Motivation is your willingness to work towards a specific goal. Sometimes, you’re positively swimming in it! You wake up every morning excited and energized. You can’t wait to throw yourself into a project. Time flies by and you get lost in your work. It feels like a pleasure to pour every ounce of your energy into working towards your goal. You feel such a sense of achievement.
Other days…not so much. You struggle to get started. It feels like a chore. You stare at a blank screen for hours. You waste time on social media. You find yourself daydreaming or drifting off. You feel like you’ve lost your spark. You’d rather be anywhere else, doing anything else.
Losing your motivation can be pretty disheartening. It makes you question everything. What happened?! Why am I throwing away my hard work? Why can’t I just snap out of it? Do I want this or not? Is it not meant to be? Do I even deserve it? Should I just give up?
I understand, but don’t give up on your goal just yet! I’m going to show you some proven techniques for rediscovering your spark and supercharging your motivation. But first, let’s look at exactly how motivation works…
The Science Behind Motivation
You’ve probably heard of dopamine. It’s a neurotransmitter, or a chemical, that passes information between different neurons in the brain. This happens when the first neuron releases dopamine into the tiny space between the two. Dopamine triggers receptors on the second neuron, which essentially ‘decode’ the chemical’s message.
What’s the message? Well, we usually associate dopamine with pleasure, but this multi-tasking chemical actually plays many roles in the brain. It’s involved in everything from sex, love and lust, to addiction, impulsiveness and cheating, to attention, focus and yes — motivation! Its role depends on the pathway it takes through the neurons, the type of receptors it encounters along the way, and many other factors.
So how does dopamine affect motivation?
The brain’s most important reward pathway is called the mesolimbic pathway. It starts in the center of the brain and branches out all over, stopping at the nucleus accumbens along the way. When dopamine builds up here, it signals to the brain that something important is about to happen, and you should pay attention.
What that means is that dopamine isn’t necessarily released in response to a reward. It actually starts to work in prediction of a reward. Its job here is simply to prepare us for action by focusing our attention. When that prediction comes true, we receive a flood of pleasure-inducing dopamine to confirm that we acted correctly and reinforce the behavior.
How can this help improve your motivation?
Now dopamine is an incredibly complex chemical that would take a thesis to fully explain! But this overview is the basis of a few sound techniques for taking control of your motivation. Let’s explore them…
Develop routines and rituals...
Author Maya Angelou swore by a regular writing routine. Every day, she’d rent a local hotel room. From 6.30am to 2pm, she’d go there and write, then she’d go home and edit her work. She never stayed at the hotel; it was simply part of the ritual.
This is far from unusual among creative types and entrepreneurs, who may not have the structures of a traditional 9-5 and a boss looking over their shoulder to keep them on task. This self-imposed routine is what keeps them motivated, even when they’d rather be doing anything else.
Remember how I said dopamine is released in prediction of a rewarding action? Well it predicts this reward based on cues. For Maya Angelou, these cues were leaving her house, going to the hotel, and sitting down in her favorite spot to write. At each stage, her brain released dopamine in anticipation of what was to come, focused her attention on the task at hand, then rewarded her with more dopamine when it ‘guessed’ correctly.
You can create your own cue-focus-reward mechanism by creating a routine or a ritual relating to your task. If you want to lose weight, for example, you can create a ritual where you wake up at 6am, drink a protein shake, brush your teeth, put on your running gear, and go for a jog.
Every time you repeat the routine, the association between cue, focus and reward will get stronger and stronger. Eventually, it’ll become a habit and you won’t have to struggle to find the motivation to do it.
2. Start with something simple.
Ok, David, but what happens when my alarm clock goes off at 6am and I hit snooze and go back to sleep?!
I hear you!
The hardest part of any routine is usually the first step, so the key is to remove that friction at the beginning. Ease yourself in with smaller tasks that won’t cause as much mental resistance. Once you get that dopamine flowing, it’ll get easier and easier to progress through each step of your routine.
