this outcome will result. Examples include people taking sugar pills, instead of real medical treatment, and yet experiencing a level of healing or lessening of pain and other symptoms, because they believe (or hope?) that they’ve been given the real treatment. Scientists believe the placebo effect involves dopamine activation in the brain’s reward system, specifically the nucleus accumbens in the ventral striatum which is said to be responsible for processing the expectation of a reward and pleasure.**
Is hope the best gift of all this holiday?
Hardwire more hope
Research confirms that what we focus on, and spend time thinking about, becomes hardwired in our brain, making it easier for us to continue with that thinking. This is neuroplasticity in action. We can leverage our brain’s capacity to change in response to what we focus on, in a few simple ways. If you’d like to tap into the advantages and positivity that comes with experiencing a real sense of what you are hoping for, try these three simple activities:
- We experience what we expect
Are you a glass half empty or glass half full kind of person? At a time where bad news is constant, limiting your negative news feeds by shifting attention to more positive new stories and having experiences that are uplifting, will help shift your mindset to a more grateful, hopeful and positive state.
- Picture it
In these times of restriction and physical distancing, the good news is that you don’t need to go anywhere to change your brain’s wiring and influence your thoughts and behaviors. Motivational-general mastery (or M-GM) is a revolutionary creative visualization technique that involves imagining yourself working towards and achieving something you hope to experience or achieve. Researchers suggest literally drawing out what you want and how you will get there on paper first. Regularly picture yourself working towards what you hope for, every day. ***
- Learn something new
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel motivated, inspired and rewarded. It helps us stay focused on what we want and helps fuel our energy to stay engaged in working toward what we hope to achieve. People who experience depression, and loss of hope, have very low levels of dopamine. Learning new things, especially something we are genuinely interested in and find pleasurable, fuels our dopamine levels and also increases our brain’s new wiring.
At Noesis, we’d like to wish you a happy and safe holiday season. We hope to continue supporting you in the new year!
* https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/hope ** Fuente-Fernandez et. al., 2002 *** https://hbr.org/2014/03/to-reach-your-goals-make-a-mental-movie