What do Motivation & Forgiveness Have in Common?

A really fascinating fact:

Motivation and Forgiveness are two examples of neurological behaviors. Bet you didn’t know that.

Let’s break this down. So, motivation is not a character trait, after all. It’s always seemed like it was to me. Either I am motivated or I am lazy…or somewhere in between the two. But it turns out that motivation is actually a chemical reaction in our brains. It has to do with dopamine levels in our frontal cortex, the area responsible for activation and inhibition. If enough dopamine doesn’t get there, our actions and reactions are less influenced to, well, act. Those with ADHD have an especially difficult time regulating dopamine levels. It’s terribly unpredictable and shows up pretty much as often as a fair-weathered friend.

Solution: Increase dopamine levels.

This is why medications, such as stimulants, work fairly well in many people with ADHD. By raising dopamine levels, focus, attention, and working memory all work together and create motivation.

Suggestion: Being interested in tasks is also extremely helpful in raising dopamine levels. So, if you can generate some interest around tasks that you are not interested in you will increase your motivation to do them. Creating a reward system is one example.

Now, let’s look at forgiveness. Again, a trait I always thought of as attached to character,  either one is a forgiving sort of person or they harbor grudges, right? Well, it turns out that forgiveness, like motivation, is a neurological event, a chemical reaction within the brain.

It’s the “cessation of emotions connected with memories of a hurtful act” (Clark, 2005). It is after associated painful emotions are reframed in such a way as to no longer cause the amygdala’s fight or flight response. Our executive function interrupts that patterned response and regulates the amygdala with relaxation. The brain translates this release of muscular tension as a signal that forgiveness has occurred and the memory pathway from the rhinal cortex and hippocampus to the amygdala is inhibited. Now, the painful memories no longer stimulate the amygdala and its stress patterns are disabled. (Clark, 2005)

How does this directly affect someone with ADHD? Considering their executive function presents an area of challenge with inhibition, many find forgiving much harder to do.

Solution: Reframe the event that triggers painful memories.

Here’s an example:

My father killed himself when I was 20. I was very angry and held it against him for many years. I was unable to forgive…UNTIL…I reframed the tragedy. He was bi-polar and went off his meds. He did this because he felt he wasn’t living an authentic life, he didn’t feel like he was being his natural self. His natural self, sadly, could not prevent him from shooting himself. This event, in this context, allowed me to really grasp the facts in a different way and I was able to release the negativity; thus, inhibiting the neural pathway to my amygdala. It had done its job of protecting me for years, but I finally could let it go and in doing so, my brain allowed me to move on and cease replaying the pain in that haunting way. 

Just like playing an old record on an old-fashioned record player, over and over again, creating a deep groove in the vinyl record, so is reliving that painful memory, over and over again in your mind, creating a deep groove in your brain and causing you to get stuck in that story. By reframing the story it allows your brain to translate it differently and break the pattern; thus, allowing inhibition of it to get to the amygdala.



Reference: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16002228

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