Motivation: that effortless desire to engage in a task regardless of stage is an all-elusive phenomenon in human existence. For those who are lucky, this mental faculty provides that all-important juice every now and again, mostly when it is fueled by the possibility of reward or gain. Traditionally, encouragement, cheerleading, pushing and pulling have been the ways to increase motivation when the desire to engage is non-existent. Determination is a related cousin that can prop up the will, although it is often only for a short time. How then, can we increase motivation so as to decrease the drudgery of life, and what does this entail? In order to understand this, let's take a look at what the scientific literature tells us about decreased motivation.
What causes decreased motivation?
1. When we overload our perceptions with things that are irrelevant to what we want to do, our brains struggle to focus on what they are supposed to. This can be like an anchor on motivation. Multi-tasking is a good example of overloading.
2. In another study, mental fatigue was shown to be instrumental in decreasing motivation. When people are mentally fatigued, they perform more slowly and inaccurately and the fatigue decreases the motivation to perform even if there are rewards. Working long hours without breaks is a good example of this.
3. Absent or delayed rewards may decrease motivation. When we have no rewards for what we do or when we postpone rewards, the motivation for doing these things decreases.
4. High levels of conflict between two or more situations may also decrease motivation. For example, if you hate working for a company but feel like you have to work there, your brain hears: I want to work and I don't want to work. This can decrease motivation.
5. Motivation also interacts with emotions and attention. Even with effort, your brain may feel as though it wants to stop. Effort helps up to a point. Then, your brain requires an easier form of instruction. Emotions can help this tremendously. They provide the lubrication in the system. When emotions are negative, this can be good or bad eventually. Negative emotions can stimulate change. In fact, studies have shown that they are critical for change. Positive emotions are similar. The positive effects of happiness on motivation are obvious but the negative effects are not that obvious. An attitude of happiness can cease to inform your brain that you need to change your life circumstances and can decrease your motivation to do this.
Things to do to increase motivation
On the basis of the above, we can consider the following to increase our motivation:
1. Multi-tasking has a U-shaped benefit on motivation. If you are feeling de-motivated, ask yourself: am I overloading my brain with tasks to do? Then, try cutting down one or two things, and see if this frees up your motivation.
2. Try instituting more obvious breaks when you are working hard. Rather than just burning the midnight oil, give yourself a real break, away from all activity. Go for a walk. Play tennis. Meet a friend. If you are working hard during the day, give yourself a power nap or even a 15-minute break. It will do wonders for your motivation.
3. Include things that feel rewarding in our life. This may activate the reward centers of your brain enough to drive you to work. Sometimes, we lose sight of the long-term gains of what we are doing. Giving our brains short-term rewards can help stimulate our reward centers that are asleep. Do not use short-term rewards that are going to make you anxious or disrupt your attention subsequently. Impulsive sex, for example, can be very stimulating and rewarding if consensual, but when the worry over it is too much, the benefits of this on motivation are taken away. Especially if your have an anxious predisposition, choosing your short-term rewards carefully is critical.
4. Ask yourself if you are conflicted about what you need to do, and then examine this conflict. This can be very relieving to your brain that may be receiving two messages at the same time. For example, staying on at a job that you hate may seem necessary but painful. When in this situation, motivation is often attacked and we go into acceptance mode. Always avoid acceptance when it is merely the result of unresolved conflict. Just weighing pros and cons can be helpful but is often not that revealing. To escape high conflict, go beneath the conflict. Ask yourself: why am I choosing to be trapped? How does this serve me? What am I avoiding? Why is my freedom intimidating to me? This starts off a helpful understanding that can relieve the conflict centers of your brain.
5. If you are feeling negatively don't just try to cover it up. Ask yourself: what is making you feel this way? What would make you feel differently? What are you currently tolerating in your life? Do not block negative emotions out. If you suddenly saw leaves and sand in a pool at home, would you just never swim again? No. You would clean out the pool, and this would take time. Similarly, when your emotions seem stuck in muck, you can clean out the muck. But do not ignore it. No change is ever possible without leaving a negative situation behind. Negative situations can be wonderful motivators.
Thus, increasing motivation is possible if we look beyond cheerleading ourselves. To do this, we have to change our internal conversations. The suggestions above are a potentially useful start to these new conversations.