We all feel anxious or stressed out once in a while – we’re only human – but one of the most common questions out there is how to raise motivation and willpower during these difficult times in order to not give in or fail.
When we feel stuck or feel like we can’t get out of something, our brain goes into lockdown mode. You can feel avoidant, discouraged, afraid, and want to do anything but high-motivation low-dopamine tasks like doing deep work, sticking to healthy whole foods, exercising – these things we have to do in order to feel our best can all feel like difficult feats.
Science of self-motivation
Some of the research on motivation is really interesting – specifically, people who have chronic problems with low motivation may have an under-active left frontal lobe which produces too much alpha and not enough beta wave activity to this part of the brain.
Therefore those who have trouble staying motivated often struggle with mood lows and emotional control. When the left side of the brain isn’t as active as it should be, the brain develops problems with what’s called, ‘approach behaviours’ – it’s more in ‘withdrawn mode’ rather than ‘approach mode’.
Naturally, when the brain is in ‘withdrawn mode’, it doesn’t want to do anything, and that can be a chronic issue for those who deal with chronic pain or chronic low mood, because they get stuck in a brain pattern of low activation which can be very hard to change.
Even those who don’t have this brain pattern may find it hard to stay motivated all the time – even highly motivated people need systems, not just willpower. We all need more than simple motivation to change behavioural patterns because motivation is a less than reliable tool.
So whether you have intrinsically high motivation or you’re struggling to nurture your resilience for whatever reason, be it going to the gym or eating right for you, it’s all about creating rituals, routines, habits and systems to overcome low motivation when life gets a bit crazy.
How to increase motivation
1. Create rituals around your activity
Let’s take the gym for example – when you create rituals to do with working out, you’re more likely to stick to your plan of exercising and actually enjoy it. You can look forward to the sauna or steam room after your workout, or even get there early and start with a little meditation session.
Naturally, the last thing most people want to do after a long day of work is go to the gym, but once you create the rituals, they become blended with the activity and you end up focusing on the reward, and of course, leave feeling refreshed and filled with a sense of self-love and accomplishment.
2. Leave some extra time in your day for those tricky tasks
If you’re having trouble with a certain task at work for example, save it for when you’re feeling your best and when your mental clarity is at its highest – which is often in the mornings for many people but some people find that they peak later in the day depending on each person's unique make-up.
Planning ahead is a great way to avoid your stress triggers from taking over – so try making a priority To Do List and try to finish each task at the time of day when you feel most energised and ready.
3. Improve your motivation with regular meditation
Meditation can have a huge positive impact on motivation as proved by an interesting study conducted a few years ago. Researchers studying the topic of motivation and possible solutions to dealing with stress gathered a group of adults and divided them into two separate groups.
Each member of the groups was told to prepare a speech on a topic of their choice to be presented in front of everyone – fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears, so anyone can relate to this stressful task!
After the speeches, group 1 was guided into a meditation, while group 2 were given a radio show to listen to, both for a total of 15 minutes. The results showed that even after one short session of meditating versus not meditating, group 1 reported feeling increased serenity and calm rather than group 2 who were left worrying about how they had done with their speeches or nervous what others thought of them.
In meditation, when we visualise ourselves doing a certain task, we activate the part of the brain that’s actually involved in doing said task. So when you imagine giving a presentation or something else required for you to use your motor skills, you’re activating your visual cortex in the back of the brain. On a brain level, that’s actually the same as doing the task.
Creating this regular practice and visualising doing something you have resistance to, for as little as 10 minutes a day, means you’ve killed two birds with one stone – you’re training your brain to think that you’ve already done it and you’re also getting yourself into a calm state of mental clarity by increasing your brain’s alpha waves on the right side of the brain. Visualisation meditation for 10 minutes a day for things you want to accomplish or stick to can change your brain activity in as little as 6 weeks.
Imagine how much you can improve your motivation and have it work better for you in terms of supporting your goals if you reap the rewards of your rituals – oh, the accomplishments!