The secret to moving past feeling stuck to being motivated for each of us may be a little bit like trying to find the proverbial and elusive, perhaps mythical fountain of youth.
Goals that are important to us may take a frustrating amount of time and effort to achieve. Simply the mere thought of such exertion can be enough to either inspire stress, or open doors to distractions.
What does it take to push through these mental blocks and accomplish what we desire? How do we find our mojo again? An entire industry of self-help authors offers a variety of solutions from action plans to attitude makeovers. The way our brain functions may be the answer we have been seeking.
Scientists are researching what clicks on in our brains to move our bodies and push us to success. When you are pondering how to accomplish something, can you feel where the neurons are firing from in your brain?
Is that a different source than when you think about why you do something? Researchers are finding that the parts of the brain that are active when you think about how to do things are completely different than the parts that are active when you think about why you do things.
The results of an activity (physical or mental) partly depend on the efforts devoted to it, which may be geared towards the reward. For example, people doing sports training may develop “increased intensity” if the result will bring social prestige or financial gain.
Nike’s ad that says. “Just do it!” has inspired athletes to push harder and go past their perceived limits, as well as making the company millions of dollars. However the “do-it” signals constantly compete with the “don’t-do-it” signals to determine our course of action (or inaction).
Researchers propose that the expectation of a reward is encoded in the ventral striatum, which can then drive either the motor or cognitive part of the striatum in order to boost performance. Human neuroimaging studies also suggest that the nucleus accumbens, a basal ganglia structure deep within each of the brain’s hemispheres, is critically involved in anticipating potential reward.
This structure seems to work with other regions, such as the lower and innermost areas of the prefrontal cortex, to provide signals about how rewarding it would be to accomplish a potential action. The larger the potential benefit, the stronger the motivating signals. Being clear about the benefit, is then one key to motivation.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or endorphin linked to motivation. Studies show that endorphins are enhanced and increased with altruistic behavior. People whose brains produce very little “reward chemical”, or serotonin and dopamine tend to be less helpful towards strangers.
We could say that acts of kindness are a motivation in themselves, and that as we act more kindly the endorphins or motivating chemical in our brains increases.
Recent research also indicates that we have greater control over the signals in our head that we might imagine. A number of simple mental strategies can help us to bias our brain in favor of the “do-it” signals to increase our sense of drive and motivation to accomplish desired goals.
Ultimately, the greatest motivational tool may be the realization that you can take control of the various signals in your head. You can feel where the “do it” message comes from in your brain, and use the simple tips above to jumpstart your motivation. Just like most things, the more you do it, the better you get, the easier it is to be motivated.