Yes, I can! The Dopamine Hack - Part 3, 'Boost Your Mood' series

Part 3 in our 'Boost Your Mood' series

You’re in a bad mood, so you lack motivation. You lack motivation so you procrastinate. You procrastinate so you are in a bad mood. The cycle continues until you no longer like yourself. How do you stop this spiral in its tracks and get on an upward swing? The answer is all about setting yourself up for success. Let’s do this step by step…


What's your NAS?

When you are just about to achieve a goal, your brain releases a hormone called dopamine. This is the secret ingredient in the recipe for motivation. This hormone is responsible for giving you a lift in motivation, energy and focus to get the job done. 

If you set a goal that is too big, it takes too long for dopamine to hit, and if the task is incredibly tough, there is a chance that the body will produce an excess of stress hormone, which might actually make the task much more difficult. 

The key is to set tasks that are realistic and small enough to complete even if there are interruptions and obstacles along the way. Think of crossing a stream via stepping stones. Small steps will keep you moving forward without getting your feet wet. 

This doesn't necessarily mean scaling down your overall ambition, it just means that at any given moment you only focus on the Next Achievable Steps, your NAS. For example, if you're goal is to write a book, don't put "Write a book" on your to-do list. This is too big a focus. Instead, write down your next achievable step: "Draft the next page of chapter 3 before lunchtime." 

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Find your sweet spot

Listen to your body at this point. Do you feel stressed looking at that task on your list? If so, then your body is producing cortisol (which is completely normal and only a problem if you don't 'turn off the tap' on it).

However, what you really want instead is a hit of dopamine, so make that to-do item even smaller until you can feel that rush of motivation in your body. So for example change it to "Draft the next paragraph of chapter 3." 

Everyone has their own sweet spot when it comes to what feels realistically achievable. If you tell someone who rarely rides a bike to ride an e-bike from one side of London to another, this will immediately make them feel stressed, even if the whole route is on cycle lanes, and the e-bike reduces any physical difficulties. 

However, set them a series of much smaller goals such as, ride from Buckingham Palace to Wellington Arch, and then ride from Wellington Arch to The Serpentine, and so on, then the idea of riding across London suddenly sounds achievable, and perhaps even fun. 

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Got momentum? Let’s aim for a bonus

The dopamine hit from achieving each goal eventually builds momentum in a chain reaction of motivational energy. You may even feel energised enough to go for a 'stretch goal'. Let's say you set yourself a goal of 'riding the length of the local canal', and you easily achieve it. You will probably still have enough energy to add a bonus goal on top such as taking a scenic route back home.

It goes without saying that the bonus goal should be kept small enough to be motivating and not stressful. It's building up long chains of small, motivating, energising goals rather than big, stressful goals which your body and brain will get a boost from. 

Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash  


Have your reward ready

Do you play video games or games on your phone? Have you noticed how they reward you for every little achievement? Many games will simply unlock a reward if you play for three consecutive days in a row! These rewards are designed to make you feel good. No wonder people get addicted to them. 

Take a leaf out of the game designers handbook. Reward yourself every time you achieve all of these mini-goals. This cements in your brain that it feels good to complete a task, which is even more motivating. 

You don't have to reward yourself financially, it can simply be a little celebration like telling yourself, "Well done!" or perhaps a fist-pump in the same way that tennis players will do even if they win just one point. A highly motivating reward is a compliment: "You handled that rougher terrain really well!"

The human brain is wired to seek rewards. The good thing is that you get to choose what is reward-worthy and when you get them. 

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash


Positive memories

How often do you reflect on what you've already achieved or recall what has gone well during the day? If you don't do this, you may be missing out on a really easy way to get a mood boost. 

All of those mini-goals that you've set yourself during the day, and that you've then achieved and celebrated, can be re-celebrated in a quiet moment. When you mentally raise a toast to all the things that you did manage to do, you reinforce an identity for yourself as someone who completes a task and is productive, and how you see yourself is the most powerful motivator of any behaviour. 

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash


Summary: Take a big task and cut it down into small, realistically achievable mini-goals. Celebrate every time you achieve a mini-goal. If you have extra energy, add on a bonus goal. Reflect on all the goals you've achieved and identify yourself as a Highly Motivated Doer.

If your big goal is to find the perfect electric bike, your next achievable step is to set a date for coming into your nearest showroom to pick our brains and take a test ride:   


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You May Also Be Interested

The Nature 'Vitamin' - Part 1 in our 'Boost Your Mood' series 

The Mood-Boosting Effects of Movement - Part 2 in our 'Boost Your Mood 

Making a Scene…in a good way - Part 4 in our 'Boost Your Mood' series