How can one motivate oneself?

You’ve seen the motivational quotes on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You’ve heard from self proclaimed motivational messiahs and there seems to be many motivational motivations out there. However when it comes time to get something done – you know what I’m taking about, when it’s time to “Step up to the plate”, “Get things done!”. How can you motivate yourself?

If you just knew a little bit about your own anatomy – you would be more inclined to motivate yourself and understand how to be motivated. Interested?

Not Motivated

Thanks to Leon Fishman for the photo (taken in the USA, look at his other great photos).

So whats wrong? Things just don’t seem to be working! Of course there are many answers to this question.

Maybe you’ve heard or even read about “The monk who sold his Ferrari” or listened to a few master motivational speakers like Jim Rohn or Tony Robbins. Perhaps you’ve taken some proactive steps and acquired superb books like Awaken the Giant Within or Unlimited Power (personally Unlimited Power unlocked a lot for me). But over the years, from time to time, I too fell back into loosing motivation state.

There just seemed to always be one more thing missing, one more key I needed to be completely unlocked. I would recommend Jim or Tony any day and even would go so far as to say, one would need these great words from these superb men as foundation building blocks to personal development.

But now, on to find out more and solve this problem once and for all.

The Ground Breaking Professor

You’ve heard about the various news sound bites, about some breakthrough about some ground breaking experiment in one or another science journal. All interesting stuff, interesting and then once again just categorised as “stuff”.

But then this dude comes along. He has been in the trenches performing research, written several books and lectured at Stanford university. Who am I talking about? Robert Sapolsky and what I really like about him is, his lectures on Behaviour Biology.

Behaviour Biology

In the midst of all various information on personal development and motivation, you are bound to smacked with various words ending with “-ology”. These are not limited to sociology, psychology, physiology, anthropology and even entomology! Throw in a few topics on top, like neuroscience, culture and personality type… and you are ready to confuse yourself, like a kid sat in an empty room asking yourself “what should I be doing with the marshmallow in front of me”.

Behaviour Biology is super because it does not bow down to any one specific discipline, rather it listens and understands all. Then, it takes all and tries to understand context. To understand let me give a crude example. A person is an “A” type, extrovert, male, over 40  and with certain skull and bones, lives in a quite neighbourhood. One day he wakes up and goes on a “taking a few lives” spree.

The limited information might be chalked down to his personality type, perhaps  psychology – but this does not necessary mean he will behave in a predicted way. Rather the context surrounding this human must be understood right down to his genes, environment, brain chemistry, etc, etc. In a nutshell, Behaviour Biology does not want you to fall prey to a bucket (one word or another ending with “ology”), rather take all factors, understand context as to why he acted so.

I’ve had friends in the past, who upon meeting anyone new – worthy of continuing their friendship, would insist on that new person to take a “Personality Type Test” (you know the test, the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator). Thereafter knowing the persons personality type, understand them better. Imagine that (believe it or not it’s a true story).

Needless to say, I always avoided this test and it frustrates him till this day. Why? I think humans are far more complex and I’ve formed this opinion along time ago through my various encounters with reading material (just look at Irrationality or Irrational Behaviour). In a nutshell the famed “Personality Type” is just a way, way, way too simplistic pigeonhole to label anyone.

The Limbic System

So far so good, but more onto answering the question please. Indeed, more must be specifically explained about the Limbic System. I’ve overheard Tony Robbins mention it a few times to take notice, even overheard Elon Musk speak about it whilst speaking about Neuralink. The Limbic System, now has a reputation, so it must be kind of super important. So what is it?

Limbic System Labeled Libby

Thank you to Mrs.Worthington for the above diagram of The Limbic System.

The Limbic System is part of the brain. It sits just above what it often referred to as the “Reptilian Brain” (Basal Ganglia). There are two interesting parts of this system you want to know about, namely the Memory and Dopamine systems of the Limbic System and these are super crucial to motivation.

The Memory System

Memories are created in the Hippocampus, it’s like a hard-drive where you can read and write memories. Close to it, is the Amygdala, this part of the brain is responsible for processing emotions, especially fear. Interestingly there is a direct connection between the Amygdala and the Hippocampus, as such that when you experience fear. When you do, that what ever you do (probably run, scream or shout), this action (or how you respond) gets recorded.

The Dopamine System

Slightly more complex to explain, but to keep things short, this part of the brain is for experiencing pleasure or reward. When people take substances like cocaine or get funky with another person for reproductive or non-reproductive purposes, people are said to feel high or feel good. Essentially when the brain likes that activity (or those sets of actions you just did), it gives you a reward. In a nutshell, you experience pleasure.

How to motivate yourself to get work done?

So knowing all this (and there is still far too much to know), how do you motivate yourself? Knowing this can help you in the following ways.

When you are not motivated, you don’t feel like doing anything. In extreme cases you don’t even want to get out of bed. But if you stop and think about this for a second, what is going on? Your brain is just tell you what you have recorded on its hard-drive (remember the Hippocampus). Perhaps you’ve experienced some form of stress, fear or you don’t know what to do… how did you respond? You might not even remember, but your Hippocampus does! When you feel any one of these negative emotions, you’re just playing the same script (that which has been recorded), over and over again. Some people reach for the bottle, watch too much TV or get involved in bad eating habits. You’re just doing what your brain remembers silly.

Now conscious of how your brain “remembers”, you need to actively get yourself to do things. It’s initially hard because you brain is like a German who loves rules. The brain keeps shouting at you, “Nein! Halt! Stop! You are not doing what I have here, what I have here remembered!”. So take small steps. For example get out of bed, go for a walk… when you feel the sensation when stressed or not wanting to do something… Tell yourself “Go!” because you now are overwriting that bad memory. You see the Amygdala is telling you “Hey, this is fear!” then the brain communicates to the Hippocampus. When you do, while you know the Amygdala is working, you get to write another memory (or rather overwrite an old memory) with the Hippocampus. Doing this over and over again, simply creates the memories you want. So the result is you just hacked your brain because it will tell you what to do.

Second cool thing about the Dopamine System is that it is just like a “pusher” which supplies you with reward (pleasure). You see, it does not only give you a reward after you do something… it can give you a reward in anticipation of doing something. This last statement is important, go back and read it again. In case you missed it – the keyword is anticipation. Knowing this (and it’s been scientifically proven), this Dopamine “pusher” can be hacked too. You can visualise or tell yourself what you will get – if you do X. By doing this, your personal, pleasure “pusher” will release dopamine before… and do this a few times, you’ll feel good enough to do that X, you want to do. Practice this and since you understand how your “pusher” delivers, it will work wonders for you.

I’ve found this understanding to be super useful because these are just body parts and seeing things like this is like having a set of tools. Knowing how these tools work, we can simply control them. Depending how serious, your lack of motivation is… you can start with small steps. Personally this has worked wonders for me. This is one way how to motivate yourself everyday.

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