How do we support young people to find hope in the bleakness of a pandemic? Igniting a sense of optimism and motivation in tough times.

As the weeks draw on, holding onto motivation and optimism can feel challenging. For young people, the cancellation of exams, the loss of social interactions and the removal of targets and goals that they used to keep momentum has, for many, created a sense of uncertainty and anxiety.

So, how do we help them generate a sense of hope when timelines are unsecured?

Motivation, at the best of times, can feel like the metaphorical unicorn. Somedays we are swamped in it, others we sit chewing our pen looking at a to do list and pondering sunlit beaches. The very nature of motivation is one that, for many, is an all or nothing concept with little continual momentum. But, is there more to it?

Motivation is tied into dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward, at its core, dopamine is an encourager, a cheerleader and encourages us to take action or to avoid. When we activate the release of dopamine, we receive a surge of dopamine which keeps us going.

So, we can begin to understand, that as we strip away the rewards and targets that young people used to motivate themselves, that they can begin to feel like a blank slate. With nothing to work towards, and a sense of ‘never ending’ or ‘unknowing’ the dopamine spikes can be few and far between. Goal setting and achievement is core to motivation, when goals are set which have ‘buy in’ dopamine fuels our path.

So, what steps can we take to help young people on their way?

1 – Set a target / goal – having a target or goal to work towards and breaking this into smaller activities creates a sense of focus. This may be a short or longer term goal which is broken into smaller parts. Goals need to feel that they have part of the ‘bigger picture’ so young people may need support looking past the current climate.

2 – Record progress – when days blend into one another, and there is no sense of getting somewhere it can be easy to lose sight of what we have achieved. Having a running ‘achievement list’ or a ‘to do’ list which you can record completion tasks each week allows us to visualise movement and development, which spurs both motivation and a sense of achievement.

3 – Prioritise the task at hand – when we feel lost, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by what needs to be done. When we try to multi-task we delay progress and prevent achievement which can be demoralising. Identifying one or two key tasks which need to be completed each day and using family members to be accountable to can help us make ongoing progress.

4 – Incentivise – When we have a task to complete, it can quickly feel consuming. Breaking a larger task into smaller pieces with incentives built in can keep us on task and progressing. For instance, channeling in short desk breaks for a walk, mindfulness, some stretches, a conversation, music or a snack allows us to refresh our minds and boost productivity.

5 – Get moving – When we are sat indoors staring at a screen we can fatigue much faster. Getting outside for some exercise and fresh air naturally boosts dopamine and subsequently our motivation. Taking regular breaks and scheduling time every day to go for a walk, bike ride or on scooters or skates refreshes our mind – body and soul.