2 Tips to Stay Motivated During Setbacks

Jun 18, 2022 | Change, Leadership

Should I give up?

On the journey towards our goals, our motivation can waiver.

We often encounter roadblocks, or start to feel self-doubt. We can predict future obstacles.

And then an inner conflict arises: Am I capable of getting to my goal? Is this worth it?

Obstacles and conflict are a normal part of creating change, but the question is what do we do when they arise?

Research shows that 2 simple practices can support us in moving past setbacks.

#1 Mindfulness

While it may seem counter-intuitive to slow down and bring mindful awareness to your experience of a setback or inner conflict, that’s exactly what recent research says can help.

A recent study showed that when faced with an “action-crisis,” people who practiced a mindfulness exercise – in this case, a mindful body scan – performed “significantly better” in dealing with an imagined roadblock than people who read a magazine.

A mindful body scan is simply bringing attention to parts of your body and noting the sensations (or lack of sensations) that you feel. That’s it.

So rather than deny or turn away from our experience, if we actually bring mindful attention to it, we’re more likely to stay motivated on the path to our goals when faced with obstacles or internal conflict.

The researchers also pointed out that their findings “highlight the importance of noticing…our cognitive and emotional states in goal pursuit and treat ourselves with compassion when things are not going as planned.”

Additional research has shown that self-compassion is more likely to keep us motivated than the opposite, self-criticism. (For more on willpower and self-compassion, see this post.)

#2 Move towards a value

Creating change and directing action towards a goal takes energy.

So it helps the brain to be clear on why you want to spend that precious energy.

When our why is a positive value – something meaningful – that we’re working towards, the brain is going to more likely to stay motivated to act.

Tali Sharot, cognitive neuroscientist and professor at University College London, explains in The Influential Mind that when it comes to taking action, the brain has two responses: no go, or go.

The “no go” or freezing response is an activation of the amygdala, an area of the brain connected to our emotions and our freeze reaction. When we freeze, we are trying to avoid pain. We tend to be afraid or anxious which depletes our energy.

But the “go” response can be linked to positive reward. Even anticipation of a reward can cause a release of dopamine which is involved in the brain’s reward circuit.

When a reward is anticipated, and then received, not only does this help us to feel good, but it will also motivate us to take that action again. (For further discussion on this, see this post.)

Mindfulness before action

So the next time you’re losing motivation or thinking of giving up during a setback, bring mindful attention to whatever you’re experiencing, either in the body, the mind or the emotions.

If you’d like a free guided body scan practice, email me, and I’ll send you one I made.

And then remember why the action mattered to you in the first place.

But whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up! It’s part of the process.

After you follow these 2 steps, then you can decide what to do next.

Let me know how it goes!

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash


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Jen Riggs Blog

Meet the Author

Jennifer is the creator of Pathways to Change, a framework for mindful leadership development that integrates coaching, neuroscience, mindfulness and mind-body principles.

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