Let’s look at our running example. If you’re not a morning person, have your partner wake you at 6am, or have an early-bird friend give you a wake-up call. Or if you positively cannot bring yourself to rise before the sun, then switch your workout to a time when you won’t be so tempted to bail.
Make it as easy as possible to get started and the rest will follow!
3. Break your goal into smaller goals.
If your goal is particularly grand, like making a million dollars, then the reward can seem a long way away. That’s one of the main reasons why we get demotivated, and here’s why…
So your brain is primed for action and your dopamine levels are rising. After a while, your brain realizes that the reward it was expecting isn’t forthcoming. Your dopamine levels start to to drop, which is unpleasant for the brain. Not only do you lose focus on your task, but your brain learns to associate the task with a loss of dopamine and makes you reluctant to repeat it.
If you break your goal into smaller goals instead, you’re essentially giving yourself lots of little strategic dopamine hits at regular intervals. Every time you cross a task off your list, or achieve a smaller goal, you’re rewarding your brain for staying focused. Your brain learns that this is a task worth repeating, which keeps you working towards the bigger goal.
4. Keep challenging yourself.
We’re not just demotivated by goals that are too big. Set your sights too low and you’ll also find yourself struggling to stay interested.
Think of it like this: if Usain Bolt knocked on your door and challenged you to a race, you’d probably be intimidated out of all existence! But that doesn’t mean you want to race your little nephew around the yard all day either. We want to know that our goal is actually possible, but we only feel a sense of achievement if it challenges us in some way. Finding that sweet spot is essential to motivation.
That’s because of the ‘winner’ effect, which means that we get a huge flood of dopamine when we overcome a challenge. We become accustomed to this over time, and so we need to continuously overcome bigger challenges for a bigger hit. It’s what drives us to become better and better, so if you want to maintain your motivation, your goal has to be something that will challenge you to grow.
5. Set intrinsic goals.
To stay motivated, it’s important to set goals that are rewarding, but it turns out that not just any reward will do. A well-known study involving lawyers asked one group to represent clients pro bono, and another to represent clients for $20 per hour, a fraction of their normal rate. Surprisingly, the pro bono group were far more motivated than their paid counterparts.
Because the paid group were motivated by money, and they perceived their reward to be insignificant compared to their normal rate. This is extrinsic, or external motivation. The pro bono group, on the other hand, were motivated by the desire to do good for others. This is intrinsic, or internal motivation, and it’s the more powerful of the two by far.
Intrinsic motivation resonates with a fundamental psychological need. This might be the need to connect with others, to feel secure, to challenge ourselves, to improve ourselves, to care for our children… We’re biologically driven to pursue these things, and because of that, they stimulate dopamine in a way that external factors simply can’t.
When you’re setting a goal, make sure the reward means something to you intrinsically. If you want to become wealthy so you can swim in a pool of champagne, you’re probably going to lose motivation long before that happens!
If you want to get wealthy because you grew up in poverty and you want to create a better life for your kids, you’re far more likely to stick with it for the long haul.
Ready to re-ignite your spark?
There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you’re stuck in a rut or you’ve lost your spark. Back when I was studying and building my business, I struggled with this too. The techniques I’ve talked about here helped me to re-discover what was important to me and pursue it with a passion that I never even knew I had! I felt a sense of purpose and achievement like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I’m sharing these techniques because I want you to experience it too!
If you’re still in need of a major motivation boost, check out my membership site, Limitless. I’ve created over 100 powerful sessions to help you connect with your inner motivation and channel your energy into unstoppable success.
Sessions like Motivation Spark and Pure Motivation are based on a combination of Meditation, Visualization, Hypnosis and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP). I take proven techniques from each and bring them together to get you fired up and ready to chase your dreams. After each session, you’ll be energized and motivated in ways you never imagined.
If you’re ready to feel unstoppable, try Limitless now for just $1. For seven days, you’ll get unlimited access to my entire library, including Motivation Spark, Pure Motivation and over 100 more recordings.
Remember, that first step is the most important! Click the button now to join and let’s re-ignite that spark!