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  • Paula Thompson
    Paula Thompson

    Living Through Setbacks: A Brain’s Guide For Recharging Motivation

    Backtracking, stumbling, straying: living through challenges, be it in life or career, is never easy. It can seem counterintuitive to focus on what needs to be done and push through it in a world where phone notifications and stimulus are ever-present. Whether it's rejection, a failed attempt, or a shift of direction altogether — when overcame, it yields tangible returns of growth, stronger connections, and valuable experiences that one can take throughout their life.

    It may come as a surprise that neuroscience is highly useful in understanding this concept, as the brain is a versatile machine that's constantly learning, rewriting, and refining its wiring patterns. In the case of setbacks and difficult terrain, it all starts with a survival instinct; the basic human drive to escape harm and protect the self. This natural anxiety makes sense, as disruption can be disheartening for anyone — often making it harder to look past the problem and create a plan for growth.

    The first key to reigniting motivation during turbulent times is to remember why you began. Those emotional sparks, ideas and dreams – reconnect with them and it can act as a beacon of hope. Focusing further back on a core purpose can be helpful too; if inevitable obstacles come and it feels like you’re facing a cold wall, hold onto your ‘why’ and the motivation will move

    Forward again. As the business magnate Marshall Goldsmith expressed: ‘When you get knocked down, the only way to stay in front is to get back up’.

    There are tools available to help one remain grounded and achieve goals no matter what they face. To regain confidence, practice self-talk and visualisation; talk positively to yourself, setting manageable goals with rewards along the way. Visualising success — as well as failure — gives the brain context and insight on how to deal with it ahead of time, developing stronger pathways and reducing the chances of it happening again.

    Schedule necessary breaks in the day for reflection to reset, beyond this transition period. Make notes about how things might be done differently and what items didn't work at all. It’s crucial to assess these real-time snapshots of progress, especially when feeling lost. The more open to feedback and constructive criticism a person is, the more likely they are to succeed.

    Active action is equally important; sustainable improvement can’t come from avoiding growth, even in the riskiest of environments. Taking an inventory of tangible steps, such as volunteering for a project, sending out messages and emails, or reading something new and relevant to the cause, can offer insight into the challenges and aspirations ahead. Experiencing trial and error is part of the journey — allow yourself to make mistakes and see things through with a unique perspective.

    It’s essential to remember that sometimes one’s environment needs to change in order to move toward any kind of goal, so keep an eye out for openings. These types of adjustments alternate the dynamics of a situation, injecting colour and texture into an otherwise drab equation. Keep moving, and the pieces of the puzzle will begin to fit together, building strength and momentum over the course of time.

    Sometimes external validation can go a long way, too. Recognise incremental successes — both in your company and career — so that the greater successes ahead become more achievable. Celebrate the fact that learning is rooted in positive outcomes; if setbacks are embraced for their lessons, the end goal is rewarded with clarity, growth and a much needed spark of motivation.

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