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The Simple Mechanism That Generates Your Motivation, and 9 Ways to Consciously Control It

The Simple Mechanism That Generates Your Motivation, and 9 Ways to Consciously Control It
You can read a stack of books on motivation, but at the end of the day you will see that it all comes down to only two simple factors.

These two factors are purpose and progress. If you have a clear purpose and succeed in making progress towards your goals, your subconscious brain will always reward you by releasing neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin in its reward pathways.

Dopamine makes you feel more energetic, motivated, and happy. Serotonin can make you feel satisfied, relaxed, and pleasant at the same time. Therefore, if you are low on motivation, do not just think about how you can make yourself feel better so that you can start doing what you are about to do. Instead, ask yourself how you can do something that will provide you the sense of progress toward a meaningful goal. When you start working on that, your positive feelings will arise naturally.

Moving Forward Triggers Your Brain to Make You Feel Good

The best example of how purpose and progress work is comparing driving in a car to sitting on a chair. If you had to sit on a chair in an empty room for four hours, you would feel like going crazy because there is no purpose and there is zero progress. However, if you drive for four hours in a car, when it is a nice ride, you can absolutely enjoy it even though you’re also just sitting. It is simply because you have a good purpose, which is your destination, and you make good progress by moving with high speed towards it.

For the same reason, if you feel a bit unmotivated and you simply go for a ride or just for a walk, you usually start to feel better. Also, for the same reason, many truck drivers enjoy being truck drivers despite the fact that if you think about it logically, it should be one of the most boring and nerve-cracking jobs on Earth. It is also interesting to think about what happens if you get lost on the way or get stuck in traffic. You lose either the purpose or the progress. You lose the flow of motivating neurochemicals, and you might quickly get stressed. If you have to drive a lot every day to your work, your purpose may lose its importance. You may not experience your progress of moving forward as real progress anymore either. You may even start to hate driving to your work and end up being chronically stressed, therefore.

The Neurologic Programming Behind Your Motivation and It’s Conflict With Our Modern Day Activities

Your subconscious mammalian brain’s neurological programming has evolved to support a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, not the modern ways of living. It motivates you by releasing dopamine when your efforts deliver short-term results. On the contrary, it discourages you from continuing what you are doing if it does not deliver results quickly, or if there are uncertainties about your chances of success. In this case it is lowering your dopamine levels. It was a brilliant neurologic programming in the past. Going after the easy and secure prey was almost always safer for our survival than chasing a difficult-to-catch prey for a long time.

Unfortunately, this programming is often counterproductive in today’s modern life. Many of our activities are filled with uncertainties, and it often takes days, weeks, months, or even years to achieve the desired results. Therefore, too many of our goals may be seen by our subconscious brain as too difficult to achieve. If this happens to you, you may feel stressed, unmotivated, and highly sensitive to distractions. Although your subconscious brain can make you feel very bad this way, its intentions are always noble. It tries to make you stop what you’re doing and search for another activity that might lead to success more easily.

If you want to avoid entering such a state of mind and keep yourself in a motivated, productive mood every day, you need to pay attention to performing your daily activities in a way that satisfies your old-fashioned programming of your subconscious brain. Here are nine tips you can follow to keep your dopamine levels high.

1. How to Rise Your Mood Quickly When You Begin Your Day

When waking up early in the morning, most people tend to feel in low mood due to low dopamine levels. If this happens to you, the quickest way to get yourself into a motivated, positive, and productive state of mind is to consciously engage in an activity that can provide you with a nice first ‘dopamine shot.’ Begin to do something that is important for you and you can easily finish within 15-30 minutes. The more you accept that feeling unmotivated is just a natural state, the faster your dopamine reward will arrive as you make progress towards completing your first activity.

