The Biology of Motivation

The Biology of Motivation - we are all hardwired for extraordinary performance if we can get out of the habit of inferiority.
The Biology of Motivation

The Biology of Motivation

Most people are so used to performing at mediocre levels that we’ve almost come to expect our limitations. I get it, but you should know your body is a neurobiological petri dish. When you set it to levels of mediocrity and then have an external locus of control – your homeostatic system is going to require extraordinary amounts of motivation and energy to get you back to the baseline extraordinary human you are. We are all hardwired for extraordinary performance if we can get out of the habit of inferiority. 

Still with me? Let’s break it down.

Nietzsche is considered the first modern high performance philosopher or thinker. He was interested in becoming the “Ubermench” or Superman. He believed it was within all of us and I agree. 

But where do we begin to tap into our unlimited possibilities? How do we unleash our own inner Ubermench?

Thankfully people like Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Friedrich Nietzsche and Steven Kotler, among many others, have realized that peak performance requires a formula to tap into unlimited motivation. It’s called the Intrinsic Motivation Stack and it underpins our biology for accomplishing the impossible. The secret is to get our biology to work for us, rather than against us. 

Case in point

There are 8 major causes of depression: one is genetics and one is trauma…but the other six are all some form of lack of intrinsic motivation == no purpose or meaning in your life. So if we aren’t operating to the full potential we are designed for, the result is anxiety and depression. Not too surprising that we’re currently in the middle of the largest anxiety and depression kind of epidemic in the history of the world, right? Strikes me that there’s a correlation here.

A Biological experiment sprinkled with a bit of theory

The simplest, most powerful tool we have when it comes to achieving the impossible is our attention and focus. But focus actually takes quite a bit of energy. The brain is 2% of your body mass, occupying 25% of your energy simply when at rest. The brain is an energy hog. It wants to always conserve energy in order to keep you alive. Yet, when you want to achieve something astonishing, you are going to need to expend a great deal of energy. So how do we overcome this biological dilemma?

The Answer is Intrinsic Motivation

The most powerful tool we have for unlimited motivation, focus, and energy. When we are aligned on passion and purpose, we get so much performance and possibilities for free! And while the formula is power packed with feel good neurochemicals to elevate our biology to unimaginable abilities – that doesn’t mean it is easy to do. 

Formula for Limitless Motivation

1. Curiosity

In a nutshell, the Intrinsic Motivation Stack starts with curiosity because it’s the simplest motivational fuel. Neurochemically it is a little bit of norepinephrine, which literally primes your brain for learning and increased attention. And dopamine, yes, you’ve heard this one, a reward pleasure chemical. However, dopamine is also a focus chemical – it prepares us to take risks or step up to a challenge.

2. Passion

Next is passion – passion is literally the intersection of multiple curiosities. Neurochemically, it’s not just a little more dopamine and more Norepinephrine – but a lot more. With passion, you are massively excited, all in, and ready to learn.

3. Purpose

Now you need purpose. You want to attach that passion to something greater than yourself – this is what all humans want. To make a difference in the world in some meaningful way. When this happens, you start getting oxytocin and now you feel really good in addition to super focused and primed for learning. You are in love with your life and everyone around you.

4. Autonomy

Once you have your purpose, it’s time to add autonomy. Whether that is in your role at work or in your home life, you need the freedom to pursue your purpose in some meaningful way. And autonomy gives us acetylcholine as well as more dopamine. Acetylcholine plays an essential role in several functions around the body. It influences mood, sleep, memory and learning, and more.

5. Mastery

Lastly, having the freedom to develop your skills through your passions brings you to mastery. Mastery gives us anandamide, known as the “bliss” molecule which plays a significant role in helping our bodies maintain homeostasis and an overall healthy mental state.

There are many other neurochemicals at intermingling here, but these are the big five because they give us the most neurochemical reward and they’re literally designed to work in that sequence, driving us into the present moment towards optimal performance.

Exercise: The Passion Recipe

(This is what we call it at the Flow Research Collective)

You see, just having big goals will work against you. The challenge will be too big and you will be paralyzed in knowing how to get from completely uninvolved today to being on the board of something you are passionate about tomorrow. 

My point is, there’s a system to human performance and it isn’t “out there” but rather in us, in our biology. We need goals because we are goal directed creatures. We are either sort of shaped by our fears or our goals. What we know is that the more anxiety in our system about something we fear, the more logical and linear our brain wants to be. Therefore, the more fear, the more anxiety, the less creative. Your brain wants logical, linear, safe solutions and less anxiety. We will unconsciously move away from what matters most to us if we aren’t clear on our passions and purpose. Use this formula and the Passion Recipe to set your goals. Don’t be surprised when you start accomplishing what was previously thought of as impossible.

Good luck!

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Dr. Carol Grojean

Social Systems Scientist: Leadership & Organizational Transformation

Carol brings a unique and much-needed perspective on the human behavior in human systems, focused on building cultures where individuals at all levels can bring their distinct, creative talents to their roles while providing the necessary skills to the whole system values and vision.