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how to increase motivation  dopamine and motivation what is the role of dopamine sources of motivation science of motivation

The science of motivation

Published May 31, 2023 | Updated Nov 10, 2023

Everybody strives to get motivated and then stay motivated. Imagine you finally decide to start going to the gym. You want to keep going and see results. Easier said than done? You’re in luck because it can be done easily when you know the neuroscience behind it and have a guide to the natural ways of boosting your motivation and keeping up with it. Discover the science of motivation and learn how to increase motivation

The reward centre: dopamine and motivation

Motivation is what drives an individual to achieve a goal[1]. Your reward chemical has a crucial role in the brain's reward system and in motivating you[2]. So, what is the role of dopamine in motivation? Dopamine helps you learn what gives you pleasure and encourages you to act in such a way that you’ll gain what you like[3]. Imagine you like swimming. You’ll feel pleasure while swimming, and as you usually only swim in the summer, you’ll also feel rewarded every time you swim which will boost your love and motivation for this activity[4]. Every time you’ll be preparing to go swimming you’re brain will release dopamine and keep you excited about doing it. However, the production of your reward chemical depends on your body’s levels of the building block to dopamine, tyrosine. Tyrosine is a natural nutrient meaning you can orally ingest it with a protein-rich diet full of cheese, tofu, meat and fish. You can also take it in supplemental form to ensure adequate intake. brain feed’s 1st natural 800mg tyrosine supplement is made from fermented corn. New customers get 15% off their first order by using the code ‘NEW15’ at the checkout. 

Adequate intake of tyrosine allows your body to produce enough dopamine that it can release whenever you’re doing something you love[4]. Now your body has all it needs to work as it should let’s take a look at the sources of motivation. 

Variety keeps the motivation going

Studies show that finding a balance between routine and variety could help you release more dopamine[5,6]. Multiple studies conducted at the University of Maryland on 81, 96, 104 and 105, participants found that more variety within a set of actions that help you achieve your goal increases motivation to pursue that goal[5]. Similarly, results from a Vancouver University study conducted on 363 participants showed that when participants perceived variety in their exercises they were more motivated[6].

That paves the way for the importance of breaks in between your activities, such as work, studying, doing workouts and even doing something creative like painting. For example, even if your daily goal at work is to do your work tasks well, breaks between your work are an essential element that provides you with much-needed variety during your work time. Take a 5-10 minute break every 45 minutes to go and get a cup of water or tea and take a stroll to the toilet. Always make sure to have a lunch break. Besides using your break time the usual way try and look at funny videos of dogs, climb a set of stairs or listen to music while jumping or dancing. All of that will help you get the dopamine hit you need to stay motivated during work. 

Ask yourself: How do I benefit from this?

Completing an in-your-eyes pointless task can be unpleasant at best. It’ll take you more time to do it while feeling down which diminishes your motivation. A Taiwan study conducted on 179 students showed a link between positive thinking and students’ motivation[7]. So, ask yourself how you can benefit from the task. Write down anywhere from 20 to 50 benefits of the tasks which can be anything from I will learn a great deal more on a subject to I will have one less thing to do. Because you’ll be crossing off multiple benefits while doing your work tasks, dopamine will be released actively which will help you stay motivated. 

To harness your motivation set your goals using the SMART criteria[8]. This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timed. Following these criteria, you can create specific goals with well-defined criteria that lead to successfully achieving your goals[9]. An example of a SMART goal would be taking a 5-minute break every workday at 11 am for the next 4 weeks to climb a set of stairs. The achievement of SMART goals is very rewarding which in turn boosts your motivation[9].  

Surprise! You’re motivated

You’re going into a meeting at work. You hope the meeting will go well, and that the potential clients will praise your work, however, you’re uncertain of their reaction to you. 

Social situations always naturally create a level of surprise which in turn increases motivation as studies on animals found[10,11]. Results of the studies on monkeys and bumblebees show that the nerve cells responsible for the reward and pleasure chemical dopamine are boosted in uncertain situations.

The findings suggest that if the meeting you’re about to go into goes well, you’ll feel way more pleasure and reward from it compared to what you’ll be feeling after a meeting which is bound to end successfully. 

So, if you’re struggling to keep your eyes on the task, going out to have lunch with friends or colleagues could increase your levels of dopamine making you more motivated for work later. The same goes if you work from home. Even a video call with colleagues could boost your motivation.   

Reward yourself to be rewarded

For people to be able to set SMART goals and think about all the benefits of the task, they need to work out what their values are first[12,13]. Ask yourself, what are the situations or relationships that you can always find energy for? Some people will say physical exercise, while others will say spending time with friends. Maybe you can connect with both of these values. The more values you can find, the better. When you define your values you’re able to ask yourself how the task benefits your values. When your values are satisfied that stimulates the reward system of the brain which influences your motivation[12,13].

Live SMART and stay motivated with these simple steps. 


[1] Cherry, K. (2023). Motivation: The Driving Force Behind Our Actions. verywellmind.

[2] Wise, R. A., & Jordan, C. J. (2021). Dopamine, behavior, and addiction. Journal of Biomedical Science, 28(1), 83. 

[3] Shiota, M. N., Campos, B., Oveis, C., Hertenstein, M. J., Simon-Thomas, E., & Keltner, D. (2017). Beyond happiness: Building a science of discrete positive emotions. American Psychologist, 72(7), 617–643.

[4] Lazar, S. W., Bush, G., Gollub, R. L., Fricchione, G. L., Khalsa, G., & Benson, H. (2000). Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation. NeuroReport, 11(7), 1581–1585.

[5] Etkin, J., & Ratner, R. K. (2012). The Dynamic Impact of Variety among Means on Motivation. Journal of Consumer Research, 38(6), 1076–1092. 

[6] Sylvester, B. D., Standage, M., Ark, T. K., Sweet, S. N., Crocker, P. R. E., Zumbo, B. D., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2014). Is Variety a Spice of (an Active) Life?: Perceived Variety, Exercise Behavior, and the Mediating Role of Autonomous Motivation. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 36(5), 516–527. 

[7] Wang, H.-H., Chen, H.-T., Lin, H.-S., & Hong, Z.-R. (2017). The effects of college students’ positive thinking, learning motivation and self-regulation through a self-reflection intervention in Taiwan. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(1), 201–216. 

[8] Bovend’Eerdt, T. J., Botell, R. E., & Wade, D. T. (2009). Writing SMART rehabilitation goals and achieving goal attainment scaling: A practical guide. Clinical Rehabilitation, 23(4), 352–361. 

[9] Bailey, R. R. (2017). Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(6), 615–618. 

[10] Narasimhan, K. (1998). Unexpected rewards. Nature Neuroscience, 1(4), Article 4. 

[11] Solvi, C., Baciadonna, L., & Chittka, L. (2016). Unexpected rewards induce dopamine-dependent positive emotion–like state changes in bumblebees. Science, 353(6307), 1529–1531.

[12] Martin, A. J. (2005). The Role of Positive Psychology in Enhancing Satisfaction, Motivation, and Productivity in the Workplace. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 24(1–2), 113–133. 

[13] Parks, L., & Guay, R. P. (2009). Personality, values, and motivation. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(7), 675–684.

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