There was an illusion that our lives were slowly going back to normal. Then the second lockdown arrived, and we had to put our plans and our lives on hold again.
This uncertainty, not knowing what to expect is taking a toll on our mental health, making it challenging to plan for the future, to work towards our goals in life.
Expectations are the strong beliefs that something will happen, and they can release dopamine in our bodies (de la Fuente-Fernandez, R 2001). If a reward is greater than anticipated (exceeds expectations), dopamine increases; and similarly, if a reward is less than expected, dopamine decreases, what will in turn affect our motivation.
Research shows that dopamine (the chemical in our body associated with the reward-motivated behaviour) is not only responsible for pleasure but it can also influence our motivation to act (Salamone, JD 2012). Simply put, we will be more motivated to do things that reward us.
Most of us have struggled at some point this year with our motivation. Big life events like weddings were cancelled, new business ventures were postponed, we had to adapt our lifestyles to home school and work from home at the same time, or even find a new job altogether.
And it doesn’t help when we are constantly being let down by our government. The lack of leadership and unified voice to guide us through this pandemic is continuously disappointing us and directly impacting our livelihoods. Truth is, our freedom to choose has been temporarily taken away. In such extraordinary circumstances, it can be difficult to keep our dopamine levels high enough to find joy in our lives.
What can we do about it?
We have the ability to control our thoughts, this is one of the things that make us human. Being aware of this is a powerful way to make your goals “pandemic proof”. The tips below can help but let me disclaim upfront, they are simple in theory and not so much in practice.
- Start by managing your expectations so they are often exceeded.
- Set goals that are clearly aligned to your values, to what is important for you.
- Instead of focusing on the end goal, focus your objectives on the why.
Once you link your objectives to your values, to the type of person you want to be, you will become more resilient when the pandemic throws another curve ball at your plans. The goals we set in our lives set the direction but we have to pay attention to the journey so we enjoy the ride.
The destination is the reason to make the journey, but the magic is in the journeyAndrea Lages and Joseph O’Connor (Coaching the brain)
Now I’d like to share with you some questions that help me get clarity in my life. Make a list of your objectives and goals (short or long term, you choose). Now spend 10 minutes answering the following:
- What is important about that?
- Why do you want that?
- When you achieve it, what will it get for you?
- Regardless of whether you achieve your goal, how can you live more of this value right now?
John D. Salamone, Mercè Correa. The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron, 2012; 76 (3): 470 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.021
R de la Fuente-Fernandez. Expectation and dopamine release: mechanism of the placebo effect in Parkinson’s disease. Science, 2001; 10;293(5532):1164-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1060937.