Let's start with the science; you know I'm all about the more you understand something, the more likely you’re going to do it.
In our last blog we covered a little about neurotransmitters. If you haven't read it, here’s a taste, and if you have, just skip this part.
We’re going to focus on dopamine; it’s the main neurotransmitter needed for you to feel motivated.
Dopamine is neutral to all. She doesn’t judge. Dopamine will get you addicted to negative things like drugs, porn, drinking, and everything that can deplete you. But she’ll also get you addicted to positive things like training, completing tasks you have set out for yourself, and everything that makes you feel good.
[ Science; if you’re interested. Skip if you do not give an F.]
Neurotransmitters carry chemical messages that play out in your brain and affect the rest of your body. Neurotransmitters get passed from one neuron (nerve cell) to the next. This is called a synapse.
Ever see electricity jump from one wire to another? That's basically a synapse, but the nerve endings are the wires. Without synapses, your body would literally do nothing.
The pathway dopamine decides to take determines what happens next. There are 4 major pathways:
Mesolimbic: Known as the pleasure and reward pathway. Dopamine is released from your Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) (part of your brain) and gets sent to the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) (another part of your brain). The NAc is where you get the feelings of pleasure and reward, which in turn enforces those behaviors. Think sex, food, and drugs.
Mesocortical: This time we are traveling from the VTA to the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The PFC is known for cognitive function, working memory and decision making. Taking amphetamines to improve cognition will upregulate the release of dopamine in this pathway. Doing so will have a detrimental effect on your Mesolimbic pathway, causing depression, sadness etc (think a comedown after taking drugs).
Nigrostriatal: This is responsible for movement, and where 80% of the dopamine in the brain is used. This time the dopamine starts in the substantia nigra then travels to the caudate and putamen (parts of the brain that prepare and aid in the movement of our limbs). Reduced dopamine in this pathway has a major impact on movement. Think Parkinson's disease, tremors, spasms etc.
Tuberoinfundibular: Dopamine Neurons begin in the arcuate and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus and project to the infundibular region of the hypothalamus (the hypothalamus controls your hormones; it releases hormones to your pituitary gland which then sends them to your organs). Dopamine is released into the portal circulation that connects the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland and acts to inhibit prolactin release. (Prolactin is secreted by the pituitary gland that enables milk production and has important functions in metabolism and sexual satisfaction). When too much prolactin is released it can affect your menstrual cycles, libido, fertility, and bone health.
Okay, let's return to the reason for this blog.
We all understand what motivation is. We get excited about doing something due to the reward we are going to get from doing said something (that was a tongue twister). This is due to a spike in dopamine being released. When this spike happens we are raring to go and really want to jump into whatever it is we are wanting to do.
The more Dopamine in your prefrontal cortex and striatum (motivation and reward parts of your brain), the more likely you are to get shit done.
Whereas the more dopamine in your anterior insula (the emotional and risk perception part of your brain), the more likely you are to not bother.
When your brain has low levels of dopamine from sleep deprivation, obesity, drug abuse, and stress, you become less enthused about doing anything that matters to you.
The worst thing is, it's a downward spiral.
If you don't do something you know you should be doing, you're usually going to do something you know you shouldn't be doing like, watching TV, eating bad foods, scrolling your phone, etc.
And because we like what we are seeing, and emotions get invested in whatever it is we are watching (ever laughed or cried while watching a movie?), our brains continue to release dopamine while we are doing these things.
Our brains want more and more of these bad things to get that dopamine hit, making it harder and harder to stop and go do the things that are healthy for us.
So it becomes a catch-22.
The reward for watching something is instant.
The negative effect (wasting time) never matters at that moment because our dopamine is high. The reward from doing something more productive like gym or getting shit done is never instant and it's a lot harder to do.
Our brains are lazy. They want to use the least amount of energy because all they want to do is survive. The issue is, although super complex, our brains are pretty dumb and would prefer the dopamine being released for doing nothing.
Time goes on, we continue to do “nothing” which then affects our brains negatively and makes the “productive” habits harder and harder to create.
