Are we just lazy?
The Neuroscience of Motivation.
The irony of this post is not lost on me. I, too, have suffered from a lack of motivation. I did just about 10 minutes ago!
Whether it’s with getting up in the morning for work or writing these letters I thoroughly enjoy, I’ve realised that motivation doesn’t discriminate. And a lack of it sometimes gets the best of us.
But the good news here is that there’s a very real scientific basis for this, including what we can do.
In partnership with the mesolimbic pathway (which is essentially the connection between the midbrain and the outermost part of the brain; the cerebral cortex), dopamine fights the good fight by ensuring that we feel good. Whether it’s from a great night of sleep or from crushing our goals.
However, here’s where things get tricky. Or maybe trickier (because is the brain ever that simple?).
Motivation plays no favourites, and as such we can be motivated toward something or away from it. It all depends on where most of the dopamine hits.
If it’s the part in the brain called the nucleus accumbens (which in this situation, is more or less like your personal gym trainer), it’s safe to say that the motivation levels would be higher up.
However if it’s the insular, well, Godspeed, my friend.
And so comes the good news — there’s a way to help out!
Picking the brain
So how can we improve our motivation? Are we simply subject to the whims of the brain? Or do we attempt to amp up our dopamine levels?
Research has shown that the brain can be trained to re-create an optimal dopamine-rich environment. There are several ways to do this (not limited to these).
Anticipating a reward: Trying to picture the end result of one’s goal has been consistently proven to work when demotivated, and now we know why. I mean, if the same neurotransmitter involved in Motivation is also implicated in the Reward Pathway, it makes sense to utilise this method. For example, I visualised laying in my bed, a warm cup of tea in hand, as I catch up on one or two YouTube videos, right after I finish writing this letter. (Okay fine, maybe five).
Setting achievable goals: Lofty goals will discourage even the strongest of strengths. Coming up with reasonable goals that don’t seem too daunting is the way to go. But this doesn’t mean to sell yourself short; it simply means to break things down to the most achievable next step. One foot after the other. There we go. Easy does it, champ.
Determination: Ah, good ol’ determination and sheer willpower. Sometimes all it takes to get your behind off that couch is a resolve in the heart. The wind in your hair. A song in your—oops, wrong script. There’s truly a lot that can be said for the simple yet strong desire to follow through with a commitment, to stick with a decision, no matter how tough it is. I guess not every time just vibes and that other thing.
A lack of motivation is closely linked to procrastination, or never even getting around to doing the things we want to do. And of course, motivation is more complex than this. It could be intrinsic or extrinsic. But it may also be linked to illnesses (physical, mental, etc).
**NB: Consistent low levels of motivation, for a sustained period of time, might be a pointer to the need for further investigation.
Further research is still ongoing. And I guess there’s much more I could discover. But maybe I’m just lazy, ya know?