2. A Counterintuitive Approach to Supercharge Yourself

It may sound counterintuitive, but if you choose to tackle something from your to-do list that you absolutely dislike, your subconscious brain might reward you with a double dose of dopamine. It’s not true that only doing what you like can make you happy. Doing tasks you dislike can often result in even greater happiness if it relieves you from stress or irritation. This principle forms the basis of a productivity hack called the ‘scary hour.’ This approach involves spending the first hour of your day doing tasks you dislike the most on your to-do list. It can increase your dopamine levels so much that you’ll have enough motivation for all the other things you want to do throughout the whole day. For the same reason, cleaning up your house or workplace can also be an excellent motivation starter.

3. You Can Plan the Moments in Advance When Your Brain Will Release Dopamine

How much dopamine your mammalian brain releases throughout the day will always depend on how much progress you make with meaningful activities. You can simply do your work, and if things go well, you will naturally feel motivated. However, setting a couple of short-term achievable goals can always help to create a constant sense of meaningful progress. You can even write them down each morning. Think about things that will make you feel satisfied by lunchtime and by the end of the day. If you think only about the activities you must do, those can feel like obligations, possibly triggering stress by your subconscious brain. However, when you think about the results of your activities, you actually visualize moments of success in your mind. It conditions your subconscious brain that your goals are clear, achievable, and within reach. The more detailed you imagine the results, the better you’ll convince your mammalian brain that the ‘prey’ will be a guaranteed successful catch.

4. Avoid Overplanning

Simple, clear and realistic goals will make your plan attractive for your subconscious brain. You can summarize everything that you want to have achieved in just a few words. You shouldn’t write down more than four goals for each part of the day because it’s unlikely that you can accomplish more than one significant task per hour. A long, detailed list may cause your subconscious brain to see your goals as “too difficult prey to catch,” leading to feelings of stress and being overwhelmed. That’s obviously not what you want.

It is good to be ambitious, but overplanning will make you underperform your expectations. Because your subconscious brain is programmed to pay two to three times more attention to potential threats than to potential sources of happiness, you will likely forget to celebrate the things that you have accomplished. You will probably feel more dissatisfied with the tasks you have failed to finish. Therefore, you will not only miss the steady small pulses of dopamine that would otherwise keep you motivated, but your mammalian brain will most likely activate your stress mechanisms to try to distract you from your unsuccessful activities.

5. Celebrating Even the Smallest Achievements is More Important Than You Think

You should consciously celebrate even small achievements. It may seem strange to celebrate every little task that you execute, but your subconscious brain needs this constant reinforcement to keep your dopamine circuits active. If you regularly think that what you have done does not matter too much, your subconscious brain will believe that. It will slowly shut down your motivation channels. If you don’t believe that it is significant what you have done, then you are obviously doing the wrong things from its point of view.

6. Follow a Good Exampe and Your Brain Will Release Dopamine Continously

Regardless of the type of work you do, if you can find a good example to follow, you won’t need to plan moments of achievements. Your subconscious brain will constantly compare what you create to the example and will continuously release dopamine as you advance towards a comparable result.

7. Make Dopamine Flow Naturally by Doing Practical Work With Your Hands

If you do practical work with your hands, you don’t need to plan moments of achievements either to keep your motivation high throughout the day. With each step of your work, you see progress happening right before your eyes. As a result, your subconscious brain takes care of maintaining a constant flow of ‘happy’ neurochemicals. This is the reason why many people who enjoy working with their hands would never want to sit in an office. They would miss the easy, constant flow of satisfaction that working with their hands can provide. These are also the types of activities where people can easily immerse themselves with such deep concentration that they are almost impossible to get distracted from.

8. Choose a Work That Consists of Executing a Series of Simple Tasks

All those people whose work consists of executing a series of simple tasks need no planning to sense the progress in what they do either. In their case, the challenge is often to keep finding their work purposeful, especially if they perform repetitive activities. Those, however, who deeply believe that the purpose of their work is meaningful and important can do exactly the same activities every day for years without losing motivation.

9. Choose a Work That Involves Supporting Others

When doing supportive work motivation arises naturally

If your work involves supporting, helping, or teaching others, the purpose of what you do will always be meaningful. The progress with your work will always be obvious. Like in the previous cases, you will not have to achieve goals throughout the day to keep yourself motivated.

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