I actually allowed myself time to do a quick review of the year past before jumping into planning for 2022. Which is sort of incredible considering the lunacy that encompassed most of last year and how I couldn’t wait to wash the remnants away. But no better way to salvage any learnings from the debris than to look in my rear-view mirror and see what I see.
My productivity has usually been the focus of my pursuit of better and I am always looking for systems and tools that will give me “better” and “more” and “easier”. However, this time I decided to lean into my struggles with motivation. Obviously, all the systems in the universe will not help if I can’t get motivated to do them. And as there are more times I am not motivated versus motivated, I need a better plan.
The place to start was to see how the experts defined motivation. Googling the word motivation I find “Motivation is one of the driving forces behind human behavior. Motivation encompasses the desire to continue striving toward meaning, purpose, and a life worth living. Motivation is the desire to act in service of a goal. It’s the crucial element in setting and attaining our objectives.” So motivation is a desire or a feeling.
Motivation is broken down into two types — intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is a drive that comes purely from within; it’s not due to any anticipated reward, deadline, or outside pressure. Using an example of the person who runs, they could be running for the pleasure of the feeling and because they identify as someone who runs. It’s the love of the game. It’s the love of the work. You do the work because it is internally satisfying or because you enjoy the work. Intrinsic motivation is so much more powerful than extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivation is fused into who we believe we are and so serves as a constant reserve of motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is any reason someone does work other than the joy of doing the work itself. Anything that we are promised for doing the work or anything that we get as a result of doing the work are all extrinsic motivators.
Extrinsic motivation can increase motivation in the short term, but over time it can wear down or even backfire. What happens when I am no longer motivated by the reward? What happens if I reach my set goal and have no reason to continue? Maybe I have plenty of awards or maybe I am no longer challenged by this work. Maybe the uniqueness has rubbed off and it’s boring.
The neuroscience journal Neuron published an article by researchers at the Universitat Jaume I of Castellón in 2013 that reviews the prevailing theory on dopamine and posed a major paradigm shift to the thinking on dopamine. “It was believed that dopamine regulated pleasure and reward and that we release it when we obtain something that satisfies us, but in fact, the latest scientific evidence shows that this neurotransmitter acts before that, it actually encourages us to act. In other words, dopamine is released in order to achieve something good or to avoid something evil,” explains Mercè Correa.
The widespread belief that dopamine regulates pleasure could go down in history with the latest research results on the role of this neurotransmitter. Researchers have shown that it regulates motivation, causing individuals to initiate and persevere to obtain something either positive or negative.
The researcher also went on to say, “The level of dopamine depends on individuals, so some people are more persistent than others to achieve a goal. Dopamine leads to maintaining the level of activity to achieve what is intended.”
Those of us with ADHD know all too well the struggle with losing extrinsic motivation when we are bored or don’t like the work. And why is that? Because all too often, our dopamine levels are low or are not being used as efficiently in the neurons of our brain as needed.
So this question of motivation is more complex than I should feel motivated in order to get started. And the fact that I feel unmotivated is not true either. Because I am always motivated at any given moment, but just not motivated to do what I am supposed to be doing. When I say I am not motivated to go work out at the gym today and I wind up couch surfing, I am motivated to sit on the couch. That was what my enthusiasm was for and that’s what I did.
According to Dr. Russ Harris in his book called The Confidence Gap, “committed action comes first, feeling motivated comes later.” He explains that motivation does not precede action, action precedes motivation. And not just any action, but a committed or valued action that is consistent with your value on doing this particular thing. My true values are not in alignment with that couch-surfing action because I value staying healthy for longevity. So my valued action really is going for a walk regardless of whether I am in the mood or not. That’s where the rubber hits my road!
Looks like there is plenty more to uncover here about the mechanics of motivation and getting into action. I will dive into more details next week in Part 2. I hope you come back to follow me on my fresh start journey. Have a fabulous week!
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach, Owner/Founder