When sitting down to write this article, I found myself unable to — more than once. I wanted to complete it; I was interested in the topic, but I could not push myself to do it.
I was unmotivated.
Motivation pushes you to perform certain behaviors to achieve results. But what exactly is motivation, and how can you give yours a boost? Motivation is based on reward prediction and value-based decision-making. It is your brain’s way of pushing you to perform certain behaviors, when the presence of an award is perceived. Motivation can be “intrinsic,” coming from within, or “extrinsic,” coming from beyond yourself.
Typically, intrinsic motivation involves wanting to perform tasks to reach a self-imposed goal, in order to make yourself happy. Extrinsic motivation is based on wanting to perform tasks because of a parent, manager, or some other external factor or reward. You may not want to take on that part-time job, but the presence of bills may motivate you. You may not feel like exercising today, but there’s that upcoming race with a shiny trophy at the end of it, so you push yourself to workout.
We are all motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. When our motivation decreases, we find ourselves unable to complete tasks or even begin work on them. Fortunately, neuroscience gives us a few ways to increase our motivation.
Part of motivation is finding, or rather — creating, the time to complete tasks. One way to do so is known as the “Pomodoro Technique.” Use a timer to segment work into “chunks”; the technique relies on both active work and the breaks in between tasks. Typically, each task is broken down into 25-minute intervals, with each break lasting about five minutes. A timer keeps track for you, so you are able to focus on your task without worrying about checking the clock every few minutes.
Similar to the Pomodoro Technique, and backed by experimentation, is chunking your tasks into 52-minute intervals, which sounds like a lot when you are not feeling motivated. However, after the 52 minutes is complete, take a 17-minute break, where you are focused on relaxing, resting, and not thinking about the task you were just working on. Further, because these breaks are relatively long, it gives you an opportunity to take a walk, which is known to boost creativity and memory.
Walking itself is a great way to increase motivation, especially when walking somewhere green. If there is a park nearby your work or home, or a path around the block with trees, walking and seeing the green foliage may be all your brain needs to jumpstart its motivation.
A study published in Environmental Science & Technology in 2012 found that the color green provides positive effects for mood on the perceived difficulty of a task. The behavioral outcomes in the study included better mood, less stress, and, indirectly, better motivation. People felt better after Fall 2017 some time being exposed to green; people who feel good, do good.
HAVING A PARTNER IN CRIME
One study found that having an “accountability partner” increased motivation and productivity. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University of California, conducted a study where 267 participants either: wrote their goals, committed to goals, or had an accountability partner to help reach those goals.
What Matthews found was that more than 70 percent of those who sent weekly updates to their accountability partner reached their goals. Only about one-third, or 35 percent, of those who didn’t enlist another’s help or write their goals down, succeeded in reaching their goals. You can have an accountability partner even for a single day. On days you feel particularly unmotivated, try enlisting a friend, or even your manager, in helping you reach goals. Tell them what you plan on completing during a given time period and send them updates.
SETTING TIGHT OR MEANINGFUL DEADLINES
Part of having motivation is setting deadlines. A great way to motivate yourself is to set tighter deadlines that seem daunting, but doable. One study indicated that setting deadlines inspires you to complete tasks, which helps motivate you. You may decide that you are going to write a book, but feel unmotivated and keep procrastinating. One good way to circumvent these feelings is to set a deadline — a birthday, a holiday, or some life event — that means something to you.
STRIKING A POSE
Madonna might have been on to something in her song “Vogue.” A quick, easy way to boost motivation is to strike a pose. A power pose, that is. Body language affects the mind just as much as the mind affects the body.
A professor at the Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy, has given a TED Talk on the power of body language. She describes two forms of power poses: high and low. A high-power pose includes keeping your body open — think arms uncrossed, back straight, and chest wide. The body is inviting and takes up much space. A low-power pose, on the other hand, shrinks the body — the shoulders are hunched in, and arms are crossed, protecting the core. The body is generally uninviting.
Try shifting your body from a hunched-over position into a straight-backed, head-facing-up-and-forward position, and keep your pose for at least a few minutes. You may find yourself feeling more confident — and more motivated.