What motivates you? Have you ever experienced a sense of determination to get something accomplished? You knew what you were going to accomplish, also you knew how you would benefit from your accomplished work or project.
It could be something as easy as cleaning a room in your home, performing a repair on something that you use, or creating something entirely new. Recently, my seven and four year olds made thirteen dollars a piece from selling lemonade and brownies at the park with their mother. They had both approached us about their desire to bake the brownies, make the lemonade and sell for some profit. My wife obliged them, and it was a success.
While the idea for the sale was borrowed from one of their teachers, what I found amazing is the drive they each had for the sale. They were both extremely motivated to accomplish this sale, and were also very confident that they would make sales and be rewarded for their hard work. All things considered their lemonade and brownie sale was a success. So if two children can find the motivation to follow through on an idea, what happens to us as adults when we experience routine bouts of poor motivation and in extreme cases, lethargy? Especially when we know we have the competency to follow through on the idea?
The answer lies in the narratives we have come to believe in ourselves.
“Though the brain is enclosed in a single skull, it is actually made of two separate lumps…which are designed to disagree with each other.” —Jonah Lehrer
In the field of neuroscience it is generally accepted that the left hemisphere is responsible for constructing positive narratives of our existence, while the right hemisphere is responsible for bringing the more pessimistic aspects of our lives into perspective. I would argue that a healthy mind is where the negative traits of a person can be taken at face value, with the addition of a positive narrative that does not corrupt the integrity of the negative narrative, so long as the negative narrative is accurate.
In other words, even if I find my feelings hurt by the number “2”, I will always agree with myself that “1 + 1 = 2, and not 3”. Therefore as I go about constructing a positive narrative, rather than ignoring or negativing the number “2”, I will bring myself to accepting “2” for the number it is.
When working with clients on increasing their experiences with motivation, the most common issue they experience are their feelings of hurt towards the scarification of their personal time towards achieving their desired goals. A common reason for this is that over the years they have come to believe in a narrative that negates the investment of their personal time towards achieving their goals. This is a very subconscious but powerful narrative, and always take precedence over the conscious narrative for achieving their desired goals.
So in other words, a common reason that adults struggle with poor motivation, is a conflict of narratives. This is due to the development and implementation of a previous narrative designed to cope with an acknowledged negative, which now interferes with the implementation and follow through of a new idea. Old narratives can be especially difficult to change, especially if they were originally put into place to cope with difficult negative narratives. Such as narratives for coping with rejection from society in various facets of our lives.
You can learn to tell yourself, believable and reality based narratives that will truly inspire you towards bringing your ideas to fruition, with an experienced therapist.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and Life Coach
Which came first the chicken or the egg? This is a question that plagues us in all facets of our lives, and all fields of study notwithstanding. Take for example, the field of psychology. It is not uncommon to read about most medical professionals and biologist identify dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain as a primary determinant for how motivated a person is. There is truth to this, for example if you used a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to identify and measure dopamine production in the brain of a healthy person, you will find increased dopamine production and activity in response to the anticipation of a reward.
This then raises the question, is motivation based on genetic factors that predispose people to a certain type of chemical disposition, or does experience in a person’s natural environment, or environment of origin influence the chemical disposition of a person’s brain? Consider this study by Vanderbilt University, where researchers using a PET scan, determined that a person’s willingness to work hard was determined by his or her dopamine levels. The problem I have with this study is that the researchers did not go in depth into why the differences in dopamine levels existed in the first place, they simply measured dopamine activity on certain tasks, drew their conclusions and called it a day.
As a clinician who believes in neuroplasticity, (the brains’s ability to rewire itself based on stimuli), I suggest that the brain’s ability to produce certain levels of dopamine is influenced by the beliefs of the participants. For example, people who believe that they are capable of completing a hard task and earning a reward, are probably most likely to have increased dopamine activity as opposed to people who view themselves as incompetent when it comes to completing difficult tasks. Proof of the brain’s ability to rewire itself can be found in this study where, cocaine addiction, followed by chronic relapses was determined to have been caused by cocaine-induced neuroplasticity changes in the brain. Where chronic abuse of cocaine led to the brain to rewire itself to become dependent on cocaine for motivation.
