The correlation of reward, dopamine and motivation

The correlation of reward, dopamine and motivation

Our brains are built so that they need daily motivation. Otherwise it is very difficult to start doing something.

The main “motivator” for the brain is the hormone dopamine. It rewards us with positive emotions, courage, enthusiasm, euphoria, a state of flow and many other pleasurable things that keep us going.

Also our brain has its own reward system, which are several brain structures connected by nerve cells that “communicate” with the help of dopamine. Most of these neurons are located in the midbrain, and their axonal tails extend to different areas, including those responsible for emotion, memory, and behavioral control.

Dopamine is the main signal transmitter in the reward system. Its release induces pleasure and thereby reinforces behaviors that will help us feel satisfaction in the future. The next time you get your “sugar” (whether it’s a marathon medal, a big deal, or a vivid orgasm), its level will rise even before you get your “sugar” and thus make you strive for your goal.

How the reward system relates to motivation

Not only does dopamine bring pleasure, but it also helps you compare rewards to the effort expended and determine if the game is worth the effort. For example, if you are unexpectedly given a bonus, its level will jump and you will be much more active and productive.

If your paycheck stays the same and you don’t get a bonus, it won’t affect your neurotransmitter level – it will be produced in tonic mode, with no peaks or bursts of motivation.

But if you worked hard for a month and got a pittance at the end, your dopamine will drop, and you will drown in procrastination the next day at work.

Thus, to maintain motivation, you need high levels of dopamine in the reward system.

How to maintain motivation by increasing dopamine levels

While short-term goals like “buy a candy bar and eat it” are easy, long-term goals like career advancement or weight loss can be problematic. In order not to forget about your dreams and still achieve what you want, you can use two ways.

1. Refresh predictions about the expectation of a reward

Because dopamine helps make predictions, its levels increase not only from the reward itself, but also from information about it.

Enough to remember the story with the bonus – a hint of a plump envelope with money at the end of the month will please and inspire labor feats no less than the direct receipt of money.

If you lose motivation, and no one is in a hurry to please you with good news, do it yourself. Remind yourself more often of pleasant results, especially in periods when there are difficulties in achieving the goal.

For example, if you want to save up for a vacation, then look at pictures of places you are going to go, read positive reviews, talk to people who have already gone there, or imagine in detail how cool it will be.

And try to make your incentives varied. A picture on your desk is nice, but over time you’ll get used to it, and you’ll need more information to spur your dopamine to fall.

2. Fight chronic inflammation

Scientists have long noticed that depression (a state in which motivation (and dopamine) is below zero) is associated with chronic inflammation in the body.

A meta-analysis with data from more than 5,000 patients confirmed that people with this mental disorder have significantly elevated levels of inflammatory markers.

In a recent research paper, scientists suggested that chronic flaccid inflammation may directly affect dopamine levels and, as a result, reduce motivation to do anything.

According to the theory, if the body reacts in this way, the body is trying to fix some kind of problem. So that the person doesn’t waste resources and allows himself to recover, the dopamine level drops and the motivation to do something disappears. The problem is that unlike acute inflammation, which subsides as soon as the body copes with an injury or infection, chronic inflammation can last for years. So can a lack of strength and motivation.

To avoid experiencing dopamine interruptions, try to eliminate the factors responsible for the inflammation growth:

  • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Being overweight and obese;
  • Lack of sleep and prolonged stressful life events;
  • High percentage of sugar, processed meats, and trans fats in the diet.

And here’s what will help reduce the inflammatory response in the body:

  • A healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and oily fish (like a Mediterranean diet);
  • Drinks and spices: green tea, cocoa, turmeric, ginger;
  • Physical activity especially high-intensity physical activity (VITI, a combination of cardio and strength training).

If your goal is long-term, switch to a healthy lifestyle. This way you are more likely to live up to it and not lose motivation in the process.


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