The Science of Motivation
Motivation is a skill that pushes us to achieve our goals. We all have the capability to be more motivated. Understanding what is happening in the brain sheds light on how to get more motivated in life. The neurotransmitter, dopamine is making an appearance.
Dopamine performs its task before we obtain rewards, meaning that its real job is to encourage us to act and motivate us to achieve something good or avoid something bad. Behavioral neuroscientist, John Salamone, confirmed the link in an animal study. Rats were given the choice of one pile of food or another pile of food twice the size behind a small fence. The rats with lower levels of dopamine almost always chose the smaller pile of food, rather than jumping the fence for a larger reward. In understanding the motivation-dopamine link, we can put into place effective techniques for getting (and staying) motivated.
- Set incremental goals. The brain can be trained to feed off of dopamine bursts sparked by rewarding experiences. Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you progress through a series of small goals. Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain’s positive reinforcement system every time you complete a step.
- Reward yourself. Self-reinforcement is built on the behavioral theory that we are more likely to repeat a behavior when we receive a reward after it is completed. It works for dogs, too. Use a reinforcer to motivate yourself through that to-do list.
- See the future. While the completion of smaller goals keeps us on task, having our “eyes on the prize” can be the extra kick we need to get through them. Research shows that both perspectives prove effective in motivating oneself toward a goal. Take a moment each day to imagine reaching your end goal; how you will feel, what will happen after, or how those around you will respond.
- Lead the way. Be a leader-if not to others, then to yourself. Be in control of the situation. Speak kindly to yourself. Be honest about where you are at. If you aren't happy with it, have confidence in your ability to redirect yourself.
Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don't… Watch the TED talk.