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Published on February 17, 2021

How to Hack the Reward System in Your Brain And Stay Motivated

How to Hack the Reward System in Your Brain And Stay Motivated

How do we achieve our biggest goals in life? Hard work, learning new skills, and staying focused are definitely important things, but one of the most important things we need is motivation. Losing motivation can stop us in our tracks. It can make us procrastinate, doubt our skills and abilities, and take us off the path to success. In the worst cases, a lack of motivation can destroy our goals and kill our dreams.

Where does motivation come from?

It starts with thoughts and chemicals in the reward systems in our brains. It continues to develop in our brains and is further shaped by our behaviors. This is why neuroscience, which is the study of the function of the brain, is so important.

When we understand the basics of neuroscience, we can hack the reward system in our brains so we can stay motivated to achieve our biggest goals.

The Neuroscience of Motivation

At the most basic level, humans want to avoid pain and experience pleasure. Our pleasure-seeking behavior is based on a mental reward system that’s controlled by our brains. This reward system is what keeps us motivated and helps us achieve our biggest goals and dreams.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in our brains that help shape our thoughts and behaviors. One of the main neurotransmitters in our reward system is the “pleasure” chemical dopamine. Dopamine is produced mainly in the mid-brain and then moves to other areas of the brain, such as the amygdala, which plays a big role in our emotional development. It also moves to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for thinking, feeling, planning, and taking action.[1]

When you do something pleasurable, your brain releases dopamine to make you feel good mentally and physically. This commonly happens when we eat our favorite foods, have sex, have a great conversation with someone, or do something else we really enjoy. Each time we feel pleasure from doing something, our brains remember what made us feel good. It actually assigns a reward value for everything we do.

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For example, eating a slice of our favorite pizza may have a higher reward value than drinking a smoothie. Being on that tropical vacation will have a higher reward value than watching that water fountain downtown.

Our brains even release dopamine before we engage in those things that make us happy. It’s the expectation of the reward rather than the reward itself that has the strongest influence on our emotional reactions and memories of what’s pleasurable.[2] Just planning that tropical vacation by checking out different locations on a travel site or looking at things we want to buy on Amazon stimulates our reward system by releasing dopamine.

Thinking about starting a project at work that we’re really passionate about also activates our reward system. This act of feeling the pleasure generated by our mental reward systems is what creates reward-seeking behavior and is a big part of motivation.

Vanderbilt University researchers discovered that “go-getters” who are more willing to work hard have greater dopamine activity in the striatum and prefrontal cortex, two areas of the brain that influence motivation and reward.[3]

Hacking Our Brain’s Reward System

Here are four ways to hack the reward system in your brain to stay motivated.

1. Keep Growing

When you do the same things over and over, that dopamine rush tends to get smaller and smaller. A great way to stay motivated is to keep growing by doing bigger and bigger things.

Take on bigger, more challenging projects at work. Once you’ve reached a running or fitness milestone, start working toward a bigger one. If you’re fluent in a foreign language, learn how to have more complex, philosophical conversations. If you have your own business, find ways to acquire more clients so you can generate more profit. Keep learning new skills that will push you to the edge of your comfort zone.

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Taking on greater challenges helps our brain’s reward system continue to assign high reward values to things we do. Start by accomplishing small goals. As you accumulate more and more small wins, work your way up to more challenging goals.

2. Use Visualization

“Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose.”—Bo Bennett

A great way to stay motivated is to visualize accomplishing a goal—even though you haven’t completed it yet. Visualization actually causes the brain to release dopamine. This makes us see our future rewards more clearly and go after them more fervently.

When our brains release dopamine and we feel that rush of euphoria, our hippocampus, which is part of our brain’s limbic system, records those pleasurable moments in our long-term memory. The more we visualize success, the more our brains associate this visualized success with pleasurable feelings.

When we can imagine a better future, we’re motivated to keep pushing forward and overcoming obstacles in our path. This is why people work hard to get raises and promotions, invest their money, put their kids thru college, and do other things that help them or others prosper later in life.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, and other famous and influential people have used visualization to achieve sky-high success.[4] It’s a great way to use the power of your imagination to keep you motivated to succeed.

