Hacking Motivation in 2023

2023 New Year with sparkle by hacking motivation for a new better you!

Hello 2023! The last few years have been trying indeed! From lockdown to load-shedding, our resilience has been tested, our resolve strengthened and our horizons broadened, along with a few bumps along the way. But now it is time to look to the new year and the challenges and opportunities it may hold. It’s time for inspiration, motivation, and determination in one’s pursuits! The problem is, how does one go about it?

What is Motivation?

Let’s begin by briefly discussing what motivation is and what effect it has on our daily lives and our behavior. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist in the mid-‘90s, identified four elements that make up motivation:

  • our personal drive to improve and achieve
  • commitment to our goals
  • initiative, or readiness to act on opportunities
  • optimism, and resilience

Motivation is seen as the driving force that pushes us towards a certain activity or experience. Another way to understand motivation is by looking into the chemicals associated with the feeling of motivation, and their effect on the body. More importantly, what behaviors trigger the release of these chemicals into the body. And how this behavior can be analyzed, understood, and replicated to achieve our personal goals.

The Chemistry behind Motivation

Feelings of motivation, inspiration, and determination in one’s pursuits comes down to the different chemical compounds our brain releases in response to certain activities. Namely, dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that acts on the part of the brain responsible for mediating reward behavior. Dopamine is often referred to as the ‘happy chemical’. However it has a far greater impact on behavior than merely making you feel happy. Further to being triggered before a reward is given, it has been shown to fire up in times of stress, pain, loss, or pleasure. When dopamine is released, it solicits feedback on whether a good thing or a bad thing is about to happen. This in turn affects our behaviorial response in the form of motivation to either promote the good outcome or avoid the bad one.

Serotonin on the other hand is associated with feelings of inspiration, creativity and focus and calm. Serotonin increases positive moods and emotions as well as concentration and mental sharpness. And therefore plays a very important part in perseverance and the feeling of determination. A lack or imbalance of dopamine and serotonin causes feelings of fatigue, disinterest, anxiousness, forgetfulness, unmotivated, and withdrawal.

Hacking the Chemistry

Now that we understand the chemicals behind the feelings, the question remains, how do we increase and regulate those chemical releases naturally?
Simple ways to release dopamine and serotonin include listening to music, meditating, achieving a goal, and even spending time in the sun. The balance of these chemicals is heavily affected by lifestyle. The biggest factors are the amount and quality of sleep you get each night, your diet, and your level of physical activity. Over time, regular exercise remodels the reward system, leading to higher circulating levels of dopamine and more available dopamine receptors. Cardiovascular exercise also leads to the release of other endorphins which can create a feeling of a rush of happiness right after training.

All the more reason to follow through on those New Years’ Goals to get fit and eat healthily!

Cover Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Jessica Wressel

Biokineticist at Fish & Field Biokineticists

Jessica holds a BScHons Biokinetics (WITS) and BA Human Kinetics and Ergonomics (Rhodes). She has also taken courses on Kinesio Taping and First Aid. Jessica has experience in both land-based and aqua-therapy biokinetics.

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