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New year, Not-so-new Motivation? -The ‘brain’ behind motivation

-Shailee Patel

“You’ll never get bored when you try something new. There’s no limit to what you can do.” - Dr. Seuss

How is your ‘new year resolution’ going?

Are you still motivated enough as you were at the beginning of the year? The most common example of motivation that is experienced by everyone at the end of the year is the motivation to make certain changes in their lives during the new year, like go to the gym, study harder, or eat healthier; or the motivation to start studying because of approaching examination. Motivation is a brain process that makes us act according to our needs, wants or desires. It is an internal process that initiates and guides our goal-oriented behaviours and can be influenced by internal or external factors, that can be biological, emotional, social or cognitive forces. We tend to change our behaviour or complete certain tasks because of motivation.

Motivation and its Types:

Some psychologists explain motivation as a factor of personal desires and needs, and others describe it as a factor of external features like social pressure, rewards or punishments. According to these, there are two types of motivation described in the text.

  1. Intrinsic Motivation- It is generated for personal gain and self-gratification. The motivation is generated from within ourselves, to make changes with our lifestyle and affected by society. Researches state that intrinsically motivated individuals perform better and improve themselves faster with a given task.

  2. Extrinsic Motivation- In contrast to intrinsic motivation, intrinsically motivated behaviours are generated to make others happy. This is caused by social or peer pressure; for trophies, monetary rewards or social recognition.

Though there are two types of motivation, in reality, the motivation we feel is often a mix of both. For example, you like painting as a hobby, you do it daily for your own reasons and happiness, this motivation is intrinsically influenced; eventually, you decide to pursue art as a career and get a related job, now you have an extrinsic factor (getting paid) influencing your motivation to continue with painting. Imbalance in any factor can diminish the other type of motivation.

The brain-tingling-science behind Motivation:

Just like all of our actions, motivation is also controlled by the brain, like how the amygdala controls our emotions, hippocampus for memory and so on. A pattern of neural activity is observed with each act of motivation. Researchers use sophisticated equipment to study these neural signals, like electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The outer layer of the brain which is in contact with the skull is called the cortical region and the inner parts which are hidden from direct view are subcortical regions. The cortical brain areas that control motivation include the prefrontal cortex, cingulate gyrus and the insula. These regions are involved in making plans, processing and storing of reward-related behaviour, controlling of basic urges and insula in particular monitors feeling related to risk-taking behaviour, intrinsic motivation and uncertainty, which we usually refer to as ‘gut feeling’.

The subcortical brain areas include the amygdala, reticular formation, basal ganglia, striatum and hypothalamus. One of the major influences of motivation is the amygdala. Other regions are involved in alertness, reward centre and response to natural rewards like eating, drinking and mating. There is a dopamine release in the striatum that produces the feeling of pleasure. Dopamine is also known as the ‘ happy hormone’ as it is released during a likeable event.

Although there are different regions for various functions, all these interact with each other inside the brain through neural signals and the release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that are produced and released in the brain to transfer a signal from one neuron to another. Certain neurotransmitters are released for our motivational behaviours, which induce happiness, pleasure or feeling of satisfaction like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin.

Since motivation is time-variance dependent, within a few days you can feel unmotivated to continue with your current task. Hence, just like you eat every day to keep up your energy, you have to keep yourself motivated each day and continue your tasks with the same rigorousness which you started with. Keeping your goals to something that interests you. Some ways in

which you could do this are by:

  • Making smaller goals that lead to the achievement of a bigger goal, as well as setting realistic goals.

  • Upholding confidence in yourself.

  • Remembering your past achievements. Working on things that make you insecure.

  • Giving yourself well-deserved breaks.

No-one knows you better than you, so be gentle to yourself and do the best you can!