January and the excitement of a New Year has passed, but your strategy for success in the New Year is hopefully still going strong. Statistically, only 64% of people who made New Years’ resolutions are able to maintain them into the month of February. Research suggests that differences in motivation may be related to the dopamine function of the brain. Dopamine is thought to be the brain chemical that fuels will and it is critical for psychological motivation. While people commonly associate dopamine with the experience of pleasure in the brain that accompanies everything from drinking alcohol to physical pleasure, the neurotransmitter’s effect in certain regions has more to do with reward, or the anticipation of pleasure.
Dopamine Pathways. In the brain, dopamine plays an important role in the regulation of reward and movement. As part of the reward pathway, dopamine is manufactured in nerve cell bodies located within the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and is released in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. Its motor functions are linked to a separate pathway, with cell bodies in the substantia nigra that manufacture and release dopamine into the striatum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Trick Your Brain into Cooperation
Wray Herbert, offers insight into how to use the quirks of the mind to change behavior in his book, On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Brain’s Hard-Wired Habits. Herbert explains how he used heuristics to trick his brain to stay motivated, “I go to the gym every day, but I didn’t always. I used make resolutions and so forth and then I listened to Woody Allen who said that 99% of life is just showing up. [So that is using the default heuristic, which means that it’s easier to keep doing what you’re already doing than it is to change and make a decision.] Basically, I just started, I said to myself if I show up and don’t do anything, that’s fine. But I never went and did nothing. So just changing your default position puts you at the gym. Now the active decision is to go home.” So it’s playing a little trick on your brain. “I also use the scarcity heuristic in my in spinning class. Sometimes, I’m tired and I don’t want to do it. I tell myself, “You’re going to be at your desk all day. This is the only 45 minutes that you get to move, this is gold,” and that actually works. Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/04/mind-reading-how-to-use-the-quirks-of-the-mind-to-change-behavior/#ixzz2KK9oUq9L
Take Time to Review and Revise
When you find your focus waning and you begin to become unmotivated, it is helpful to ask yourself the following:
Why am I doing ___ (whatever your goal may be), what outcome do I really want? Are these reasons really important to me? Priorities change as new information arises and what once seemed important may no longer be so. Be honest with yourself about whether what you are pursuing is really going to get you to where you want to be. You may find it helpful to clarify your priorities and values in order of importance, so that you have a list to refer back to when feeling unmotivated, and when making life decisions.
What would I rather be doing? Often we find ourselves dividing up our time between competing activities like sleeping in or making it to the gym. Decisions about how you spend your precious time must continually be made, is the alternative activity really more important to you or have you just mismanaged your time? Can you schedule your time so that you can do both activities? Are you spending your time on priorities and goals that you enjoy, not just ones that you feel obligated to do? If you are not enjoying the activities that will get you to your goal, it is time to reevaluate if you are headed in the right direction, the ultimate goal is a life fulfilled, not a life endured.
If I don’t do ____ now, when will I do it? Mental health breaks are needed and encouraged, but if you are struggling with procrastination or being able to balance your time between responsibilities, whether personal or work related, and all the other pursuits that fill your time, perhaps more effective time management is what you need. We live in a fast paced society with ever-increasing demands on our time but with the increasing demands there has also been great advances in technology and time management. If you have a smartphone or access to the Internet, there are numerous programs that can help you manage your time and be more productive. One of my favorites is Astrid Tasks which allows you to make actionable lists (great for breaking down steps in your success strategy) with the ability to set specific due dates for each task and the ability to leave comments or notes on each specific task. It also has a collaboration feature allowing you to share your lists with anyone that has an email address even if they do not use Astrid, and you can have all this for FREE. For more information, please visit https://astrid.com/.