Awakening Hope

Hope is a tangible, measurable experience that lives within the brain.
Words by Dr. Jerome Lubbe
Illustration by Stephanie Davis
Photo by Jonathan Wade
S cience isn’t always the first to know what’s good for us. Take meditation for example: long before researchers knew anything about the benefits of meditation, people around the world were devoting themselves to the ancient practice. In recent years, studies such as the one published by the American Psychological Association have found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helps prevent depression as effectively as antidepressants, and in breast cancer patients, mindfulness meditation is linked to preventing chromosomal deterioration. Until studies such as these, we had no scientific proof for the benefits of meditation. But what science didn’t know yet, spiritual groups did; meditation has healing effects on the mind and body, and because we can now (thanks to neuroscience) measure and observe meditation outcomes, we are able to engage in the practice with even greater mastery.
The same is true with hope. For centuries, communities and individuals have practiced hope. People never needed neuroscience to tell them it was good to be hopeful, but recently, that’s exactly what neuroscientists have been saying. Accord-ing to the brain, it is good to have hope. We figured as much, but we never knew why. Now we do, and it makes a difference. When you know how something works, you can use it better. If it’s true for any other technology, why wouldn’t it be true for the brain? The more we understand about the function of hope, the more capacity we hold to fine-tune our systems for positive impact, life-giving experiences, realistic goal-setting, and achieving meaningful outcomes. Neuroscience shows us that hope is a tangible, measurable experience that lives within the brain

MOST OF YOUR BRAIN ACTIVITY IS SUBCONSCIOUS

To understand how hope works, it’s helpful to think of your brain as a large corporation. There are several c-suite executives at the top and thousands of employees—from department heads to janitors—down the chain of com mand. The top few executives represent your conscious thought-life, or your conscious awareness. This small percentage of the brain (about 3 to 5 percent) is where you consciously think and feel whatever thoughts or emotions you’re experiencing. The rest of your thoughts and emotions (the ones you don’t even know you’re experiencing) take place in your subconscious—in the other 95 to 97 percent of your brain—which means they never see the light of awareness.

So, most of your brain activity is subconscious; it is out of your line of sight. That might seem scary at first—if all of my brain activity is happening without my awareness how am I ever supposed to take control of my thoughts and emotions?—but your brain is ahead of you. Like a corporation, the subconscious lower-level employees take orders from the executives. This means you only have to reach the executive, conscious brain in order to impact the subconscious 95 to 97 percent. The key is to ask, What is the health of the leadership in my internal system, and how are their decisions impacting my desired outcomes? If the executive suite is healthy, the company is healthy. If you feed hope to your conscious brain, hope will flood and splinter through your subconscious brain, integrating itself and transforming the very patterns of your mind.

YOUR BRAIN IS A MALLEABLE NETWORK

How does this information transformation happen? In general, the brain runs through a pretty simple formula:input + process = output. Like most computing systems, information goes in (input), a processing system runs the information through communication channels (process), and an outcome is produced (output). Think of it like putting a car key into the ignition (input). The hardware and software in the vehicle will recognize the request (process)and start the engine (outcome). From a scientific perspective, we refer to this as a sensory-motor integration.

Your entire life is impacted by sensory-motor integration, so it matters quite a lot that healthy processing systems are in place and that quality input is available. This means what you think and feel and how you process those thoughts and emotions directly impacts the outcome of your cerebral processing. If you focus on and reinforce the thought that there’s nowhere left to turn, your brain will believe you. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult for you to perceive other possibilities. The good news is that the reverse is also true. If you focus on and reinforce thoughts and emotions that support a curious mind that seeks possibilities, you wire your brain for even more hope in the future.

Since science has shown us that we cannot have a thought or emotion without a legitimate and measurable change in our brain chemistry, and we know that hope is a complex emotion, we can make the connection: Hope changes the brain. When you hope, you physically reform your neural pathways.You can take it to the bank: If you have a thought or an emotion like hope, you change your neurochemistry and the function of your body. When you hope, you imagine a future that looks different from your present, and you send physical signals to your subconscious brain that structurally change the way you process information. You expand your capacity for imagining new possibilities. This expansion charts new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, which opens the opportunity for different outcomes.

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Dr. Jerome Lubbe is the CEO and Founderof his private practice, Thrive NeuroHealth, located in Decatur, Georgia, wherehe partners with entrepreneurs, makers,leaders and communities to achievetheir individual goals through optimizedbrain and body function. He formerlyserved as the Executive Director forCerebrum Health Centers, as well as theClinic Director of their Atlanta facility.Dr. Lubbe has a passion for equipping,empowering, and encouraging colleagues,entrepreneurs and students to serve theirpatients, local communities, and their staffthrough continued training in the practicalapplications of functional neurology.

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