Motivation: It’s an Inside Job But How Does It Really Work?

In our first post, we looked at motivation and how it may or may not be helpful to keeping your NYE’s so-well-intentioned resolutions. But what is motivation, really? Can you buy it? Can you drink it? Can you exercise it into existence? (hint: not likely). So what is it exactly and how much of it do you need?

The Basics of Motivation

Motivation is broadly defined as the desire to do something. It doesn’t matter what that something is, just that you want to do it. Its antithesis is procrastination: the putting off of doing that something. So it seems pretty straight-forward that if you can keep your motivation up, then problem solved! You’ll keep doing what you’ve set out to do.

Where It Goes a Little Sideways

The problem is that what we set out to do isn’t always something that we want to do, but that we feel like we should do or have to do. Knowing that at least some exercise is essential for long-term good physical and mental health, we set goals and resolutions to hit that treadmill every day. But we know that most of the time, that vision of a healthy future-self is sacrificed on the altar of instant gratification. So we dig deep, trying to find that elusive bit of motivation. If exercise is the goal, you might think that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you exercise, there’s a flood of feel-good chemicals in your brain (runner’s high, or the like) and it keeps you going day after day. But that’s not exactly how dopamine works.

Dopamine and What It’s Not Doing for You

Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that was initially characterized as a “reward” chemical. You do something, get a reward and your neurotransmitters release dopamine. You feel great! However. If you keep doing that thing over and over again, your brain learns to expect the reward….and the dopamine stops being released. Dr. Stephen Fleming, a neuroscientist at Center for Neural Science at NYU, characterized it this way: “So is dopamine a reward chemical? In a sense, yes – what we call rewards are often things that are unexpectedly good.” The key word in that sentence is unexpectedly. Back to our exercise example: if you’re doing the same routine day after day, “unexpectedly” is tough to achieve with the same thing fourteen Tuesdays in a row. Adding variety to your exercise plan can be key to keeping that motivation. And don’t just think “exercise = gym rat” either. Take a swim class, learn martial arts – even roller derby is alive and well! Branch out, keeping your mind AND body engaged.

Motivation and Money

Remember we said motivation is the desire to do “something”? That can also apply to your job. You may think that a good salary is enough to keep you happy. And it might, for awhile. But research shows that the link between motivation and money is tenuous at best. More money doesn’t make your happier or more motivated to do a better job, or even to stay at that job. The days of spending thirty years with a company and getting a gold watch at retirement, no matter how much you hate the job, are gone. Now, what motivates us as has changed and it’s not always money.  

How’s Your Motivation?

We’re sliding toward February already and it’s cold and only a little less dark at 5pm. Are you struggling with motivation to stick to your 2018 goals? If you need a helping hand, we’re here. Sometimes talking through what’s going on can help you see a way out. Your lack of motivation may have other underlying causes, too, so simply “working harder” at it won’t always help. We do free consultations, too, to see if we’re the right fit for you. Call or text us today.

2018-02-06T21:49:02+00:00 Blog|