Motivation is what makes you get up in the morning.
If it weren’t for at least some amount of motivation, you’d probably just keep lying under the covers until you disintegrate into the bedsheets while hopelessly wishing for golden plates full of food to magically appear in front of you, ready to be eaten.
Alas, unfortunately for us human beings, we have to work with what life’s given us and get up to make the food ourselves.
While you don’t need that much motivation to eat food – your survival drive is so strong that it mostly does the job for you – making yourself work on that dreaded assignment or going for a 5-kilometer run early in the morning is a completely different story.
The main difference between these tasks lies in your needs. According to an American psychologist Abraham Maslow, there exists a certain hierarchy of needs that have to be taken care of before you can take the next step on your self-development journey:
As long as all your basic and social needs are provided for, you’re ready to take on the arduous tasks of completing your university essay, writing that novel, or joining the gym.
What Maslow refers to when he talks of self-actualization here is basically your need to have a meaning in life, to cross that bridge between basic survival and something with a much higher purpose.
Here’s the issue: the higher you progress on the hierarchy of needs, the harder finding the motivation seems to be. We all know the struggle of dreaming about being the best possible version of ourselves while lying on the couch, scrolling on social media, and dozing off.
So what actually happens in your brain when you do get motivated?
The Science of Motivation
Motivation is, simply put, the desire to take action. It’s triggered by dopamine, a chemical the brain releases on a reward basis.
This dopaminergic neural process makes it so that you feel satisfied after you complete a certain activity, which then makes you more eager to do it again.
You go for a run, you tick it off your to-do list, you feel proud of yourself, and you get a surge of motivation to engage in the same behavior in the future because your brain remembers how good it felt the first time.
Here’s a fascinating fact: as James Clear states in his best-selling book Atomic Habits, your brain actually often releases dopamine before you engage in certain behavior, not just after, which then drives you to take action. This is motivation.
Generally, there are two types of motivation:
Extrinsic motivation is purely reward-based.
Need to get that work assignment done? Motivate yourself by promising yourself a nice treat after.
Want to lose weight and eat healthily? Give yourself one allowed treat per week, which then functions as a reward for your healthy eating overall.
While extrinsic motivation works temporarily, there are many cons to it in the long run – engaging in a habit you dislike just because of a reward makes it extremely hard to actually stick to it.
It doesn’t drive you to like what you do, and it doesn’t motivate you to incorporate that action into your sense of identity, which means you can easily lose interest sooner or later.
This is where the secret to boosting your motivation lies.
Intrinsic motivation doesn’t rely on any outside source to drive your actions. To quote an addiction counselor and a former academic researcher, Steve Rose, Ph.D.:
“This type of motivation consists of behavior driven by one’s internal sense of reward for engaging in the task. A person may feel a sense of passion, engagement, and a sense of deep psychological satisfaction when engaging in the task, even without external reward.”
If you want to boost your motivation consistently, finding and altering your internal drive to take action is absolutely key.
While the joy of the activity itself is often enough, many of us do need to trick our brains into cooperating.
Want to find out all about how to shift your mindset to get motivated easily and which tricks will help increase your productivity?