A Moment of Hope Is a Powerful Motivator

A senior couple walking joyfully through the park wearing masks
A senior couple walking joyfully through the park wearing masks
Photo: Imgorthand/E+/Getty Images

I’ve been living with a strange feeling for a few weeks now: a sense of hope mixed with anticipation mixed with energy. It first took root the day after the presidential election was called, and it swelled again with the vaccine news that brought the end of the pandemic into view. For the first time in months, I have the energy to get shit done.

In terms of motivation, a burst of hope is like the first day of school: That blank slate feeling is the perfect push to shake up old routines. According to Sabrina Romanoff, a New York-based psychologist, hopefulness is the ideal environment for introducing new habits or taking on new projects.

“Feeling hopeful can change your perspective both about the future and how you view your environment and yourself in the moment,” Romanoff says. “You likely will be more positive, less critical of yourself and others, and assign less damaging attributions to external events and behaviors of others.”

In other words, this moment is the perfect time to think about personal transitions, too. Here’s how to make the most of that fresh-start feeling, whatever it is you want to accomplish.

Find a hope mascot

Like any positive experience, mountaintop moments can be fleeting. That means any burst of motivation will fade over time, especially as you deal with the difficulties of the reality we’re all still stuck in. (All it takes is turning on the news or walking outside your door.)

To make your hope — and the accompanying motivation — last longer, California-based psychologist Kate Truitt recommends attaching your current good feelings to something tangible you can return to later on. Choose a physical symbol like a favorite sweatshirt or mug, and use it or keep it close when you’re riding out a wave of that anything-is-possible energy.

“Doing that will create an anchor in your mind that you can go back to when you start to feel downtrodden,” Truitt says. “You’re creating muscle memory to anchor the felt sense of hope you have right now so you can generate it again later on.”

Label your mood

The link between your thoughts and your emotions is a two-way street, Romanoff explains: How you feel can affect what you think and, subsequently, how you behave.

Make the most of every good feeling by labeling it with a specific thought. For example, if you’re feeling hopeful, you might say to yourself or someone else, “Hope is so motivating.”

“This will help in savoring the emotion and providing an opportunity to reflect on secondary emotions, like gratitude,” Romanoff says. And the more you can reflect on your own emotional state — whether that’s by talking about it, writing in a journal, or simply spending some time thinking on your own — the easier it is to process your feelings into action.

Accept more than one feeling at once

As nice as it may be to start imagining the future again, we’re still living through a global pandemic. Creeping fear and anxiety about the present don’t have to zap your energy for what’s ahead. It’s possible to exist in two emotional states at once without being consumed by either one.

If you’re noticing your hope fade, Truitt suggests a simple exercise she uses with her clients: Check in on your pinky. Chances are, your littlest finger isn’t feeling the existential despair your brain is right now. “It’s important to separate the overwhelming feeling from the rest of you so you can recognize and hold onto a simple symbol of your positive motivation,” she says.

Sometimes, you won’t be able to hold onto it. That’s fine. Every time you approach a low point with curiosity instead of self-judgment, you’re teaching your brain how to respond more positively in times of stress — a skill we all still need for the foreseeable future.

Writer-mom hybrid. Health & psychology stories in NYT, WaPo, Allure, Real Simple, & more.

Sign up for The Forge Daily Tip

By Forge

A quick morning email to help you start each day on the right foot. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store