Little hits of dopamine

Motivation is a funny thing. We can feel sluggish, depressed, tired and unmotivated towards the work we know we want/need to get done. We can feel this way even though we know this work is incredibly important and will get us closer to our bigger life goals.

Big life goals, those are great, right? Who doesn’t want to make more money, check off the big accomplishments on our life list or become healthier?

If these things are so important, why is it sometimes so hard to motivate ourselves to do the things we know will get us closer to accomplishing these goals?

And yet, it’s not that we lack motivation completely. No matter how blah you feel, you can probably still motivate yourself to check social media, play a game, watch a show or tinker on some project around the house.

There’s energy and motivation in you somewhere, it’s just in short supply and not harnassable towards the bigger things on your list.

Why is checking social media or reading your favorite website so easy, even when we’re down in the dumps?

I’m no psychologist, but I have lived with a nut case for over 40 years ;) It seems to me that some things are easy to do because they provide a little hit of “feel good juice” to the brain. Dopamine is probably the scientific term.

When you check social media or your favorite website, the ratio of effort to “feel good juice” is skewed heavily in favor of the juice. You don’t have to put in much effort (mental or otherwise), and yet you get the dopamine. Easy.

For those important items on your task list, the opposite is true. There’s probably a whole lot of effort required, in the form of thinking or doing, and the feel good juice might not come for weeks or months. Heck, it isn’t even guaranteed; you might get nothing from these tasks.

So, we try to rationalize with ourselves. We tell ourselves it’s all about the journey. Or, we bargain with ourselves. If I finish X this week, I’ll treat myself to that new handbag (or man purse, if that’s your bag).

But rationalizing and bargaining sometimes lose effectiveness. They become weak right when you need them, when your willpower is shot and your motivation is sunk.

What’s the solution? I WISH I KNEW.

Seriously, do you know? I’m in the middle of one of those god awful funks, and nothing seems to be helping.

My solution in the past has been some combination of the following: wait it out, focus on something else for a while, try exercising more, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, remember “why” all those tasks are on my list, change my scenery (where I’m working from), wait it out some more, take a nap, blah, blah, blah.

My younger self took things way too seriously. When I got into an extended funk, I would occasionally go as far as blowing everything up and changing jobs, starting a new business, etc.

My older self knows (believes?) things will get better and I should just go through the motions until I get my mojo back.

Anybody have a better solution? Tell me on Twitter. Please. I’d love to hear it.

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Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I’ve been writing here since 2009. Join my email list for new articles about supporting yourself doing something you love: