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Enhancing Motivation

Updated: May 31, 2019

What is motivation?

Motivation can be defined as the intrinsic force that allows an individual to channelize the will to engage in behaviors that are goal oriented. In other words, motivation is what helps an individual to move towards action. Action can be something as simple as clapping your hands or as complex as going to the gym or planning and implementing a 6 months weight loss program. However, for many, engaging in action may be challenging due to a lack of motivation. Thus, motivation is a concept that many struggle with. It is frequently assumed that motivation only comes naturally for the individual and that one must wait for motivation. However, in many cases, when a person waits for motivation, it rarely comes/happens. So, waiting for motivation does not seem to work. In fact, in my work with severely depressed and severely anxious patients, I have learned that waiting for motivation does NOT work. Then, it seems that motivation is not a concept that “just happens” (for many cases). What if I were to tell you that motivation can be created? What if I say, in order to feel motivated you have “to do” and then feel motivated? Let’s think about it! Have you ever felt not motivated to go to the grocery store and yet, by necessity you ended up going (i.e., Toilet paper ran out!!)? And once you entered the local store, you ended up shopping for more than you had expected or intended to? Or another example, what about when you did not feel like going to the gym? What happens once you get to the gym and begin your work out? Don’t you end up feeling like getting a good workout? I hope I made my point. You see, briefly explained, once you engage in action, a neurotransmitter called Dopamine gets released in the brain and it starts the process of motivation.

Dopamine is neurotransmitter that is related to our reward system. So, it feels “GOOD” when dopamine is released in our brain and, for this reason we feel motivated. The point is “to do” to get our brain to release dopamine and consequently “kick-start” the process of motivation. As a result the person stays motivated and ends up doing more than he/she intended to do (keep in mind, motivation is something that needs to be maintained). Therefore, this tells us that motivation is a concept that can be self-created!

What can I do to stay motivated?

Now that we have an understanding of how to create motivation. It is important to know that creating motivation can only take a person so far. The next step is to work on staying motivated. You may be wondering, how do I do that? How about working on building something called Self-Empowerment. Self-empowerment is a concept that relates to the person’s ability to make one-self capable. So, in order to do develop self-empowerment, as suggested by behavioral psychologist Edward Scott Geller, a person can ask him/herself three elemental questions:

  • Will I be able to do it?

  • Do I believe it will work?

  • Is this something I found worth doing?

If you are able to answer these three questions, and honestly believe the answer to these questions is “YES”, then you will be able to begin the process of self-empowerment. Once you are able to complete this step, the next goal is to explore the reason(s) for your motivation: Are you willing to do something because you are concerned/worried about failing? Or are you doing something because you seek success/self-growth? I suggest that at this point, you take some time to begin reflecting on what question you often find yourself answering when thinking of making a decision. Which of the two previous question, you often relate to? Let’s explore why this is imperative. Answering the question about failure, at times, can be a very stressful. It can also be frightening and thus, diminishes or in some people extinguishes motivation. On the other hand, the question regarding self-growth creates hope and willingness. It takes away the factor of fear. So, paying attention to the reason(s) for your motivation has an impact in how you maintain yourself motivated. For example, it is easier to join a hiking crew when you are doing it because you want to know what if feels like to go hiking vs. joining a hiking crew because you are worried that others are doing more outdoor activities than you. One is more enjoyable (remember, dopamine-reward) and the other may be stressful! Then, keep in mind that holding objectives of self-growth (especially in moments of failure), one can easily facilitate the idea that you can learn from mistakes and therefore continue to foster and maintain motivation.

Another important concept to consider is Learned Helplessness. What is learned helplessness is an experience that occurs when an individual feels stuck/unable to move/unable to keep going. This often occurs when we are doing a task that might be too challenging for us. For example, have you ever tried to re-start your gym routine? Have you noticed that it is not easy to right-away jump into the same pace you used to have (1-5 years ago!)? Well, it may feel discouraging to go back to the gym and see that you can only run 10 minutes and not 45 minutes like you used to. Thus, in this case, you may experience learned helplessness. For this reason, you will need to create small goals to be accomplished. Such as running 10 min for one week and then running for 11 minutes the following week and so on. This can help you break your task and diminish learned helplessness. Here is another example, what if you wanted to learn how to draw the human body? Perhaps you can start via learning how to master drawing a foot, then, the entire leg, following the waist, and so on. As you can see, breaking a task down can make the process/experience easier and (at times) much more enjoyable.

In summary in order to maintain motivation, one must:

1) be aware of your reasoning for creating motivation.

2) Answer the three questions honestly and fully.

3) Just “DO” and DO NOT WAIT.

4) When a task is too challenging, and you experienced Learned Helplessness, remember to break it down; take small steps at a time.

You got this!

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