There are tons of videos out there teaching tips and tricks and rah rah motivation, but in this video I'm going to teach you how your brain works so you can understand the principle behind how to get motivated and how to stay motivated. You're going to learn how dopamine, the neurotransmitter of reward and pleasure and motivation works in your brain and four simple things that you can do to get motivated and stay that way. I've got this friend in my neighborhood and he's a super high achieving high school student, he gets straight A's, he's taking a handful of college classes in high school and he's an amazing musician.
You know the type right? Well, he's been telling me lately that he's struggling to finish his application to his dream university. I mean he's gonna get in if he applies but he's having a hard time getting it written. So what's the deal with that? I mean it's so out of character, so it got me thinking, have you noticed how during the pandemic people are less motivated. I mean, I feel less motivated, it can be hard to get moving and it's weird because people have more time on their hands than ever but they're getting less and less done and that's not because they have changed, like it's not like their genetic makeup has magically changed or anything, but it's because of how dopamine works in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter the chemical in your brain that's associated with feeling rewarded or motivated.
It helps us strive, it helps us feel focused and it helps us find things interesting, it has to do with how we feel pleasure when we have sex or when we eat ice cream and it also motivates us to work hard, to earn money, to eat ice cream. Now dopamine is associated with sticking with something until it rewards you. So for example, casinos take advantage of the dopamine response in our brain by randomly rewarding meaningless behavior, like putting coins into a slot and when you do get a win, it dumps a ton of dopamine into your brain, which feels amazing and that dopamine reward motivates you to keep doing it.
So the same thing goes with fishing right, like just one more cast, that's going to be the lucky one or metal detecting, just one more signal, that could be where gold is right and on a random side note, people who take artificial dopamine medication, like l-dopa, for a disease like Parkinson's they have sometimes developed terrible gambling addictions when before they took the meds they never had a problem with gambling. So dopamine creates a reward that motivates a behavior like gambling or fishing or working being motivated. So basically here's how the dopamine cycle works. You take action, then you get a reward and then you have motivation to take more action, but here's where people get stuck, they think you need to feel motivated first to take some action as in 'I don't feel like writing so I'm not going to start until I feel motivated' or 'I'll just watch youtube videos until I feel like exercising' 'and then when that magical bolt of motivation hits that's when I'll be productive'. and sometimes that works right, sometimes you feel motivated first and then you take action, but that's not how motivation works in the long run and this is why so many people, my friend included, are having a hard time getting motivated during the pandemic, because motivation levels drop when you do less things.
So because we're not leaving the house for work, we're less motivated because we don't have scheduled activities with our friends, we're less motivated. The less you do, the less motivated you feel. So this is the trap that many people get stuck in, they wait to get motivated before they do something. I think a lot of times we might look at someone who's super motivated, like for example my in-laws. They are both super high achievers, they get up early, they exercise, my father-in-law goes and works at the hospital for long hours, he comes home and then he reads a bunch of books and he serves in his church and he does all these things my mother-in-law is an artist and a writer and she's serving and she's teaching youth groups and she's doing all these things right and you might look at someone who's super motivated and assume well, they just feel like getting up at 5am and exercising, they must just have that one magical gift of a gene that makes them feel this way, but that's actually, most likely, not how it works.
Doing something is how you get motivated, motivation and dopamine come AFTER taking action and this is just hardwired into our brain. So just imagine our ancient ancestors out foraging for food and coming across an unknown berry. Maybe they decided to eat it and it turns out it was delicious and nourishing. That little kick of excitement comes in after eating and absorbing the berry and then that's going to motivate them to find the next berry patch. If on the other hand the berry makes them puke then they don't have the motivation next time to eat that berry or to work for it. But imagine this scenario: What if the motivation to eat everything came before trying the berry, then they'd be motivated to eat all kinds of dangerous foods. So motivation comes after action not before it. Now one of the things that many emotionally unhealthy people have in common is putting a lot of energy into trying to change how they feel.
