How to Cultivate Motivation

Are you feeling less motivated lately? Is it hard to get moving? You can blame dopamine for this!

Dopamine is the chemical in your brain that is associated with feeling rewarded and motivated. It helps us take action, it helps us feel focused, and it helps us stay interested in things. It is also involved in the pleasure we feel when we eat candy or the enjoyment we have after spending time with friends.

People tend to believe that you need to feel motivated before starting something. They might wait until inspiration hits them to work, exercise, or run errands. But if we take a look at the dopamine cycle, we will see that motivation typically comes after we take action. This is especially true in the long-run. 

Here is how the dopamine cycle works:

You take action →  you get a reward (dopamine)


You get a reward → you feel motivation 


You feel motivation → you take more action


This cycle also shows that the less action you take, the less motivated you’ll feel. 


You don’t take action → you get no reward


You get no reward → you don’t feel motivation


You don’t feel motivation → you don’t take further action

People utilize this cycle to train their dogs. Trainers will give a dog a treat every time the dog engages in a preferred behavior. Thus, the dog gets a hit of dopamine each time they do a task successfully. The dog then associates the preferred action with a treat. Afterwards, the dog has motivation to complete tasks and learn new tricks. 

So instead of trying to change how you feel, think about what you can do to start that dopamine cycle.  You can start with choosing one small thing to act on. Again, action leads to reward, which leads to motivation, which leads to action. Then build this small thing into a habit.

Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety. Not only does exercising make you feel good about yourself, it actually floods your body with feel-good endorphins, which can totally turn your mood around.

Additionally, make sure you are actually rewarding yourself in the process. This can be as simple as congratulating yourself when you complete something. Don’t discount the work you’ve done by telling yourself it’s not good enough. This will prevent your dopamine cycle from doing its job and you won’t feel motivated to continue on. 

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