Updated: Oct 18
Motivation can be a tricky thing. We often think that if we just have enough willpower, if we just push ourselves harder, we’ll see the results we want, in business and life. But sometimes we just don't feel like doing something, even knowing it's good for us and will bring great results. If only we could summon key brain chemicals, like dopamine, to help us build a bridge from procrastination to motivation. Oh, wait - to some degree, we can! Read on to find out how.
Promises we make to ourselves
This might sound familiar - "I will work on that sales proposal tomorrow morning when I feel more alert." However, tomorrow morning comes and goes and we get caught up in "urgent" emails instead. Next, we berate ourselves for being lazy or lacking willpower, falling into a negative cycle that doesn't allow for dopamine to make an appearance at our pity party.
Dopamine: good cop, bad cop
You have probably heard of dopamine, which is often thought of as the “pleasure” or "reward” chemical. It is released in anticipation of something we look forward to.
However, it might be more accurate to say that dopamine is meant to encourage us to pay attention and to act: we anticipate something good and work to achieve it, or we experience stress and find a way out of that negative situation.
In our sales proposal example, instead of focusing on the not-so-favored task of creating the sales proposal, what if you focused on the anticipated outcome of winning that client? That can stimulate the dopamine release that you need to get started.
Simply thinking about a pleasurable activity can sometimes release as much dopamine as the actual act.
High and lows
Dr. Andrew Huberman, in his popular Huberman Lab podcast, shares that novelty is the biggest trigger of dopamine release. This is why the constant stimulation and novelty of scrolling on your phone is so addictive – the brain is getting juiced up on dopamine as you cruise TikToks or even texts. Dr. Huberman also states that “the only thing dopamine wants is the release of more dopamine.” It is clearly a dangerous cycle that can lead to unhealthy addictions like constant phone checking.
The other significant thing about dopamine release is that it’s followed by prolactin release – and a crash. Do you ever feel disappointed, let down, or directionless after an event that you were looking forward to? Blame prolactin.
Control your dopamine, control your life
Thankfully, Dr. Huberman also shared some tips on harnessing the power of dopamine for motivation and productivity. Caffeine, besides making you feel more alert, increases dopamine release in the brain by 30%, while mentally attaching anticipation to the process, rather than the end-goal, can help prevent procrastination. Daily exercise can also boost dopamine activity.
He also recommends an “intermittent reinforcement schedule”: rather than celebrating every win, celebrate every other win, or every fifth win. This will keep you on the path to achieving your goals, because you’re not constantly getting the high and lows of the dopamine release and crash.
What you eat can also play a role in dopamine production: morning and mid-day meals that are high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates help with the production of dopamine, acetylcholine (which creates a “cone of attention” when focusing on something), and epinephrine, which all contribute to alertness.
Are you interested in using social connections, anticipation, and positive reinforcement to harness dopamine for increased motivation? Focus Bubbles are a great way to attach anticipation to your tasks and use the power of positive peer pressure to achieve your goals.
We'll be hosting the 3-hour Bigger, Better Bubble on September 13 from 9 a.m. to noon - it's a great opportunity to see for yourself how the right mindset and setting can make a world of difference in your work. Use this link to sign up!
I have over 30 years of experience working with more than 10,000 clients in helping people unlock their productivity potential. Personal productivity is my passion! Every day I am curious and excited to learn what people are working on. I can’t wait to see you in a Bubble!