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  • Writer's pictureBernard McMahon

Your brain on hope 🧠

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Hope changes everything - a statement we're willing to stand by, and, in this blog, we're about to tell you why. Recently, due to exciting events like the potential COVID-19 vaccine, and the US election results, we've been feeling a fantastic wave of collective hope. A feeling which seems like it has been missing for a while and has got us thinking... what does hope mean? And what happens to your mind and body when you have hope? We spoke to one of our leading cognitive scientists, Martina Ratto, to share more about the incredible science of hope.

What is hope?

Hope is the attitude of your mind towards a desired outcome that you are both committed to pursue, and believe to be possible.

Hope involves both cognitive and affective processes in your brain, such as:

  • Motivation and commitment towards an outcome

  • Goal-oriented behaviour (including the ability to make and follow plans to achieve a goal)

  • The evaluation of the possibility and likelihood of future events

Being hopeful is often associated with optimism and positive thinking. We are glad to say that the rumours are true. If you are optimistic you are indeed more likely to believe that the outcome you hope for has a higher probability to succeed. However, this has nothing to do with mere wishful thinking as ...

Being optimistic about what you can achieve often turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you hope, you are not passive towards a situation but you actively put your resources in place to work towards the objective. When working well, your brain carefully evaluates where to allocate its energy resources. You are also able to employ your cognitive abilities to make judgements and to avoid situations that fall beyond your control, thus avoiding stress, anxiety and despair.

If you have a strong belief that you will be successful, this produces physiological changes in your brain AND in your entire body through neurotransmitters and hormones. The body actually releases a greater amount of energy - which makes you more likely to achieve what you hope.

It just gets better and better - hope is also a vital form of PPE!

By producing physiological changes in your brain and body, hope has got a direct effect on your immune system. In healthcare, hope is taken into account in a big way when treating both acute (severe) and chronic (long-lasting) conditions. For the same reason, it is important to nurture your hope attitude in your daily life as it will act as a protective factor from illnesses, whilst promoting your overall wellbeing.

You can tell just how important hope is these days while facing a global pandemic. Not only will hope strengthen your immune system, protecting you from severe infections, but it will also make it easier for you to deal with the psychological stress and anxiety that the situation may cause.

All aspects of life are better when you have hope

A hopeful attitude in your daily life will help you improve your confidence, your motivation, your social relationships and will make you more resilient towards adverse events, keeping you determined to achieve your goals. We all know that hope may go up and down and there might be circumstances when you feel hopeless. We all have those moments, but it is important to be aware that it is just something passing by and you can and will regain hope. It's at this point that we'd like to share a powerful quote by Desmond Tutu, a man whose hope helped him to emerge as one of South Africa's most prominent anti-apartheid activists:

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness" – Desmond Tutu

How can we improve our ability to hope?

Nurturing your cognition (your mind’s fitness) is essential to maintaining a stable and balanced attitude of hope over time, and being resilient to adverse circumstances that might deteriorate your confidence. Your executive function, which acts as the director of your mind and is responsible for your ability to plan and self-regulate, plays a key role in sustaining your hope. You can learn about, improve, and maintain your mind's fitness and executive function with MyCognition (our medically accredited cognition assessment and active mindfulness programme). No matter where you're at, or where you're starting from, know that everyone can get better and better.


We hope that this blog inspires you to cultivate hope in your day to day life. With hope, you are more likely to achieve your goals, be optimistic and positive, strengthen your immune system, deal with psychological stress and anxiety, and improve your confidence, resilience, motivation and social relationships. One approachable and impactful way to improve your capacity to hope is to improve and maintain your mind's fitness. You can do this using our trusty digital programme - MyCognition. If you would like to learn more about Martina (the wonderful author of this blog) and her journey as a remarkable woman in both science and tech please click here.


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