Unlocking the Secrets of Motivation in Uncertain Times
If you find yourself feeling increasingly anxious about various aspects of your life in these uncertain times, and struggling to regain motivation and energy, know that you’re not alone.
Many individuals face similar challenges during times of uncertainty. However, it’s important to recognize that you have the power to confront these challenges and shape your own experience of them.
In times of difficulties, challenges, and even crises, it’s crucial to understand the neuroscience behind how your brain responds to uncertainty.
The Triune Model of the brain, introduced by Paul D. McLean, outlines three distinct areas of the human brain based on higher brain functionality:
- the Neomammalian Forebrain,
- the Paleomammalian Midbrain, and
- the Reptilian Hindbrain.
But remember, this is just a model. When you dissect the brain, you will not find such well-delineated sections of white and grey matter. Rather, this is a model that describes how the centres of the brain interact with each other through thought, emotions and instincts.
As such, this model describes the role that each of these regions play in how we respond to uncertainty and challenging situations.
Your Neomammalian Forebrain, the most evolved part of your brain, is responsible for reasoning, planning, creativity, and principles. It seeks predictability and dislikes uncertainty.
On the other hand, your Paleomammalian Midbrain, which houses your emotional centre, reacts emotionally to events and often overreacts.
Finally, your Reptilian Hindbrain, the oldest and least evolved part, is primarily concerned with safety and survival.
Building the Foundation for Lasting Motivation
Given the natural inclination of your brain to seek certainty, it’s understandable that motivational levels may diminish during uncertain or stressful times.
Your higher brain centres dislike unpredictability and strive to establish control. As we saw during the Covid-19 pandemic, this is evident in behaviors such as panic buying, which aims to create a sense of certainty amidst chaos.
However, when fear and anxiety take over, the lower brain centres overpower rational thinking. Decision-making becomes driven by emotion and instinct, leading to exaggerated responses and compromised judgment.
To regain control of your thoughts, emotions, and instincts, it is crucial to allow your higher brain centres to override the lower ones.
The leader within you must take charge, setting the rules rather than letting the mob mentality prevail.
As Louise Hay, inspirational author and founder of Hay House publishing, once said,
“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
With this understanding of how the brain functions, let’s explore strategies to revitalize your motivation and regain control during uncertain times.
Strategy #1: Sensible Safety
First and foremost, it’s essential to address your reptilian hindbrain’s instinctive reactions in order to regain control and get back on track.
This primal part of your brain perceives the uncertainty of the situation as a threat, triggering the fight-or-flight response.
To manage these instinctive reactions, focus on taking sensible precautions that reduce the perceived risk to your safety.
One way to think of it is to be SAFE:
- S: Stop and assess if the situation or crisis you are in is a real threat to your safety. Unless you are in imminent physical danger, your safety probably isn’t being threatened. This buys you some time to get yourself back in control.
- A: Ask yourself this question: “What am I reacting to?” Is it the worry or fear of something bad happening to you or a loved one? Is the outcome you are afraid of definitely going to happen, or is it just an anxious or worrisome improbability? That is, are you overthinking this? The chances are it probably isn’t as bad as you are making it out to be.
- F: Frame the worry or fear in a way that you can control it. For example, if you are concerned or worried about the rising cost of living and are feeling anxious about your finances, reframe this worry by writing it down on a notepad or piece of paper and then countering it with a positive solution. Just the simple act of writing it down has a calming and cathartic effect on your thoughts and emotions. It ‘clears the air’ so to speak, giving you time to re-evaluate your options and thus help you to solve the problem.
- E: Expect the storm to pass. There is no such thing as a storm that lasts forever. Even wars eventually end. So know that whatever is happening to cause you worry and fear is not going to be a permanent crisis. Eventually you will come through it. The rainy days will at some point make way for the sunshine.
Implementing these ‘SAFE’ measures is a sensible approach to help you alleviate your reactive instincts and behaviors and control your reptilian hindbrain.
Simultaneously, it empowers your higher brain centres to drive responsible thoughts and actions and calm your mind so you can refocus on the things that are important to you.
Strategy #2: Change the Context
The next key to maintaining motivation during challenging and stressful times is to manage the emotional reactions triggered by your paleomammalian midbrain.
The uncertainty of the situation you are facing can lead to anxiety, stress, and fear. Your midbrain perceives this uncertainty as pain and seeks to avoid it by imagining worst-case scenarios.
To regain control over your emotions, it’s important to change the context of your thoughts and emotions. This involves engaging your higher reasoning centres.
Inserting a “but” after stress-evoking thoughts or emotions can help shift your perspective. Here are some common scenarios of worrisome thoughts and stressful emotions and how you can insert a ‘but’ to negate them and regain control:
- “Nobody finds me attractive and I’ll never find a partner.” BUT there are plenty of fish in the sea, and if I take care of myself and visualise myself in a warm and positive relationship, then I will attract the right person at the right time.
- “I’ll never be able to save up enough money to travel overseas.” BUT if I make a saving plan of cutting out non-essential spending and putting aside $50 a week, I’ll save $2,500 in a year, and save $12,500 in 5 years, more than enough to go on that holiday I’ve always wanted. (You can use this same strategy to save up for any goal you have your heart’s desire on, such as a new car, a bond for a house, a wedding dress, or kitchen or bathroom renovations.)
- “I’m just not lucky. I always attract bad luck in everything I do.” BUT, as the saying goes, you make your own luck. So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll make my own luck by preparing for the opportunity when it comes along—and opportunities come along all the time, so I’ll make sure I’m as prepared as I can be for when they come.
These are just some everyday examples of how you can easily change the context from a negative, stress-evoking one to a more positive, motivational one.
Doing so will help you to control your midbrain emotions and allow your more rational, higher centres of the brain to take charge. This is how you reclaim your sense of self-determination and self-guidance.
Strategy #3: Focused Certainty
The third key to maintaining motivation during challenging times is to refocus on your thought processes.
It’s common for your higher brain centres to become overwhelmed by the negative emotions and instincts from your lower brain centres, especially in times of crisis. However, your neomammalian forebrain seeks certainty above all else.
To regain control of your thoughts, practice focusing on what is certain in your life. By shifting your attention to the certainties, you allow your higher-centred thoughts to override the chaotic emotions and instincts that threaten to take control.
While there may be widespread uncertainty globally, there are still aspects of your life that you can be certain about.
Instead of dwelling on what is uncertain, redirect your focus toward what is certain:
- You are alive: Recognize the life force within you at this very moment. You are alive, aren’t you? This is an undeniable fact and a certainty to embrace.
- You have beliefs: Whether religious, atheistic, or agnostic, you hold beliefs that provide a sense of certainty. Beliefs can only arise because you have consciousness. Acknowledge and focus on these conscious beliefs. They are yours, nobody else’s, that’s for certain.
- The sun will rise tomorrow: Despite the challenges, the world continues to turn, and each new day brings the rising sun. This is a dependable certainty to anchor your thoughts.
- Love exists: Love manifests in various forms, be it familial, romantic, for pets, for yourself, or even for a higher power. Acknowledge the presence of love as an undeniable certainty in your life.
There are numerous certainties to draw upon, and by focusing on them, you regain control over your thought processes, preventing overwhelm during uncertain times.
So, in summary, it’s important to remember that all negative and stressful events eventually pass. Although you may face struggles, with these 3 strategies of Sensible Safety, Changing the Context, and Focussed Certainty, you have the power to use your triune brain to work for you, not against you.
You have the power to overcome and navigate through uncertainty. You have the ability to stay motivated and in control during challenging periods.
That’s your power.