At the end of the day we’re all slaves to our biology. While our brains are extremely complicated, humans – like all animals – can be pretty easily tricked into feeling good about something and then doing whatever it takes to achieve that feeling. Fortunately, you might be able to use this behavioural trait to your advantage.
Welcome to the reward system. Basically, when we are rewarded with something our brains release a neurotransmitter called dopamine that makes us feel amazing. This system was first discovered in the 1950s in rats when scientists realized that animals are willing to engage in behaviour that is not necessarily valuable for survival IF there is a reward. In other words, the rats could be motivated to do pretty much anything as long as there was promise of a reward.
So what can you do to hack this intrinsic psychological phenomenon and improve motivation and productivity?
Well, first of all you need a clearly defined reward. For example, ‘if I write 500 words for an article I can spend an hour watching Netflix’. Having a specific goal to look forward to can help you to stay focused on the task you need to do as it gives you a tangible reward to look forward to.
Second, the amount of dopamine (happy chemical) released is directly related to the quality of the reward. In other words, if you’ve promised yourself some really shitty reward you’re more likely to give up on a difficult work-related task because you know that the payoff in the end won’t be as satisfying. So although the rewards should be realistic (maybe not like a trip to Paris just for making a few phone calls) they need to be worth it for you to really trick your brain into being motivated.
Lastly, as with most things in life, persistence and consistency are everything. We are really good at sticking to something that has become a habit, but really bad at making it a habit. If you are constantly giving in to the reward regardless of whether or not you’ve done the work, your brain will learn this (bad) habit and you’ll just end up binging Netflix and eating chocolate bars all day.
What are your favourite ways to ‘hack’ psychology and be more productive? Do you regularly use the reward system when you need motivation?