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Hack Your Mind to Get Motivated

Hack Your Mind to Get Motivated

    Let’s face it. Most creative people and knowledge workers have to perform in their jobs and personal lives at a moment’s notice. With constant pressure coming at us to produce more, better, and faster, it can be a hard to get motivated through all of the work that we have to do on a daily basis.

    SEE ALSO: How to Stay Motivated

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    If you find yourself “slipping through the cracks” and becoming unmotivated day-in and day-out, use mind hacks to get motivated.

    Insert a daily review into your life

    Something that I have been playing with for a couple weeks now is having a “mini review” every morning, thanks to Peter Bregman and his 18 Minutes framework. Peter suggests before we do anything else in our day to take 5 minutes to decide how our day will be “highly successful”. This consists of me opening nothing else but my task management suite and looking over my available actions for the day and marking what I want to get done.

    This small but important time slot in the beginning of the day can help me get motivated by giving me a purpose. Without a purpose for my day I will surely slip into an unmotivated state.

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    Taking small breaks and refocusing

    Another awesome way to get motivated is to make sure that you are giving yourself much needed breaks throughout the day. These don’t have to be the “normal” two, 15 minute breaks with a lunch hour in between. Oh, no. We are talking about small breaks through out the day that can last a few to five minutes.

    The idea is that rather than forcing ourselves to work, that we stop every so often to give ourselves the permission to read our favorite blogs, update our twitter status, etc. so we can push our concentration back to our work. This idea of giving ourselves small breaks throughout the day allows us not to build resentments against our work, and can keep us motivated and focused for longer periods of time.

    Go to a higher altitude

    We talked about how you can insert a daily mini review into your life to find you motivation for the day, but what about motivation for your life? This is where David Allen’s altitudes come into play.

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    David Allen (you know, the GTD Guy?) talks about 6 Horizons of Focus. Basically, these are different levels that you can look at your life and they range from “pickup milk on the way home” to “be the father that you always wanted”. What you want to do is at least monthly (if not weekly) take a look at your higher Horizons of Focus. These would be your 30 to 50k feet Horizons. This is the range between where you are going for the next 12 to 18 months to the reason that you are on this planet.

    It’s a good practice to sit down and get creative with these horizons as a way to get motivated to do your life’s work. The mini daily review is great for daily grind and trench work, but if you don’t step back and go to a higher level, you will spend your life living in the trenches where the chances of becoming unmotivated are much higher. Give your life meaning by looking at the big picture instead.

    Become mindful

    So, reviewing and breaking throughout your day are good ways to get motivated, but one of the best ways is to make sure that you are staying mindful. Being mindful is the key to doing the work that you are supposed to be doing.

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    Like I mentioned before, it can be really hard to “come out of the front-lines” or work. When you finally do you may look at what you are doing and think to yourself, “what’s the point of this?” Chances are if you are thinking that you aren’t being mindful of your work and life.

    Becoming mindful not only helps you find the work that you should be doing but it helps you get motivated to do that work. Once you find the things in your life that need to stay and the things that you can let go of through mindfulness, having motivation will be the last thing you need to worry about. As your clarity of mind increases, your motivation for work will happen naturally.

    I wish I could tell you the key to getting motivated is to quite whining, and just do your work. But, sometimes we have to use “tricks” to get motivated. Practice the above recommendations and you shouldn’t have too much trouble with staying motivated through your day and life.

    (Photo credit: Motivation via Shutterstock)

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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