3. Avoid Excessive Stress

High levels of stress are associated with chronic inflammation, which can cause our motivation to decrease. Researchers at Emory University have theorized that chronic inflammation from stress may cause a chemical reaction in the body that decreases dopamine supplies in the brain.[5]

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Low levels of stress can actually help us perform better by making us more alert. That adrenaline rush we get from stress can give us the energy and the edge to do our best. But when stress levels are high, stress can be damaging to our bodies, minds, and motivation.[6]

High-stress can lead to burnout. In the worse cases, it can cause people to quit projects or quit their jobs. It can cause mental problems such as anxiety or depression. It can lead to health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other illnesses. Reduce stress by doing deep breathing exercises, meditating, running, or exercising regularly.

4. Reframe Challenges

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.—Wayne Dyer

Another great way to hack your brain’s reward system is to change how you look at challenges in your life. A common problem is that many people see difficult work as an obstacle or simply something they don’t like doing.

A good strategy is to look at difficult situations and obstacles as opportunities that will help you and those around you grow. This will help us look at difficult things in a positive light and actually look forward to doing them instead of dreading them.

For example, if three employees on your team aren’t getting along with each other and two of them are thinking about quitting, don’t look at this as a very stressful, terrible problem. Instead, look at the situation as an opportunity to use your interpersonal skills to gather the angry employees together, let them voice their concerns, and then resolve the problem.

It will help them improve personally and professionally. It will also help you and your company prosper as well. You can also apply this same way of thinking to your personal life. If your friends or family members aren’t getting along, use the disagreement as a growth opportunity that will benefit them and you.

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When we can see difficult things as great opportunities, we’ll start to look forward to them. When we look forward to doing things, it makes the reward system in our brains reward us with more dopamine, and it increases the chances that we’ll look at future problems as opportunities to grow.

Conclusion

Motivation is a challenging part of personal and professional development. This is why motivational videos and motivational speeches are so popular. A central part of staying motivated, even during the most challenging times, is to understand how our brains work. Science has given us a good understanding of our brain’s reward system and the chemicals and pathways that allow it to shape our behavior.

Hack that reward system in your brain by taking on bigger challenges, visualizing success, avoiding excessive stress, and looking at difficult situations as opportunities to help others and help yourself grow.

When we begin to master our brains, we’ll be better able to master our lives and achieve those big goals.

More Tips on How to Stay Motivated

Featured photo credit: Giorgio Trovato via unsplash.com

Reference

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Charles Amemiya

Speaker, life/business coach, social responsibility advocate and technical writer.

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Last Updated on April 14, 2021

No Motivation? 7 Great Ways to Overcome Loss of Motivation

No Motivation? 7 Great Ways to Overcome Loss of Motivation

No matter who you are, you will have moments where you feel like you have no motivation to do anything at all. Even highly effective and successful people will have times when they feel a lack of motivation. However, it is the way they deal with this “down” time that keeps them moving forward and helps them to accomplish great things.

Motivation is one of the keys that will push you into taking action and keep you moving each day. If you find yourself saying “I have no motivation,” you will tend to procrastinate on the things that are supposed to get done. Eventually, you will put things off and give up on your project or task.

This is what’s happening to many people out there. They say they want to become rich by investing or running their own business on the Internet. However, whenever they need to study the company report or build their website or write an action plan, they can’t get motivated to work. This is where most people give up.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this. Here are the 7 great tips to try when you have no motivation.

1. Remember Why You Want to Do It

If you feel a lack of motivation when you want to type an article, try to think about why you want to do it in the first place. The reasons you do something are the driving force behind everything you do. It is only when your reason is strong and emotional enough that you will do whatever it takes to accomplish the task.

When you feel no motivation at all, it is because the reason behind what you’re doing is not strong enough. Think about it: why do people stop smoking? Most of the time, people stop smoking because they have a strong reason; if they continue to smoke, they may suffer serious health problems or lose their loved ones.

So why do you do what you do? Do you know why you want to achieve your goals and your targets? Make sure your reasons are strong and emotional. When you have no motivation, think about the purpose why you want to do it.

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2. Envision the Success If You Do It, and Feel the Regret If You Don’t

Visualization is a very powerful tool that is available to us, and it is free of charge. You can think and imagine whatever you want, wherever and whenever you wish to.

If you think that visualization does not work, try to imagine vividly that you walk to your kitchen, open your fridge door, see a big yellow lemon, and take it out. After that you take a knife and cut the big yellow lemon in half.