You’d think our brains were smart enough to go 'STOP! this is going to be bad in 5 years time for me. Put it down, let's do something more productive”. Nope. That takes up too much of its “now” energy that it selfishly wants to save.
I hate my lazy ass brain, stop making me do dumb stuff.
The best way to not fall into the “oh shit, 7hrs have gone by and I've done nothing but scroll TikTok” (guilty as charged) is to (this is the obvious one) always do the thing you promised yourself you were going to do.
The act of starting the activity will produce dopamine to make you want to continue.
Ever drag your feet to the gym but once you’re there you somehow work up the energy to finish your whole session? Hello, dopamine.
This will always make you feel better as a whole because you have accomplished something.
Over time, as these tasks become habits, it will get easier and easier, and the opposite effect will happen. For instance, if you miss the gym on the day you were meant to go you will feel like shit, prompting you to go the next day.
Another trick (although not enough studies have been done to prove its results… but I like it), is to give yourself an instant reward before starting whatever it is you want to do.
For example: it’s gym time, and “I don't wanna go, I can't be fucked” is kicking in. Visualize yourself going and eat some chocolate or something you love (not too much to make you full though). This will make your brain think it's being rewarded for going to the gym, releasing dopamine, giving you the motivation to… you guessed it, go to the gym.
We love nothing more than instant gratification/rewards. That's our brain's fault. We can't change that, we just have to learn how to trick that mutha fucka.
This can be used across everything you have to do. If it's cleaning the house, turn some music on and it makes it a hell of a lot easier to do. Why the music, you ask? Music is another dopamine booster, it's an instant reward. G’day motivation, I'm glad you are here because I hate cleaning the mfing house.
Remember when you were a kid and what your parents did to make you do chores or homework? Ahh the distant memory of “if you don't do your homework, you won't get dessert”. My adolescent self quietly whispering under my breath “fuck you, mum, I hate you, you can’t withhold my dessert, I’ll starve to death”, while coming out of my mouth at the same time was
- “What's for dessert?!” (if I hated it, no reward response, if I liked it, calculator was in my hand, ready to smash out some math)
- “Why don’t you love me? It’s Samantha's turn to clean” (as I’m unraveling the vacuum, a tear running down my cheek, sulking, but doing it anyway because I love ice cream).
No? Just me?
The things we do for a little reward is pretty amazing. We just have to trick our brains into thinking the harder things to do will give us instant satisfaction. Treat your brain the way you’d trick your kids into cleaning the house (unless hitting them is your go-to, then maybe don’t do that XD)
We all want that extra kick of dopamine all the time. Essentially we are all drug addicts, we just need to choose our drug. Here are some drugs I highly recommend you start injecting into your bloodstream.
Exercise: ever felt really good about yourself after smashing out a workout? That's due to an increased dopamine level. Doing it more often will increase your natural level.
Natural Sources: Certain foods are known to have high levels of dopamine. Bananas, and avocado are some of these food sources. Apples, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes are also known as dopamine sources.
Probiotics: Probiotics are good bacteria. We all know them for helping enhance our gut health (gut health is sparking talks everywhere at the moment, and is often referred to as our “second brain”. Even if you don't care about increasing dopamine levels you should care about gut health and make it one of your number 1 priorities). Probiotics usually come from fermented foods, yoghurt, ghee, sauerkraut etc.
Music: Although this isn't proven, there is a reason listening to your favorite song makes you happy, gives you chills, or gets you pumped about doing something (gym/work). This could be linked to increased dopamine levels to certain parts of your brain.
Motivate, Don’t Procrastinate
If you're already doing all of these but still can't find the energy/motivation to do something, maybe your body just needs a rest. Not the “scroll social media” kind of rest but the “go to the beach or for a walk” rest.
Do something you actually enjoy. Go on a holiday, play with your dog, or even go out and watch a movie. More times than not, this will reinvigorate you and motivate you to do the things you are supposed to be doing.
Just don’t social scroll or binge eat bad foods. It will only get worse from there.
Stress is a huge factor of dopamine, so you need to learn to control it and utilize it, not let it run you.