So this is generally a massive waste of energy people struggle against feeling sad or they wait until they feel motivated to act or they avoid things that make them anxious and you know what they get? They get more sad, less motivated and more anxious. Stop putting your energy into trying to change your emotions directly. We're most likely to change emotions by changing how we act and changing how we think. Nick Wignal says "Anyone can feel motivated from time to time, but highly motivated people build routines and habits into their lives that generate motivation consistently." You can build up a chronic cycle of demotivation or a chronic cycle of motivation and it really comes down to one small thing that you do and that's going to determine whether you stay motivated or not. Let me give you one more example of that cycle and then we're going to jump into specifics of how to get motivated and how to stay motivated.
So one of the big aspects of depression is having a hard time getting motivated, it's feeling low energy and feeling little to no pleasure in the things you used to enjoy. So it's easy to see how that motivation-reward-dopamine cycle is broken and it's hard to know what came first, the chicken or the egg here but a common style of self-talk with depression is someone dismisses any praise that they get or when they do something well, they talk down to themselves they say 'oh it's no big deal' or 'so and so could have done it better' or they say 'oh I'm such a loser' and you just minimize your accomplishments, you maybe turn down compliments and by doing that you're basically crushing that sense of reward.
Then the next day you feel less motivated and it's harder to get out of bed and that cycle continues. So that negative self-talk interrupts any rewarding feeling that you may get from taking action and then this stops the dopamine from flowing and then that's going to decrease motivation the next time. So this is why changing your self-talk can be really helpful with depression but it's also why medication can be a good option for depression because it can help you get moving, get started and then once you get started that can help you keep moving. So the way to stay motivated is all about reinforcing that motivating cycle to keep that dopamine flowing. So how we reward ourselves for tasks determines in the long run whether we build or decrease motivation over time and it all starts with building small, regular habits which really just starts with choosing one small thing to act on right? Action leads to reward, leads to motivation, leads to action. So the way to get motivated isn't to wait until you feel motivated but rather to take some action first and then highlight the reward it has for you.
First choose one small thing to start with and then try to do it. I know this can sound hard but just pick something like making your bed and then after you've done that take a second to congratulate yourself for how nice it looks and then give yourself a moment to bask in that tiny pleasure. Now if you can't get yourself to start a big task that you're avoiding, you can start by moving in the smallest possible way. I asked my mother-in-law about this and she says when she has a task that she doesn't really want to do like um scrubbing the floor she'll make a little chart and it's like okay do three minutes of something you enjoy and then three minutes of something that's hard and then three minutes of something you enjoy and then three minutes of something that's hard and that's how she gets things done throughout the day, she rewards herself by um you know getting to work on her art or getting to work on her novel in between you know scrubbing the floor or whatever task it is.
So some examples of things you could do that just get you moving are things like going for a five minute walk without a phone or drinking a tall glass of water. Anything that gets you moving can start that dopamine cycle and then after you've done that, just reinforce that reward just give yourself a little bit of credit for doing that. Another thing that's important is just like don't work in bed, don't lay down, research shows that for people who stay in bed their motivation decreases. So just little things like getting out of bed or getting dressed and then telling yourself 'hey good job, you did it!' like that's enough to get that motivation dopamine reward cycle going. Getting started can be the hardest part, so you could set a timer and do that task for x long so, you know I'll just write for five minutes and then I can quit if I want. Then when you've completed the task just make sure to give yourself some credit reward yourself with some praise or checking an item off your list and that's going to reinforce your wins.
This is how you build lasting intrinsic motivation, you sit and you bask in how good it feels. So you found this video, you're watching a video on how to get motivated instead of a cat video, and cat videos are okay sometimes, but you're working to improve yourself. So good work! Give yourself some credit right now. When you build one new habit at a time, the habits make it easier and easier to take action the next time. Now let's talk about rewards for a minute. How you reward yourself matters. If you want to have lasting motivation, you really need to build up intrinsic rewards. It's okay to give yourself a piece of chocolate once in a while or treat yourself to something, but in the long run, what you really want to be building, is that internal sense of pride that comes from accomplishing something you really care about.
A lot of people are unmotivated because they've gotten trapped into unlasting forms of reward, external rewards. So these are things like people pleasing or praise or money and so what I'm going to recommend is that instead of chasing these temporary highs, build a lasting motivation cycle by chasing your own goals, find your own reasons, your inner passions, beliefs and values, your intrinsic rewards and you can start doing that by asking yourself 'what do you really care about?'.
