You have goals but are stuck in a rut.
Your mind is constantly feeding off distractions and the act of focusing feels like a mission in itself. You just can’t seem to get on with what you need to do and end up doing stuff that doesn’t serve you. You know you have potential, but the damn thing refuses to show up. You can’t stop questioning what’s wrong with you. You’re tired, frustrated, full of guilt, and feel like giving up. With everything going on, your peers of course are killing it in every possible way and you can’t help yourself from feeling like absolute shit.
The good news is that you’re not the only one who’s experienced this doomsday. The better news is that there is a way out of it.
This is not going to be some feel-good jargon offering delusional advice about how things will get better with time. Time can often be the enemy when you’re waiting for things to happen without choosing the right course of action.
A part of our mission involves figuring out why we humans are wired the way we are. Why we do what we do, or don’t do the things we’re meant to do. While the explanation to these questions is multi-layered and complex, much like ourselves, it boils down to three things: the quality of our thought patterns, the nature of our feelings and the choice of our habits.
First comes first, everything starts and ends with our minds. When experiencing a low phase as articulated above, the internal dialogue goes something like- whats wrong with me, why cant I do anything right, whats the point in trying to change….Ill always be a failure…
This is what it feels like to be in shame and contrary to traditional views, shame ain’t no agent for change. It’s debilitating and keeps us stuck in the pit!
If what we do is driven by how we feel then chronic negative thoughts are not going to make us feel any better or spring us into action. The only exception to that is when we feel regret or guilt (not the same as shame) and make a choice to start functioning differently.
Focusing on strengths and past achievements is a good start for reframing destructive thoughts. Bashing yourself for all that you’ve not done right in your life is the easiest recipe to feeling overwhelmed, but consciously redirecting focus to your small wins while reminding yourself of all that you’re capable of will most definitely set you right back on track.
As predominantly pleasure-seeking creatures our aim is to find the quickest way to feel great. We love shortcuts and it’s this very tendency that works against us.
Binging on shows feels enchanting but it steals us of precious time that could be used doing something constructive; indulging in gluttony feels satisfying but it compromises our health. Staying in our comfort zones feels safe but it deprives us of our true potential.
So this begs the question, how do we get ourselves to set rewards that actually matter and will serve us in the long run? Easy, we hack our brains.
No conversation on motivation is complete without mentioning the popular neurotransmitter dopamine. When you’re being a couch potato and realize it’s time to attack your project, it’s dopamine that will get you to take action.
The challenge as we all know is getting into ‘the zone’ when you just don’t feel like it but understanding reward mechanisms can help us get there.
Each of our daily activities follows with a feel-good factor, without which we simply wouldn’t be doing the stuff we do. This has a downside because being obsessed with the end result undermines the necessity of the process.
A wiser and more sustainable way of going about this is to focus on effort and not the outcome(reward) itself. This is where things like life purpose and knowing your why become real handy.
Just like writing this initially felt overwhelming but it’s the drive for impact and sharing value that made us enjoy the process. Your eyes have reached this far because most likely you are eager for learning and knowledge. And that’s how intrinsic drive works. You need to focus on the right stuff and dopamine will do the rest.
One of the biggest myths we hold on to is about feeling inspired to take action. Motivation is actually overrated. It’s why so many of us sit around waiting for motivation to strike before we do something worthwhile. But it’s action that leads to motivation and not necessarily the other way around. Yes, taking small steps activates our brain’s pathways and gets dopamine flowing that boosts us with the drive to keep moving.
It goes without saying that for us to function effectively we need to have our physiological workings in order which includes having and maintaining healthy levels of dopamine. Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman shares strategies on doing this and his advice will probably take you by surprise.
Frequent release of dopamine, through doing things that we get a thrill out of, actually decreases its baseline levels! This could explain why we start to find things that we once loved, monotonous. It’s like when you find a catchy song and listen to it on loop, over time you get sick of it and it doesn’t have the same charm anymore, does it?
The same rule applies to doing our favorite activities regularly, over time those peaks of dopamine start to deplete and it becomes harder to engage with the same level of enthusiasm.
As a prevention strategy, Huberman suggests practicing intermittent reinforcement of rewards. This basically means introducing gaps in activities that release dopamine. So if you love painting while listening to music, great. Just don’t do it in the same combination every day. Introducing gaps will do the magic of releasing that dopamine drive.
As it turns out, unpredictability is what our brains seem to thrive on.
So there you have it. Whether you extract psychological reframing or brain science tools from here, you can absolutely step up and snap out of your situation, however impossible it may seem. Once you become aware and exercise the power of choice you’re well on your way to making change happen for you.
Oh and you’ve reached the end of this piece. Take a moment to celebrate this.👏🏻