Dopamine: The science behind motivation

Date: Jan 18, 2022    By: Genesis Fitness

We can be super envious of those that just seem to be naturally highly motivated individuals. You may think that it’s ‘a personality-type’, but it’s worth understanding a bit more about chemical reactions that occur and how dopamine plays a significant role in our motivation levels. You’ve probably heard the word before but may not know what it is and some actions you can take that can have significant impact on your motivation levels.

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. Your body makes it, and your nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells. That's why it's sometimes called a chemical messenger. Dopamine plays a role in how we feel, satisfaction and motivation. When you feel good that you have achieved something, it’s because you have a surge of dopamine transmitted through your brain.

Record small accomplishments

We probably don’t have to tell you that achieving a goal makes you feel good. This is one of those activities that produce a dopamine hit and there’s a clever way to hijack that mechanism and maximise your motivation. If you break your accomplishments down into small goals, and record or celebrate each as they come, you’re guaranteed to keep up your motivation as you go towards your bigger goals. This is goal setting 101: Set that big hairy audacious goal, whether it’s a mega bench press target, significant weight loss, running a mini or full marathon, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – set yourself up for success with smaller, frequent goals you can achieve and celebrate each milestone to get a ‘little and often’ dopamine hit.

Get recognition

Getting recognition from those around you is another way you can spike your dopamine and make sure your motivation is on point for your next workout. The easiest way to do this is by sharing your goals and success with a partner or loved one.

Digitally, you could share some post workout experiences with your friends with a few details about how it went, or you can use the share function on apps that track your progress. You might inspire someone to join you and can work together to stay motivated this way.

A non-digital approach would be to workout with mates, or joining group personal training and group classes – you’ll feel good supporting others just as much as you’ll get your dopamine hit from their positivity about your successes.

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Every time you receive a reward, your body releases dopamine and your motivation is topped up. If you want to make the most out of this trigger response, why not set yourself a series of rewards such as putting aside some money to give yourself each time you workout, or rewarding yourself with relaxation time. These rewards should be specific to your goals, such as new workout gear, a nice remedial massage or an extra PT session. Steer clear of rewarding yourself with sweets and treats which will send you backwards on your journey. Get creative, it doesn’t have to be expensive, just self-rewarding your effort will give you the buzz.

Publicly commit yourself

We all love to look consistent, to go through with the things we say we will. That’s why letting your friends know about your goals is a great way to ensure you’re motivated, thanks to the strong desire to look consistent in front of others. If that seems a bit too public for you, you could always write down your goals as a contract and sign it. No-one has to see it, but this method has also been shown to help people commit.

Indulge in positive thinking

A study at the University of New Hampshire found that people who rate their past exercise as positive were more likely to spend a greater number of hours in the future exercising. This means that applying a little positive thinking about your exercise can have massive benefits on your motivation. One way to do this would be through visualisation. A study by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that positive visualisation of exercise can enhance real-world performance. You may have heard about the visualisation techniques used by elite athletes – where they spend time to consciously visualise themselves winning – imagining how their performance would look and feel. Combine these two ideas and not only will you be motivated, but you’ll perform better as well.

Cut back on processed food

Lots of people say we are what we eat, and one aspect of this is that all the chemical messengers that we rely on to lift our mood are created by breaking down the food we eat. If we cut down on the processed food, we’ll have more nutrients and our body will have an easier time processing the raw materials we need to feel good. You can increase your dopamine levels naturally by eating a healthy diet, including foods rich in L-Tyrosine (the protein needed to make dopamine). These include almonds, avocados, bananas, beef, chicken and eggs. Turmeric, vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 supplements are also claimed to increase dopamine levels.

We hope implementing these tips puts a natural spring in your step and perhaps helps minimise the times you hit the snooze button when you were meant to be hitting the gym.

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