Motivation is the personal drive that keeps us energized when going after the things we want. It is what inspires your goals, creates trust in one’s self, and helps develops one’s discipline.
Motivation is always moving us towards something better. It takes us from one situation and places us in one that is better aligned with our aspirations for ourselves. However, being tickled by the idea of pursuing something new isn’t all that is needed.
You need to put in the work, whatever that may be.
Why is it that some people seem to be more motivated than others? Take New Year’s resolutions, for instance — approximately 45% of people drop their goals after the first month. As humans, we are full expressions of life and to say that one either is or isn’t motivated doesn’t leave room for the neurological processes that account for whether one is or isn’t better suited to follow through on their aspirations.
Motivation happens when your dopamine levels increase because you expect a favorable reward.
We are addicted to dopamine and so in so far as the completion of our task are producing dopamine, our brain is addicted to reproducing these activities… and avoiding the others. In a study by Vanderbilt University, brain mapping was used on two teams of “go-getters” and “slackers.” It was discovered that the team of “go-getters” had higher levels of dopamine in the reward and motivation portions of the brain – the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
The “slackers,” on the other hand, had a higher level of dopamine in the area of the brain associated with emotion and risk – the anterior insula.
This study is crucial to understanding the science of motivation because where once dopamine was understood as pleasure hormones, their complexities for showing up in times of stress, pain, and loss highlighted that having them was not enough; their location in the brain is just as important as their presence.
Nonetheless, low levels of dopamine make people, even animals less likely to work for things. UConn Researcher John Salamone conducted a study where he artificially introduced varying dopamine levels in animals giving them a choice between two rewards with different values, that could have been obtained by exerting different amounts of work.
The rewards could vary in a smaller pile of food for less work or twice as much food for more work. Salamone studies proved that animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easy, low-value reward, while animals with normal levels don’t mind exerting the effort to jump the fence for the high-value reward.
Deficiency in dopamine levels is similar to those of depression – lack of interest in life, procrastination, altered sleep patterns, fatigue, excessive feeling of hopelessness, and decreased motivation.
Thankfully there are ways to naturally and holistically increase the levels of your dopamine to allow yourself to stay more motivated.
- Set realistic goals – starting with smaller, more attainable goals, will allow for the continual release dopamine as oppose to setting attainable goals and losing interest overnight
- Decrease sugar intake – Sugar alters brain chemistry by disrupting dopamine levels
- Take L-Tyrosine supplements: The precursor to dopamine, increasing l-tyrosine levels can help your body create more dopamine
- Create a routine — A daily routine that meets both your personal needs and wants is great at forming discipline. Sticking to regular routines minimizes the number of decisions that must be made, allowing us to save this energy for the task associated with your goals
- Celebrate wins — celebration should be a no-brainer as it is the epitome of a reward! However be careful not to use your celebration as excuses to self-sabotage the progress you’ve already made. Reward yourself in ways that are aligned with the person who you are trying to become
Next time you’re struggling with staying motivated, remind yourself of what led you to want to achieve that goal, visualize your rewards, and don’t lose sight of all that you have to gain… no matter how low your dopamine levels may be.