When it comes to achieving success, there are many different factors in play. Where you start out in life, the people you meet and the opportunities you’re afforded, not to mention the inescapable factor of luck, all affect how successful you will be in life. While these factors may be beyond your control, there is one extremely important component of success that is: motivation. Here’s what you need to know about motivation and how you can cultivate it within yourself.
Where Does Motivation Come From?
Like all other facets of your personality, motivation ultimately comes from your brain. However, motivation isn’t simply something that some people have and others don’t. Rather, motivation should be thought of as a cumulative set of thoughts and ideas that all play into whether you’ll actually have the motivation to do certain tasks. These thoughts and ideas are all tied together by your brain’s chemical reward system, regulated by a neurochemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the active chemical that governs all reward-based activities, not just motivation. However, by associating dopamine production with the successful achievement of goals, your brain creates a feedback system by which achieving goals is strongly encouraged, which is, in a sense, motivation. All of the factors that go into motivation ultimately boil down to their effect on this brain reward system.
The first element of motivation is your natural personality. Though your motivation is very much impacted by external factors over the course of your life, there is a certain degree of natural inclination toward or away from it. People with a generally positive and upbeat personality will often tend to be more motivated than those who view the world through a pessimistic lens. This is because more pessimistic people will tend to think of the worst possible outcomes of any action, which in turn will keep them from being motivated to take action toward their goals in the first place.
A second factor in your overall level of motivation is your upbringing and education. If, as a child, you were taught to put effort into things in order to achieve your goals, there’s a good chance that you were raised in an environment that supported the development of motivation as an aspect of your personality. The same is true of your education, which ideally should have reinforced the value of hard work with positive outcomes and rewards. If, conversely, you were given relatively few opportunities to succeed through hard work as a child or weren’t appropriately rewarded for your efforts, your environment may have left you demotivated and discouraged. As strange as it may seem, traits such as these which are developed early on can very much carry over into your adulthood.
Finally, your life experiences as an adult complete the overall picture of your motivation. Like the experiences you had as a child, the role of adult experience largely depends on whether you have gotten positive or negative feedback from hard work and effort. If, for instance, you put in four years of hard work in college, graduated at the top of your class and then went on to get an excellent career in your field, you would have a very positive association with hard work, and therefore a tendency to be more motivated. On the other hand, if you worked hard throughout your college years and then ended up without a good career despite all of your hard work, you might have a much more negative set of thoughts, feelings and associations about putting forth massive effort. This, in turn, would lead most people to feel less motivated than they might otherwise be.
As you can see, the fact that both natural and experiential factors are involved in motivation makes it a highly personal characteristic. Two people with similar genetic makeups and backgrounds who have different experiences in life can be very different in terms of how motivated they are. Since motivation is key to success, this is a major explaining factor in why people who would otherwise seem to be very similar to one another may have very different life outcomes.
Can You Teach Yourself to Be Motivated?
If you’re not already a highly motivated person, you might be wondering whether there’s anything you can do to change that fact about yourself. The good news is that you absolutely can teach yourself to be a more motivated individual. The process will take a while, but at the end of it, you’ll be better able to achieve whatever goals you have in life.
To start, you need to come up with a goal that excites you. Make sure it’s something that you really want and that you will be extremely happy with if you can achieve it. Picking a goal like this to start will give you an initial boost of motivation, which is important if you aren’t normally a motivated person. Keep this initial feeling of motivation in mind, as recalling it throughout the action toward your goal will help you get “into the flow.” Though the goal should be exciting, make it something reasonably attainable as well.
Next, you need to take specific actions toward that goal. Say, for example, you decided you wanted to lose weight and get six pack abs. You would need to begin dieting and pursuing a workout regimen that would support that goal. This action phase is the one in which demotivated people usually start failing, but you’re going to get around that by offering yourself rewards at different stages of success. For instance, when you’ve dropped five pounds, you might treat yourself to seeing a movie. Once you’ve lost 10, you might buy a new pair of headphones or other device you’ve been wanting, etc. With every small milestone of success, offer yourself a reward that’s slightly larger than the one before. This will keep the reward center of your brain more engaged with each milestone, in turn producing greater motivation to reach the next milestone each time.
By the time you finally reach your goal, you will not only have learned how exciting it can be to work toward something you’re really passionate about, but you will also have formed a positive association with hard work through the reward system you implemented during the process. Repeat this same basic process with other goals, and over time you’ll notice that your motivation in day-to-day life will grow until you are a genuinely motivated person.
Nootropics: Should You Use Medications to Enhance Your Motivation
Since motivation is one of the most important factors of success in life, it’s only natural that many people try to become more motivated. In recent years, a set of nutritional supplements, called nootropics, has come to market claiming to enhance things like cognitive ability, focus and, you guessed it, motivation. Although certain nootropics have shown promise in moderately improving focus and motivation, they aren’t the best way to become a more motivated person. To begin with, your brain already has a more potent chemical system for rewarding success contained within it, as described above. Secondly, reliance on nootropics may produce short-term benefits, but you won’t actually become a more motivated person when not taking them. Lastly, even though they’ve shown some promising results, much more research is needed in the field of nootropic supplements to determine both their effectiveness and their safety for long-term use.
Armed with all of this information, you should be able to understand what produces motivation in the human brain, why certain people are more or less motivated than others and what you can do to gradually turn yourself into a more highly motivated person. If you’re willing to make the necessary changes in your life, you can reap the benefits of motivation and find yourself capable of achieving whatever successes you want.