Hack your Motivation and Get Back on Track in 2016: Dopamine, Laughter and Grandma

Goodbye February and Hello March. We have two full months of 2016 behind us as the transition from winter to spring occurs. How is 2016 going for you so far? How about your New Year’s Resolutions?  Perhaps March is the time to get back on track and reboot your resolutions, which according to Forbes.com, only 8% of people actually achieve.

Setting goals requires creating new behaviors, which is essentially creating new habits and brain pathways. New habits are tough work on the brain.  “The brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there…” writes Charles Duhigg in his excellent book The Power of Habit.   The brain is always looking for short cuts to save efforts and create automatic routines which is why bad habits stick so easily. To change or replace habits on has to learn about creating “habit loops,” as Duhigg explains in the book.

Drawing upon what we know about the brain, perhaps it is more useful to think instead about hacking your motivation to jump start change.  What does hacking your motivation signify? It means focusing on the drivers of behavioral change instead of just focusing upon the goal itself. Hacking means understanding the how and why behind your motivation that will create the important new habit loops.  Here are three practical ways to start hacking your motivation to get back-on-track regarding 2016 resolutions or any other outstanding goals you hope to achieve.

It’s all About the Dopamine:  There are powerful brain chemicals (known as neurotransmitters) behind your motivation. In particular, the “motivation molecule” dopamine has been shown to boost concentration, focus, and drive. It also gives you that wonderful sense of reward when you accomplish a goal or the excitement of “winning”.  According to researchers from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, dopamine plays a critical part in staying on track.  Studies have shown that “short-term goals release quick bursts of dopamine, which makes motivation for short-term goals easy ( www.brain.com).

To increase dopamine levels in the brain, it is best to achieve small victories every day and savor the victory as a win. For example, if you skip the tempting piece of pie for dessert, remind yourself that it is huge victory in creating a new habit loop.  In the office, after submitting a report don’t immediately move to the next task or 30 new emails that are in your in-box. Take a few minutes, breathe, reflect and remind yourself that this was a small win with an accompanying hit of dopamine. Hacking your motivation entails understanding there is a powerful reward system in your brain so build upon small victories on a daily basis.

Motivation Loves Fun: Happily, there is brain science research to support that having fun and laughter play an important role in motivation.  Fun creates an alternative source of the reward chemical dopamine to help you stay motivated. Our brains are actually wired to find learning fun which ultimately helps you get through resolution hurdles — if you can make the task fun and entertaining. Not sure where to start? Try laughing!  Dr. Matt Bellace, author of A Better High explains that laughter release dopamine which serves as a reward center for the brain, creates a sense of eurphoria and plays a pivotal park in our motivation to continue the behavior (www.psychologytoday).

Be Healthy to Hack Motivation: Motivation is significantly enhanced by common sense health habits – eating right, exercise 20 minutes daily, getting a decent night’s sleep. These basic healthy habits sound like something that your grandmother told you years ago.   But, Grandma’s advice has been shown to help motivation. Motivation is stronger when you are feeling better. It is an upward spiral. The better you feel physically, it will reinforce and help hack your motivation. It is an upward spiral.  The more you fuel your motivation, the better you feel. It is a two-for-one special.

Have fun, laugh more, increase your dopamine, and do a few things that you know are good for your health. It will hack your motivation and create positive feedback loops. Give it a try. There are only 9 more months until 2017.