So if neuroplasticity is true, (which it is) how does one increase their level of dopamine production naturally without resorting to unhealthy habits? One technique would be to visualize the outcome of your goals and embrace the process towards realizing these outcomes. Life in the modern world is more complicated than life in the wilderness, which humans beings originally evolved to thrive in. The reason for this is that the process of stalking and hunting game, foraging for food or cultivating food is more linear and straightforward than finding employment in a high salary paying job. With the latter, not only do you have to be qualified for the job, but you also have to have a good relationship with someone high up in the hierarchy in the industry, not to mention experience. So while hunting for game in the wilderness might require patience, it would be fueled by certainty if you have an understanding of the game you are hunting, such as knowing where to find them. With finding a high paying job, despite your qualifications, you may become intimidated if you were not raised in the same socio-economic background as the people you would need to apply to for the job, and this level of intimidation might reduce your dopamine levels, thus reducing your level of motivation in applying for said high salary job.
Personally, I think motivation is relative, which leads me to suggest that dopamine levels are also relative. For example, for experiences in which I have excelled at, my dopamine levels become increased when faced with a goal to accomplish, versus experiences in which I have had little success at, in which my brain responds by producing reduced levels of dopamine. In following through with the technique mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you are faced with a need to follow through on a goal in which you have little experience in, it becomes a matter of recollecting the best of your previous achievements, regardless of how different that goal was, applying the work ethic you used towards your visualization of success with the new and foreign goal, and following through with faith in yourself.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Why are disappointments so difficult to bear for some people? One reason could be because some people place all their stock for being happy in one basket. Specifically in regards to setting goals and expectations for the future. I often see this with people who struggle with mild depression, and procrastination. If you ask them what they want to accomplish, they are quick to inform you about their dreams, but some where along the way they lost motivation once the going got tough. When this phenomenon occurs it is because there seems to be an expectation that happiness can only be achieved once certain desires, goals and expectations are met. For clarification, my definition of happiness in this post refers to feelings of prolonged content and acceptance , versus joy which is shorter lived.
Where does happiness begin and where does it end? If you read or listen between the lines, sometimes when people are discussing something they want to accomplish, it appears that their beliefs about happiness stem from hidden statements such as, “I can only be happy if..” or “I can only be happy when..”
Ambitions, desires, goals and accomplishments are all part of the wonderful attributes of the human experience, specifically they bring a sense of meaning and purposefulness to the experience of life. However, what happens when your narrative changes? What happens when a goal you set out to achieve with all your heart is not realized due to circumstances beyond your control?
Postponing your happiness today based your hopes and dreams for tomorrow is a recipe for a case for acute and prolonged depression. I have worked with people who were so caught off guard by a sudden and unexpected change in their fortunate situation that they spent more years depressed compared to the years when they were thriving. What If you could begin experiencing happiness today, inspite of what your current circumstances are? What would that look like?
From my perspective what happiness today would look like would be living your life from a place of gratitude. Recognizing what you have going on for you and seeing any challenge in your life as an adventure and an exciting part of your journey. So even if you are confronted with disappointment from not having realized a goal, it would be easier for you to grieve and transition with your experiences into your pursuit of another goal.
So instead of the hidden statements such as, “I can only be happy if…” or “I can only be happy when…” replace them with “I can experience happiness regardless of my circumstances.” This type of thinking leads you towards regarding your goals and ambitions with a different attitude. An attitude that leads you towards focusing on the process, rather than the outcome.
So when the going gets tough, you can always draw energy from your feelings of consent and happiness, because you understand that challenges are a natural and occurring phenomenon in our lives.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
A college student I worked with was experiencing difficulty in school, in regards to completing and turning in her class assignments. One day she mentioned to me that perhaps she suffered from attention deficit disorder . I responded by reminding her about how we had rescheduled our agreed upon appointment two weeks prior because she had to take an examination, which was three hours long. I further reminded her that during our most recent meeting, she had informed me that she had passed the examination.
