The Science Of Motivation
Whether you are trying to lose 20 pounds, or get that promotion at work, or quit smoking, sticking to your work isn’t an easy task. After all, 45% of the people drop their New Year’s resolution after just one month.
So why is it difficult to keep motivated, and how can science help us achieve what we’re after?
In one MIT study, students were given two types of tasks. In the first, they had to hit two keys on a keyboard as many times as possible in 4 minutes, and those who did it the fastest would receive a monetary reward. For some, the prize was $300, while the others only $30. Interestingly, the performance was 95% greater in the $300 group, highlighting how money can be a motivator.
However, in the second task, the same students were asked to solve a more complex math problem, and this time, those offered the high reward performed 32% slower than the small reward group. This is known as the distraction effect. When we are given a task that requires problem-solving, economic or emotional pressure can cause focus to shift to the motivator, ultimately dividing your attention and reducing performance.
When we look inside the brains of individuals, fMRI scans reveal that people who complete a challenge for fun, and people who do it for a reward show similar activity throughout the brain. But interestingly, if those offered a reward for the first time are asked to participate again for no compensation, scans show a decrease in activity in the anterior striatum and prefrontal areas; parts of the brain linked to self-motivation.
It seems that the reward may cancel out our natural sense of play. So how does this apply to you?
Well, as it turns out that ‘PLAY’ is the strongest motivator for sustained behaviour changes. It makes sense that we stick to enjoyable activities, but considering 67% of the gym memberships go unused, it seems most of us are picking the wrong actions to achieve our goals. You might burn the most calories on a treadmill, but not if you stop doing that after two weeks.
Pick something you actually enjoy and like doing. Your goal itself also matters. A study investigating reasons for exercise found that those focused on weight loss spent 32% less time exercising than those who said that they wanted to feel better in their day to day life. Though it’s always good to have a positive mindset, optimism may not always be the best strategy.
Why Aren’t We Motivated?
Motivation may come from different reasons and multiple sources. Similarly, there are numerous reasons for not being motivated. Some people can’t seem to find the right motivation despite trying hard to achieve the same.
Why does this happen? Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you aren’t motivated. These will help you in one way or the other
- You Have Zero Connection
Your goals have to be important to you. However, there are too few people who relate to their goals. They set lofty ambitions about becoming doctors or starting their companies without asking themselves one simple question;
“Is That What I Want?”
People have to relate to something before it carries emotional weight. When we have that personal connection with a story or an idea, we can insert ourselves into it, and we care about what happens. In simple words, we develop a connection with the story or the idea or in this case, goals.
- You Reward Yourself For Everything
Do you let yourself get away with everything? If you slack off or procrastinate, do you reward your bad habits? This is a classic example of misplaced reinforcement. Your original idea of setting up a reward system was good and a good source of motivation. However, you aren’t being firm with yourself and aren’t taking that reward system seriously. Your brain knows that it is going to get that reward either way. So, it wants to avoid working and go straight to the fun part. Therefore, instead of feeling motivated, your brain chooses to be lazy.
- You Lack Independence
Many unmotivated people feel like they’re not in the driver’s seat, like their future wasn’t their idea, or that they didn’t have the freedom to pursue their passion. If this sounds like you, your lack of independence might be destroying your motivation. There are multiple ways through which you could’ve lost your freedom. You might have been forced into a job you hate, or your boss won’t give you an inch of breathing room, or you might spend every day doing errands for people instead of pushing or challenging yourself. Therefore, the one thing you need to do is start taking control of your life and be responsible for the decisions you make.
- You Stay In Bed
There are days when you wake and feel like quitting. How much time you spend in bed each day might be running your motivation. Lying in bed can worsen everything from your mood to your well-being. However, there is one thing that suffers more than anything else, and that is your motivation. People who tend just to keep lying in bed for long hours suffer from a significant decline in productivity and performance. This happens because staying in bed for long hours hampers their motivation, which in turn affects their productivity and performance
- You’re Indecisive About Your Future
Can you envision your future? Do you have clear-cut goals? Most people don’t have the answers to these questions. Several people wall into their future completely blind. If you don’t know where you’re headed, how are you supposed to get excited about it? It is a scary feeling when your entire future is up in the air. It’s like jumping into the unknown hoping that something or someone is there to catch you. So, do yourself a favour and define your goals. Only then, you will be able to have clear-cut goals and envision your future accordingly.