Imagine this vividly and with as much detail as possible. After you cut the lemon, take the half up and squeeze the lemon so that the juice drops into your mouth. Feel your hand’s pressure, hear the sound it makes while being squeezed, and imagine the sour lemon juice going into your mouth. Now, do you feel more saliva in your mouth or nothing?

Chances are, if you follow through and visualize it vividly, you will have more saliva in your mouth. This is because your mind cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined.

This is what makes visualization such a powerful tool. Think about it, if your dream is to drive a Mercedes Benz, imagine the vivid picture of you driving. Imagine the model you want, the color, the smell of the seats, feel the steering, and hear sound of the engine roaring. Do you think your mind will eventually make it real one day?

The point is that when you imagine and visualize things in your mind, you will feel more motivated to do it. When you dream about the car you want, you will create the motivation from within. Try to do this when you feel like procrastinating and have no motivation.

You can learn more about using visualization in this video:

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3. Create a Supportive Environment

Do you know that your surroundings and your environment can affect your mood?

You will become the people you are around. If you are always surrounded by successful people who talk about their growth and learning, you will learn and join the conversation as well. This is how you can overcome a lack of motivation and use your environment to boost your energy levels.

On the other hand, if you are surrounded by negative people who always gossip and talk about other people, you will feel negative and have no motivation to work as well.

Ensure your work space is a good and supporting environment, so that you will want to wake up each morning and go to work.

Remember, your environment is important and can affect you. Change your environment instead of letting it manage you.

4. Change Your Physiology and Stay in Action

Motion creates emotion. Whenever you feel down and have no motivation to do your work, change your physiology. Try out this exercise:

Try to feel sad by thinking about all the sad things that have happened to you, and notice your physiology. Notice your breath, your shoulders, and your facial expression. Where are your hands, and do you look up or do you look down?

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When you are in a sad state, your physiology will change to reflect it in the short term, affecting your motivation level. Conversely, if you are feeling good and energetic, your physiology will reflect that. For most people, when they feel great and motivated, their breathing will be faster, their hands gesture will be active, they talk faster, and their eyes look forward[1].

This is why it’s often easy to tell whether someone is upset or happy just by looking at their body language. When you change your physiology, you change your emotional state, as well.

5. Let Others Motivate You

Reading a book, listening to music, or watching something inspiring can help when you have no motivation. What you can do is spend a minimum of 30 minutes each day reading an inspiring book before you start your day. This way, you will make sure you start in the right state of mind and are able to go through the day, even if you face challenges

Videos and audio can be very helpful in helping you find motivation, too. For example, when you are down and feeling no motivation, spend time watching something inspiring on YouTube or listen to a motivational speech. You will be pumped up in no time and ready to go.

6. Dream Big, Start Small, and Act Now

This is a very powerful principle if you are struggling with motivation and feel overwhelmed. When you dream, you have to dream big so that your dream can inspire you. However, when you start, you have to start small because you want to make it into a habit so that you will automatically take action consistently every day.

When your motivation is gone, start small. You want to build up the momentum from there. Once you start to take action, the motivation will come, and you will be able to continue to do more.

Take baby steps, and gradually increase from there on. For example, if you want to exercise and work out five days a week, try to schedule it and start small. Even if it is just five minutes a day, commit to it.

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The key is to build the momentum and make it easy for you to start. Once you get the engine started, gradually increase your motivation.

For more tips on taking action, check out Lifehack’s Free Guide: The Dreamers’ Guide for Taking Action and Making Goals Happen.

7. Take Breaks When Needed

Sometimes you just want to take a break when you have no motivation. Remember, success is not a destination; it is a journey that you need to go through for a long period of time. Many people mistake success as doing one great thing and think that success will come over overnight.

However, almost all the successful people who have accomplished amazing results are able to do so because they persist long enough. They take action consistently and never give up. Real success takes years to build.

Make sure you get enough rest and take a break when you need to. Understand your own capabilities and how much you can do. If you have done your work, you can reward yourself and take a break. You will notice that after resting, you will feel more energetic, motivated, and ready to take on the world again.

The Bottom Line

If you find yourself asking, “Why do I have no motivation?” it may be time to take a good look at how you’ve aligned your priorities and where you can make changes each day. Overcoming a lack of motivation means finding what matters on a daily basis and taking small steps toward it when the energy you’re given.

More to Boost Your Motivation

Featured photo credit: Agnieszka Boeske via unsplash.com

Reference

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