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5 Motivational Tips Backed By Science

Lucinda Bianchi 

5 Motivational Tips Backed By Science

Admit it. Staying motivated can be difficult. Work, gym or even a new diet – they all take a heavy dose of motivation and a lot of willpower. You’ll start your diet well, eating lettuce today; tomorrow your lettuce will have dressing on it and by the weekend it will be on top of a burger wrapped in a bun. That annoyingly motivated person in the office will come into work glowing after their morning run and you will make a mental pledge to yourself to do the same… Soon, soon.

The truth is, we all find motivation hard at times and instead of reading meme after meme with pictures of mountains, seas, storms and other generic motivational images, perhaps all we really need to do is understand the science behind motivation and discover so that you can be productive all year round. So, here are 5 motivational tips (backed by science) to get you started…

1) It’s all in your head

Heard of the neurotransmitter ‘dopamine’? No? Well, it’s a chemical in our brain that is often discussed in scaremongering articles about sex, drugs and addiction, but it turns out that dopamine isn’t all about forbidden pleasures! In fact, levels of dopamine and the path it takes from our brain can have positive effects on our memory, behavior, attention, sleep, mood, learning and motivation.

Some of us were born with naturally higher levels of dopamine than others and are therefore more motivated. For those of us not blessed with these enviable ‘natural’ levels of dopamine, you’d think a simple supplement would have made it’s way onto the market, but oh no, you need to work at it! Welcome to 2017 where life, just like in 2016, is unfair.

As the saying goes ‘if you build it, they will come’ – in this case we’re talking about creating the perfect environment for dopamine to flow. Since dopamine has a biological connection to feelings of achievement, setting yourself small achievable goals and welcoming positive feedback can result in increased levels of the chemical flowing from your brain to the cerebral cortex. Remember – slow and steady dopamine wins the race.

2) Set Challenges and Personal Targets

Despite popular belief, science has proven within most industries that once a reasonable standard of living is achieved incentives not only don’t motivate us anymore they can actually demotivate us.

The most common mistake anybody can make is that people won’t enjoy a challenge without a reward. Humans by nature are actually very easily motivated by any sort of challenging work, which is why so many of our hobbies involve problem-solving and targets. The trick therefore, is to find what intrinsically drives us and set enough challenges with attainable targets to keep us motivated.

3) Love your work

Your relationship with your work is a key factor in your motivation. Feeling as if we have no say in the tasks and work we carry out can hinder even the most motivated individual. It takes a beautiful bond between our contribution, our choices and positivity to make this motivational tip really spring to life.

We might not all love our jobs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it. In Neil Fiore’s book, The Now Habit, he looks specifically at procrastination. He argues that this common habit of putting things off comes not from the type of work we are doing but from our relationship with it. If we see our work as a chore that we have to do in order to get something we want – this creates an environment where procrastination is likely to permeate. Fiore suggests trying to change the way we speak about our work, making a conscious effort to use more positive language. So instead of asking ‘When do I need to complete this by?’, try to ask yourself ‘When can I start this?’

4) Feed off autonomy and competence

A diet of autonomy and competence in your life is a winning combination as far as your psychological nutrition is concerned. Psychologists Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan of the University of Rochester argue that you become increasingly motivated when you feel in charge. Their research evaluating students, athletes and employees, found that even the perception of autonomy can have an effect on how we are motivated.

It’s very easy to accept people making decisions and choices for you, but understanding that this is a major factor in lack of motivation means you should make a conscious effort to inject some assertion into your life, and take ownership when the opportunity arises. This, together with increasing levels of competence will give you the confidence and energy to pursue tasks with a much higher level of motivation.

5) Surround yourself with high performers

So far we’ve learned to trick our brain, embrace our intrinsic motivations, love our work and take a daily dose of autonomy. This fifth motivational tip backed by science sounds like your parents when she told you they thought you should hang out with a ‘better crowd’. Turns out they were talking sense. The Köhler effect , is a phenomenon that occurs when a person works harder as a member of a group than when working alone, and additional research has shown that you are more likely to be motivated if those people are higher performers.

Surrounding yourself with high performers not only increases your motivation through aspiration and competitive drive but also through the knowledge that a group is depending on your performance.

And on that wonderful team inspired motivational note…


Read more about the science behind motivation through the following links:

Dopamine & Motivation

Incentives vs Intrinsic Rewards & the ‘Candle Problem’

Neil Fiore & ‘The Now Habit’

Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being – Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, University of Rochester

The Köhler Group Motivation Gain: How to Motivate the ‘Weak Links’ in a Group

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