How to Increase Motivation

Emily Rubens, LMFT

Emily Rubens, LMFT

Emily Rubens, LMFT, is a CA licensed marriage and family therapist who helps adolescents and emerging adults build confidence, work through anxiety and rebuild relationships.

Want to Increase Your Motivation
but Don't Know How?

Don’t worry. You actually don’t need to be motivated to get motivated.

Myths About Increasing Motivation

Generally, its a common belief that people need to feel motivated before starting something. For example, you might hope that inspiration hits when you want to start a creative project, exercise, or run errands. Subsequently, you watch TV or go on social media and wait to feel motivated. Despite your intentions of starting, nothing happens and you make no progress. 

How Motivation Actually Works

Contrary to this belief, motivation actually comes after we do something. Basically, we feel motivated to take action when something feels rewarding.  For example, you might feel motivated to go exercise this afternoon because you remember how good it felt yesterday. 

Motivation and the Dopamine Cycle

Simply put, dopamine is the chemical in your brain that is associated with feeling rewarded. Essentially, it helps us take action, feel focused, and stay interested in things. Its also involved in the pleasure we feel when we eat candy or the enjoyment we have while spending time with friends. Below is an outline of how dopamine can impact motivation long-term.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You take action → reward (dopamine)
  2. You get a reward →  motivation
  3. You feel motivation → you take more action

Also, notice that the less action you take, the less motivated you’ll feel.

  1. You don’t take action → no reward
  2. You get no reward → no motivation
  3. You don’t feel motivation → you don’t take further action

Moreover, this process is like Newton’s First Law of Motion. That is, an object in motion remains in motion, and an object at rest remains at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. In essence, you are the unbalanced force that can change the course of what you can accomplish!

Trick your Brain and Start Moving

As shown above, taking an action can lead to reward, which leads to motivation, which motivates to action. So, instead of waiting for motivation to strike or trying to change how you feel before you take an action, think about what you can do to kick-start that dopamine cycle.  For example, you could start with choosing one small action when starting a task or project.  Further, you can even use this knowledge to help you build a habit.

Rewards are Important

Lastly, rewards are often overlooked, so make sure you are actually rewarding yourself when making progress. In short, we might need to consciously reward ourself after doing something challenging or boring. This can be as simple as congratulating yourself when you complete something. Similarly, don’t discount the work you’ve done by telling yourself it’s not good enough. Essentially, this will prevent your dopamine cycle from doing its job and you won’t feel motivated to continue on.

Need Help Getting Motivated?

If you’re having difficulty staying motivated, it can be helpful to talk to someone about it. Depending on your circumstances, cultivating motivation might feel like an uphill battle. Other times there can be more going on and additional reasons as to why you are having difficulty getting and staying motivated. Lack of interest in activities that were previously of interest to you, lethargy, and difficulties with motivation are all symptoms of depression that may require intervention and could be an indication of a more serious are of concern. If your lack of motivation has persisted for longer than two weeks or is impacting your relationships, participate in work or school or your ability to do work or enjoy your life, reach out to a trusted professional or guidance counselor.

If you would like to explore therapy or other treatment options, please contact us. Our therapists can offer tools and advice on coping with this more effectively and help you address barriers to feeling motivated. We would be happy to discuss the next steps or how we may be able to help. know that you do not have to suffer alone with anxiety, depression, or isolation.

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