Discover how you can boost your drive with just a few straightforward strategies, holistically working with your body and your mind.
Motivation is a positive driving force that can help us achieve our goals, overcome challenges, and lead more fulfilling lives.
A gap between our needs and reality creates a desire to change it.
A mismatch between what we want and have, who we are, and who we aspire to become gives rise to motivation. Finding purpose and setting clear goals is important for motivation.
But increasing and maintaining motivation takes more than that!
Meet dopamine - the CEO of your motivation:
Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain known as a neuromodulator. It regulates the brain's reward and pleasure centers and motivates us to turn our goals into actions by signalling how important and desirable they are. The brain's dopamine system, known as a classic reward pathway, plays a critical role in shaping our motivation, enthusiasm, reinforcement of behavior, and readiness to pursue activities or goals, especially in situations that may be challenging or require considerable effort.
Mechanisms of dopamine
By understanding how dopamine works, we can control our behaviour, pursue our goals, and avoid being distracted or influenced by others' dopamine-driven ideas.
For nerds: Mechanisms of Dopamine
Molecule of Novelty & Molecule of More When starting a new job or project, it's common to feel enthusiastic and energized. Dopamine is released in the brain, moving us towards goals and rewarding us for our efforts. However, as you might have already noticed, that initial excitement can fade in a new job after some time, maybe a couple of weeks. You might find yourself struggling to maintain motivation, perhaps even forcing yourself to carry on, and questioning if you made the right decision by taking on the project. This shocking or unpleasant decrease in motivation is an entirely natural state, as dopamine is a molecule of novelty. It is released in response to novel rewards, as our brain prioritizes it for things necessary to our well-being instead of “wasting” the motivational power of dopamine on things already available. Dopamine played a vital role in our ancestors' ability to survive by driving their motivation to seek out the resources necessary for their survival. It shapes the quality of your life by pushing you to seek more and grow. That’s why enough is never enough. If it feels unfair or pessimistic, pause and reflect on the alternative. Imagine if you had remained motivated by the same things you were passionate about as a seven-year-old without seeking new challenges or experiences. How would your life look like today?
Dopamine makes us crave the unexpected and anticipate the future, where all exciting possibilities begin. Therefore dopamine is a double-edged sword, both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it creates pleasure and motivation, expands our horizons, and contributes to some of our best moments. However, it can make us fail to appreciate what we already have, causing us to constantly seek new and more exciting experiences and incredible thrills, to maintain the same level of pleasure and motivation.
But we still have to do our often-repetitive jobs and tasks that require effort, such as exercising regularly and tending to household chores and family responsibilities.
Dealing with dopamine disappointment
How to counteract the novelty bias and stay motivated for everyday tasks
Increase the base level of dopamine
Give dopamine a taste of its own medicine!
Learn to calibrate the level of dopamine by purposefully introducing novelty to your everyday tasks. Change your routine, use new perspectives, add fun, or make it a game.
Increase the baseline of dopamine The brain synthesises dopamine from the amino acid tyrosine and places it in the pool. From this pool, dopamine is released to our body in two ways. Firstly, a continuous and steady flow, occurring approximately three times per second, is known as a tonic release that creates the dopamine baseline. Secondly, as a response to something unexpected or potentially rewarding, a phasic release. The baseline of dopamine determines how motivated we feel on average. Use a holistic approach to increase the level of dopamine: a). Diet: Knowing what to eat is equally important as knowing what to avoid to sustain high energy and motivation levels. Eating a diet that includes foods high in tyrosine, fatty acids, and antioxidants can indirectly assist in dopamine production and increase dopamine receptors' sensitivity while protecting dopamine-producing neurons from harm. A tailored dietary adjustment that suits your specific needs and resources is ideal. b). Supplements: Caffeine, yerba mate, Rhodiola Rosea, zinc, vit B6, phenylalanine, and L-tyrosine are dietary supplements that have the potential to enhance motivation indirectly. However, their safety and effectiveness may vary depending on the person, and it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional for guidance. c). Behaviour:
Physical activity will kick an additional sense of motivation as it increases the availability of tyrosine – a building block of dopamine. Additionally, exercise increases the sensitivity of dopamine receptors. It means that your body gets better at using circulating dopamine, which increases your drive and motivation.
