Motivation and Dopamine

Dopamine and its use in drive and motivation in business

I was introduced to goal setting by Thomas in 1989 (husband), when we met and decided to spend the rest of our lives with each other (within 3 months!), he arranged a private 121, 2-full day sessions with a facilitator of Brian Tracey’s Course, all about goal setting and life’s purpose and dreams. It was very powerful to experience together. 

Since that day, we always set goals, personal, family and business ones. Every New Years Eve, we reflect on the past year and plan the following.

However, around 15 years ago, we both fell out of love with this process, we still set goals, but far more casually, they were more realistic, closer and somehow, they were more comforting. I have often wondered why we toned them down. Was it that many had been achieved, family, personal ones, was it that our business goals had been dashed? Was there another reason, an inner wisdom from the experience of using them.

Not having them didn't stop us from working hard, driving ourselves, our motivations remained high. Each year we moved forwards in some way, of course external challenges meant some others were carried over. We had been through some tough times, we were definitely in retreat for a while, licking our wounds.

A number of years ago, Radio 4 had an amazing weekly show called ‘All in the Mind’. Hosted by Claudia Hammond In this show they interviewed 3 Professors who had won money for their work on dopamine and the human mind, looking at what impact it has on our reward system, our drive, motivation and joy.

In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. 

The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a role, a major role, in reward-motivated behaviour. 

When you look closely at the link between motivation and dopamine; most types of rewards increases our dopamine level. Some people are seeking this through short term wins, as our son Tj Power shares, we have to be careful how we short cut cut road to dopamine highs, social media, addictions to the ‘Likes’, alcohol, plus many other methods that are not ideal.

While I was listening to the program I was thinking about the addiction to work. My mind focused on the ‘reward-motivation’ of how we all keep working in our hives, sometimes relentlessly in pursuit of a reward, a goal, a result. I am in awe of small businesses. 

The rewards come at random times, the reward to work ratio can be small at times, yet, we strive and keep seeking new pathways to witness and experience the reward. The reward is not always money; it can be achieving a task, learning new skills, seeing a happy customer, reading a great endorsement. 

Many things that deliver a feeling of moving forwards and having impact. In the program one Professor did an experiment on the host of the show. He offered her £10, just as a gift, she thanked him, asked why, he replied just ‘because I have it’ and then he offered her £20. 

Again, she thanked him, laughed and was grateful. Then he said ‘Wait a minute, I have £30 to give you. Smiles and laughter continued.

He then reached into his pocket and said, ‘oh, wait a minute, I only have £20.00, here you are, sorry, I can’t give you the £30.00
The impact was that hopes were raised and then dashed. 3 minutes before she wasn’t having any money,; now she felt ‘hard done by’ by only having £20; it failed to meet her heightened expectations, or at least her receptors in the brain did, the dopamine impact had taken over rationale thinking. Her brain was seeking a larger achievement than the one she ultimately got.

This returns me to goal setting and managing our life day to day. How hard are we on ourselves, how big a mountain do we set ourselves to climb. 

Do we allow the time that the HUGE mountains we seek to climb need, or do we need the reward faster than we could possibly get to the summit?

These thoughts are important to me, I love to understand my inner self, aware of the hard ways I push myself, the things that might impact me subconsciously, harder than I allow my rational mind allows. I love anything that keeps me in control of my emotions and respectful of the journey I am on…

Being kind to ourselves and creating a way for our friendly motivation and dopamine to work for us and not against us is critical, tiny steps, realistic goals, noticing the small reward systems that spark our dopamine release, and noticing them in many forms, these are the things that help us all I suspect.

I look forward to your thoughts on this.

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