We all suffer setbacks and disappointments in our careers, some are able to rebound quickly others struggle and it can become a heavy weight that drags them down for months and sometimes years. In this post Hatwell Coach and behavioural change specialist, Liv Blaney discusses proven strategies to help you build resilience and bounce back quickly.
Disappointment after losing out on a promotion. Slogging it out on a project only to find that it fails to meet expectations on launch. Putting in the effort to lose weight but somehow managing to put weight on. Everyone suffers from disappointments, and managing responses to disappointments is a topic that is frequently brought to coaching. Knowing how to rebound enables you to throw yourself towards targets without fear of what will happen if you don’t succeed. But what separates those people that rebound quickly to those that don’t?
A recent study at Kyoto University shows that there is a difference in the way the brain operates in those that do rebound quickly and those that don’t. To understand it, its worth knowing about dopamine, one of the chemicals in the brain that plays a critical role in the brain circuitry that manages motivation, pleasure and reward.
When your brain anticipates or receives a reward (like when you start eating tasty food), then dopamine is released, which is linked to alertness, happiness, and focus. The amount of dopamine released is even higher if that received reward is unexpected – like an unanticipated hug or being given unexpected praise. Its also been shown to have an impact on motivation – just visualising a positive outcome can help increase motivation levels, reduce anxiety and improve chances of success. Incredibly, increased dopamine also increases the chances that you will perceive success: studies have shown that if you give individuals a wine that is more expensive, they will perceive it to be better tasting than the same wine with a lower price tag. Perception becomes reality, to an extent, when dopamine levels are increased. From a workplace perspective, this means that when you’re working with your team to set goals for them, they should be perceived as achievable and the team should be bought into achieving them, as it will significantly increase their chances of achieving them.
On the flip side, when you expect a pay rise but you don’t get what you want, or when you expected light traffic but got stuck in queues, what happens? When outcomes don’t meet your expectations, the level of dopamine drops, leading to something akin to a mild threat response – the kind of response that our ancestors would have had when a woolly mammoth entered their cave. The researchers at Kyoto found that there are two types of neurons – what they termed type 1 and type 2 – that are related to our responses when we are disappointed. Type 1 neurons kick in immediately, dropping dopamine levels and making us feel bad. That’s the initial slump when you get the bad news, the one that triggers the threat response and makes you angry, sad, or shocked. Then at some point, the type 2 neurons will kick in, and they will increase the dopamine levels, increasing your motivation levels again and empowering you to try again. The difference between those that rebound quickly and those that don’t is the speed at which those neurons kick in – which depends on whether you allow yourself to ruminate on the failure, or process it and move on.
That then leaves the question as to how you can move on from rumination. The key thing is to identify when reflecting on the past experiences isn’t serving you anymore – typically, when you’ve learnt all you can from it. A coach can help you differentiate between helpful thinking patterns and unhelpful thinking patterns, so that you can push forwards at the right time. Mindfulness can also help raise your own awareness of what pattern your thoughts are in. Once you start shifting your thinking towards the future, your brain will support you by increasing your dopamine levels and therefore your ability to focus on moving forwards, and your motivation to get there. Cultivating a positive mindset will help you perceive the outcome as more positive when it happens – whether the outcome is a tasty but expensive glass of wine or a successful project completion.