My husband recently told me a story about three stone cutters, so a man goes into a quarry and sees three different stone cutters they're cutting stone and he asked the first one you know 'what are you doing?' and he says 'oh I'm cutting stone' and the man says 'well, why are you doing that?' and he says 'oh for a pence a day'. The second stone cutter he goes up to him and he says 'what are you doing?' he says 'I'm cutting stone' and he says 'why are you doing that?' and he says 'oh, to put food on the table'. and the third stone cutter that he goes up to he says 'what are you doing?' he says 'I'm cutting stone' he says 'why are you doing that?' and he says 'I'm building a temple to my god and it's going to be the most beautiful temple ever.' It's easy to see how these three men doing the exact same task had different motivations for what they were doing and you can develop your own intrinsic sense of motivation even about the tasks you don't like.
So imagine two different scenarios for getting the bathroom cleaned. The first form of motivation is like this 'ugh, I hate it if I have a guest come over and the bathroom is messy, ugh I guess I'll try to clean the bathroom' or number two 'ew the bathroom is gross, I hate worrying about, it it'll feel so nice when it's all clean.
It'll smell nice, my husband will be so happy that it's taken care of so that we don't have to do it on the weekend and we can go do something fun. It's gonna feel so good when it's cleaned.' The second form of motivation still accomplishes the same task but the way it does it is through thinking about the good feelings and the intrinsic rewards that are going to come from cleaning the bathroom. There's a lot of ways to strengthen that internal sense of fulfillment and motivation. Building lasting motivation is all about bringing to mind over and over what is most important to you, what matters to you the most. So the first way to build intrinsic motivation is to really ask yourself 'what do you want to be doing with your life?'. So take a moment to write down your values.
What do you want to be doing with your one, wild and precious life? Another way to build intrinsic motivation is to track your accomplishments. You can use a to-do list and check off the items, that's a way to reinforce that win, you can track your routines on paper right like I do a 30-day chart where I mark off the days that I, you know, complete my habit. Another thing you can do is do a calendar with a big red marker, just like fill in that whole square of the day when you accomplish whatever your goal was and basically these are all different ways of just reinforcing that sense of accomplishment.
Another thing you can do is reward yourself before the task. So I asked my mother-in-law how is she so motivated to do so many things and she says she just imagines what it'll feel like when it's done. So imagine how you're going to feel when you do complete a task. Visualizing how good it's going to feel when you're done strengthens that sense of accomplishment and motivation and basically that just builds neural pathways that reinforce that positive behavior. Okay, stop rewarding bad behavior. Many people are unmotivated because they accidentally reward bad behavior like procrastinating. So if you do something fun while you're procrastinating, like gaming or watching a show, you're actually rewarding yourself for procrastinating you're turning on that reward cycle for not taking action.
So instead don't reward yourself for bad behavior. If you're procrastinating, turn off your phone or your tv because boredom can be really uncomfortable and that can be a really good motivator. So you don't have to like if you're having a hard time getting started you don't have to start right away but just turn off your rewards that are keeping you from starting and then you can still watch a show or play a game just use it as a reward for doing that something that you want to do. Okay another really important thing to foster that motivation, to foster that motivation cycle that keeps building on itself is to stop the negative self-talk, stop beating yourself up when you fail it doesn't work in the long run because if you think you're going to get punished then over time your motivation decreases a little bit each time.
Research shows that punishment is a very short-term source of motivation and in the long run leads to people being very demotivated. So there is no magical fix that's gonna make you motivated all the time, but you can build up a consistent cycle of motivation little by little, gradually, and this is the way that your brain learns these dopamine pathways right, this builds sustainable motivation. So don't wait to take action until you feel motivated, get yourself to take small steps first and then take the time to sit with that feeling of accomplishment.
Don't use fear or self-punishment as a way to get things done and find your internal sense of fulfillment to build that lasting and self-sustaining reward cycle. I hope you found this video helpful. Thank you so much for watching and take care. This video is sponsored by Better Help, where you can get professional, affordable, licensed counseling from the comfort of your own home starting at around $65 dollars a week if you'd like to learn more please check out the link in the description for 20% off.