The light we view, or avoid, can have a great impact on our motivation, as it reduces the capacity to release otherwise available dopamine. When we receive less dopamine, we may not feel as happy or satisfied as usual when doing things we enjoy or look forward to.
Exposure to cold, such as taking a cold shower, can increase adrenaline and cortisol levels, providing an energy boost, and lead to a long-lasting increase in dopamine levels (up to 250%), resulting in a natural increase in motivation.
Invest in a good night's sleep - Studies have found that sleep deprivation can reduce dopamine activity in the striatum, a brain region that is involved in reward processing and motivation. This can lead to decreased motivation, impaired decision-making, and reduced ability to experience a pleasure.
Order of tasks
Our subjective experiences of pleasure and satisfaction are determined by comparing the current level of dopamine to the previous baseline level. Satisfaction is not absolute but influenced by our past experiences and emotions. Understanding this mechanism of dopamine helps us influence the level of satisfaction we experience by knowing how to sequence the order of our tasks.
Additionally, we can increase motivation by managing our expectations, stopping layering multiple sources of dopamine, or even by engaging in dopamine fasting to replenish the readily available level of dopamine.
And the best for the end: The most powerful mechanism of the dopamine system is its ability to make us feel pleasure from putting in an effort. We can condition our minds and subjectively attach any challenge, hardship, or difficulty with something positive that we choose to do and enjoy doing. By cultivating this growth mindset, we get a boost of dopamine when we need it the most.
Develop discipline Success is 99% of perspiration and effort and only 1% of motivation and inspiration. It's easy to feel inspired and motivated when we're first setting out to accomplish something, but what separates the successful from the unsuccessful is the willingness to put in the hard work and effort day after day. This requires discipline, determination, and a willingness to push through challenges and setbacks.
Practicing gratitude can help counteract the dopamine effect of always wanting more by shifting our focus from what we lack to what we already have but take for granted. When we practice gratitude, we activate the brain's reward and pleasure center, including dopamine release. However, unlike the dopamine rush that comes from wanting more, the dopamine release from gratitude is more sustained and long-lasting, providing a sense of contentment and satisfaction that can counteract the craving for more.
Dopamine Crash and managing your motivation
Imagine you have been working on a project for several weeks. The project was complex and challenging, requiring you to put in long hours and effort, sacrificing your personal time. Finally, the day arrives when you complete the project. You have met all of the requirements and exceeded expectations. You feel a sense of relief and satisfaction, and shortly after, you feel tired, demotivated, lethargic, and maybe even depressed.
You have experienced a dopamine crash - feelings of fatigue, low mood, lack of motivation, and even depression. When the brain experiences a surge of dopamine from a rewarding experience, it uses all stock of synthesised and readily available dopamine. It may then struggle to produce enough dopamine to maintain that same level of pleasure and motivation. A dopamine crash can happen after we accomplish a task, fail at something, or engage in highly rewarding activities.
While we pursue the goal, our brain consistently releases dopamine. Once the goal is achieved, there is nothing more to strive for, and the brain's dopamine levels can drop sharply.
Dopamine is linked to both the expectation and enjoyment of positive outcomes. If we confront a setback or a failure, dopamine levels in the brain may plummet significantly as there are no further objectives to pursue.
When we engage in activities that cause a spike in dopamine levels, such as drug use, binge eating, or very important and engaging life event, we might deplete the pool of synthesised dopamine.
Knowing how to deal with dopamine crash can be a game changer to keep high level of motivation Skilful use of intermittent reinforcement schedule, purposefully expanding time the dopamine is released and counteracting the sense of disappointment is a great start to set yourself for a constant source of drive and motivation.
The psychological background of motivation
Our motivation is a largely subjective experience. And although it is influenced by our values, beliefs, expectations, and aspirations, a universal set of psychological needs motivates all of us. Having a clear sense of purpose and clarity regarding our psychological needs allows us to develop well-structured and informed goals, which are the vehicles that close the gap between expectations and reality. When we know what we want, we can set goals that help us get there and turn our needs into reality. There are many psychological strategies to increase our motivations, e.g., Clarity of goals, motivating power of anxiety, or cultivating a growth mindset.
For nerds: Psychology of Motivation