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How to Stay Motivated When All You Want to Do is Watch Netflix

We know what we should do, what’s best for our health, our well-being, our success. So why is it so hard to put away our phones, get out of bed and make the changes that we know we want and need? Scrolling through images of beautiful, healthy, and successful people on Instagram can sometimes shame us into action. Ultimately, this motivation fades and can even lead us to feeling more unmotivated and hopeless. Can we find more effective ways to influence our motivation while making lasting changes? We can! The answer lies in our neurobiology.

Motivation

Pleasure and reward, drive and mindset, and the avoidance of pain. These are the attributes that allow us to overcome challenges, discomfort, and effort to work towards our goals. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, the key to motivation is in the neurotransmitter dopamine. Learning strategies that  influence our dopamine levels changes everything when it comes to motivation.

It is through influencing our dopamine levels that we can increase our motivation and stay motivated. We can overcome challenges and use strategies to shift from being unmotivated. From procrastinating or from comfort-seeking to moving towards our goals, facing our challenges, and achieving our desired outcomes.

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What is Dopamine and How Does It Improve Motivation?

Dopamine has been somewhat misunderstood. Often thought of as the ‘pleasure molecule’, it is more appropriately labeled as the ‘motivation molecule’. There is a relationship between dopamine and your desire to exert effort. With the right strategies, we can control our release of dopamine or intentionally influence our dopamine schedule. Doing so controls how much and when we our dopamine levels increase.

While in a resting state or not doing much of anything, dopamine levels are low. When we’re excited about something in anticipation, our levels spike. This creates a desire for action (or motivation) towards what we are anticipating.

When we engage in the activity that we are excited about, our dopamine levels spike 50% to 100%. Interestingly, thinking about your desired activity, dopamine levels rise to the same extent. This dopamine pathway motivates us towards survival behaviours, and thus, motivates us towards any goal.

Motivation is essentially a balance between pleasure and pain. Every time you engage in a desired behaviour, you get a dopamine hit. However, you also get an increase in an experience of pain or a craving to re-engage in the behavior. Each time you engage in the behaviour, the dopamine levels decrease and the level of pain or craving increases. 

So How Can You Use This Neurobiological Pathway to Motivate Yourself for Success?

Schedule Your Motivation

Use what you know about dopamine release as a tool to increase and maintain motivation. These tools allow you to strive towards your goals and feel satisfaction and enjoyment when you’ve engaged in activities and behaviours that are in pursuit of your goals. When we celebrate our successes, we experience an increase in dopamine. However, these dopamine spikes decrease with each achievement. If we celebrate them all equally, our motivation will eventually begin to wane.

The key to keeping the motivating dopamine levels at high enough levels to keep us pursuing our goals is an intermittent reinforcement schedule. Imagine a gambler that, occasionally, gets a win. This keeps the dopamine rewards high enough to keep the gambler playing in pursuit of another win. Use this same strategy to motivate yourself towards your goals.

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Staying Motivated Every Day

For example, let’s say your goal is to exercise three times a week. Ideally, you’d reward yourself one out of the three times you worked out. Maybe by watching a favorite Netflix series during an exercise routine or going out for a favorite meal after a workout. Only you’d try to change which workout you rewarded yourself for, keeping the reward schedule as unpredictable as possible. This keeps dopamine levels at a sustainable level and keep you working and motivated toward your goals.

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How to Get Motivated to Work

This can also be done with intermediate goals or milestones towards a greater goal. If you remove or blunt rewards for some of these achievements, this keeps your dopamine in check and keep you in pursuit of your goal. However, if you celebrate every achievement equally, you’ll initially get big increases in dopamine, followed by big crashes. This ultimately leads to less motivation. Remember to reward yourself, but not every time you accomplish your goal.

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How to Get Motivated When Depressed

We are social beings and tying our goals to people in our lives can often help get us up and out the door when depression takes over and it’s the last thing we want to do. Knowing that someone is depending on you to achieve their own goals is also a strong motivation. Ideally, you can place whether you celebrate achievements towards your goals in the hands of someone who is invested in your success. This keeps your dopamine hits ultimately unpredictable, and therefore, a stronger motivator.

For years we have tried to motivate ourselves through inspiration, peer pressure, guilt, rewards, and punishments with limited success. This uninformed approach to motivation is no longer necessary. With the help of the remarkable progress in neuroscience, we can pinpoint exactly what motivates us and keeps us motivated. We only need to apply the knowledge, tools, and strategies to achieve our goals.

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References:

“Episode 12: How to Increase Motivation & Drive | Huberman Lab • Podcast Notes.” Podcast Notes, 25 Mar. 2021, podcastnotes.org/huberman-lab/episode-12-how-to-increase-motivation-drive-huberman-lab. Accessed 7 Oct. 2021.

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