“People with attention deficit disorder struggle to pull that off,” I added. As it turns out, her lack of motivation was caused by her not knowing what she wanted to study and that she was only pursuing the major of study she was enrolled in to impress her parents. This revelation came out after she came to realize that she was able to concentrate for hours at at time as evidenced by how well she had done on the three hour exam. The difference was that over the years she hadn’t been doing it on her own terms.
From time to time, I encounter people who become upset with me because I tell them they can get better, when they believe they can not. There is another story of a client who used the analogy of a blind man, he informed me that telling him that he could get past his depression was like telling a blind man that he could see again. I then informed him that while blind people certainly couldn’t see, they could still get around and function on par with their sighted fellow humans.
The human mind is neuroplastic, it has a remarkable ability of reorganizing itself to help us address our everyday issues in life and thrive, regardless of the trauma experienced and survived. What remains is for us to believe in our ability to adapt and change.
Consider this study, involving hospitalized depressed men for the effectiveness of fluoxetine in treating depression. The men were divided into two groups, one group which received the actual treatment and the second group which received a placebo treatment. Both groups showed dramatic and significant improvement in their depressive symptoms, as evidenced by self reports and scanned images of changes in their brains’ glucose metabolism using positron emission tomography (PET). This is one of many studies that shows that power of simply believing, through the effects of placebo.
The truth is that we are able to accomplish any feat we set our minds unto. So if you are experiencing difficulty in consistently accomplishing a task, or following through with agreed upon expectations, perhaps it has nothing to do with your ability but your willingness, influenced by other factors.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
If negativity is to water, then positivity is to the boat that keeps you afloat and takes you across.
The best way to explain this analogy is to substitute negativity as challenges and positivity as the courage to practice change in overcoming certain challenges.
From addictions to maladaptive behaviors, the key to emancipation from habits that weigh us down is practicing the courage to take risks. Imagine if you can, the look of disbelief when I tell a client who struggles with depression that he needs to go thirty days without using marijuana, or the look of horror registered on the face of the shy young adult who is given an assignment to ask someone out on a date.
These two examples have something in common and the commonality is people being asked to take the risk to practice change. For example, the client who uses marijuana, by quitting will be taking the risk of experiencing the inner turmoil and discomfort he has been using the drug to hide from. In his head, facing his fears is the worst thing that could ever happen to him even though it’s the best thing that could happen to him. The exact same thing could be said for the shy young man, afraid to approach females he finds attractive.
There are a number of research studies like this one on risk taking that seem to suggest that people are more willing to take risks when they feel happier or more optimistic. However, what if it works both ways? What if it is true that while happier people take more risks, that miserable people who practice risk taking also experience more happiness? More specifically, what if it turns out that people who are unhappy can experience more optimism if they take risks even when the outcome of their risk taking doesn’t yield success?
For example, what if a young man who is shy finally exercises the courage to begin approaching and making small conversations with women he finds attractive. What if he finally asks someone out and she says no? In my practice what I have witnessed is that even when turned down, young men who struggle with self confidence report feeling more optimistic, because being turned down wasn’t as horrible and as unbearable an ordeal as they had imagined.
Furthermore, risk is a term that’s often used to describe irrational decisions instead of everyday life in which it should be used. For example, driving your car is risky for obvious reasons, but gambling in a casino is irrational, as the odds are always in the favor of the house, which makes the probability of you winning any substantial amount of money slim to none.
People become adverse to the idea of risk taking when their definition of risk involves taking steps to improve their situation with a high likelihood of failure. This certainty of failure becomes so big in their minds that they become fearful of taking any steps to improve their situations. It is when I explain to clients how they take risks everyday in theirs lives that they become more willing to take the necessary steps to do things differently to improve their situations. When people start doing things more differently to improve their circumstances, they become more optimistic regardless of the outcome. They also begin taking about more opportunities that have come up for them as a result of practicing get the courage to change.
Happiness like any other feeling is feedback from the brain that tells you that you are either getting your needs met or in the process of getting your needs met. It is not something that occurs before the event or an action is initiated. For example, it would be equivalent to feeling wet outside on a dry day shortly before rain pours from the sky. We take risks everyday with no guarantees that things would go our way, and happiness is becoming more aware of this phenomenon and being at peace with it.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.