In part one of this special two-part feature, Shane Kempton explores why we feel flat after achieving a long-desired goal, which feel good hormones are responsible for keeping us happy and how we can access more of them.
Have you ever been on a great holiday, only to return feeling unmotivated and devoid of energy?
Similarly, have you achieved a significant personal or professional goal, then shortly afterwards felt flat and uninspired?
Seriously, what’s with this downer we experience after we achieve what we desired?
On the flip side, you see those elite athletes, special forces soldiers and the high performers of our industry who seem to have an abundance of energy.
They’re driven, never seem to lack motivation and always seem to follow through despite the challenges they face.
Were they born with some special gift or talent we missed out on?
It seems like these high achievers have access to something we don’t.
The truth is, they don’t.
Both the debilitating effects of downers and the uplifting inspiration of motivation have the same origin.
It’s an internal technology that is thousands of years in the making.
We all have access to it, and just like external, modern-day technology, we need to know how to turn it on and leverage it.
Although it’s an important part of it, it’s more than just mindset that separates the elite from the average.
This internal technology and supercomputer is called your Central Nervous System.
To access it, I need to give you the layman’s two-minute neuroscience lesson on how it works and what it is responsible for.
Now I’m no neuroscientist, so for all things on this topic, it’s important to note that my source is Professor Andrew Huberman.
In simple terms, your Central Nervous System includes your brain, spinal cord and nerve pathways. It is responsible for:
- Our sensations. Everything we experience, both unconsciously and subconsciously.
- Our perceptions. How we perceive things and the meaning we give those sensations.
- Our thoughts. How those perceptions relate to past experiences and memories.
- Our emotions. How those thoughts make us feel.
- Our behaviours. The way we react and/or respond to those thoughts and emotions.
It’s important to note that we have no control over what we are experiencing in our environment.
Our sensation sensors are always on, constantly sending messages to our brain about what we are seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting and intuitively sensing.
We have some control over how we perceive, think and feel about these experiences.
Most importantly, we have 100 per cent control over how we act and behave due to the first four steps of that process.
This process is our brain/body connection.
Body talks to brain. Brain talks to body.
The body/brain language is neurotransmitters and hormones.
The most popular ones you hear about are dopamine, adrenaline, acetylcholine, oxytocin, serotonin and cortisol.
When it comes to motivation and high performance, the body/brain language we need to focus on is dopamine (which is desire and motivation), and acetylcholine (which is focus).
When our body and brain are constantly speaking this language, like the elite athletes and high performers do, we enter a positive state and live our life ‘above the line’.
The opposite to this is being ‘below the line’, in a negative state.
The body/brain language for this is mostly cortisol (stress and anxiety), which can leave us in a state of dis-ease or disease if left unchecked.
So how do we maintain the body/brain language of dopamine and acetylcholine so we can stay ‘above the line’ and in a positive state?
Remember that downer we experienced after achieving our goal?
There is a scientific term for that called ‘reward prediction error’.
It means we have placed too high an expectation on the level of fulfilment and satisfaction we will feel on the physical goal we have just achieved.
A common example is when we place long-term happiness on buying a certain car.
When we get the new car, we feel great for a few days or a week, but our excitement fades, and the feeling of not being fulfilled start to rise again.
In fact, the anticipation of buying the car, the research and the saving for it can often bring us more joy.
And that’s the secret sauce team.
It is less about the outcome and more about the journey.
We can release more dopamine in anticipation of and working towards a goal than when we achieve it.
If we have put all our happiness and hopes into acquiring this one new shiny object, and the dopamine hit is less than what we expected (reward prediction error), the inevitable crash or downer occurs, and we drop ‘below the line’.
What elite athletes, special forces soldiers and the high performers in our industry do, is they focus more on, and place a higher self-worth value on the effort, steps and milestones in the pursuit of their goals and less on the outcome itself.
This shift from external rewards, which fade and can be finite, to intrinsic rewards that are infinite, means they have tapped into the near-endless supply of feel-good, motivating hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine and acetylcholine.
The million-dollar question is, how do we do this?
All will be revealed in Part 2 – The Switch – in the next edition of Elite Agent.