Have you noticed there are people busier than you who manage to do it all and more? They eat healthy, exercise, meditate, spend quality time with friends and family, keep commitments and get tasks done ahead of time. They seem fulfilled and laugh a lot. What’s their secret? How are they so motivated? Studies show that “go-getters” have high levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter that ignites motivation and focus. When a person is motivated that means dopamine is at work. “Go-getters” aren’t successful because they’re good at managing time. They’re successful because they’re good at managing their energy.
A person who doesn’t have a good balance of dopamine has trouble focusing and might turn to stimulants like Adderall. This over time depletes dopamine efficiency. People with low dopamine are more prone to addiction or self-destructive behaviors. The brain knows you’re dopamine levels are inefficient and offers bad suggestions on how to get it. That’s why many people chase dopamine through stressful situations like video-gaming, procrastination, and worrying all the time. That kind of stress sends the blood flow to the back of the brain, which triggers the amygdala and ignites the fight, flight or freeze response. Not a good idea for someone with OCD!
Here are 5 natural ways to improve your motivation, specifically through managing dopamine levels. (Be sure to come back and explore the links I’ve included.)
FOODS TO EAT
People with depleted levels of dopamine often end up with a prescription for an antidepressant. Rarely are they prescribed a specialized diet. If you look at a curriculum for medical school you will see no emphasis on culinary medicine. Doctors tell me they had less than 25 hours of nutrition education in medical school. No big deal as long as the patient is referred to a nutritional expert.
Ask a “go-getter” about his or her diet and they’ll tell you they avoid carbs and sugar and eat plenty of almonds, apples, avocados, bananas, beets, blueberries, broccoli, cashews, cherries, eggs, wild-caught fish, kale, and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Foods that are low glycemic or high in L-Tryosine convert to slow release dopamine. Slow release prevents the crash and burn you get from insulin spikes.
Not only what you put in your body but how you use your body determines dopamine levels. “Go-getters” regularly exercise. It’s one of the best ways to increase your brain’s production of dopamine. If you’re walking with very little arm swing, chances are you are very low in dopamine. How much exercise is needed to pump dopamine? Here are some options:
- Just 7 minutes a day of intense exercise found on this app.
- 150 minutes weekly of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking with magnificent arm swings)
- 75 minutes weekly of vigorous exercise (Such as on this video).
There’s good news, to get started even non-strenuous exercise can help increase dopamine levels—like walking your pups. But, don’t stay at this level for long!
PUSH and RELAX
When “go-getters” are “on the go” they are in stress response mode. Even if they are gladly on the go, they are in stress response. We can only be in one of two response systems: stress response or relaxation response. If someone is go-getting, they aren’t relaxing. They are in stress response. Not all stress is bad but the body can only self-repair in relaxation mode. “Go-getters” have a good balance of the two systems. They know when to unplug and replenish. Any activity that brings the body into a relaxed state will replenish dopamine. Even anticipating doing something relaxing, like listening to music, will start to pump dopamine. Taking a bubble bath, coloring, knitting, meditating—all of these activities will produce dopamine. Prolonged TV watching is not recommended. That’s too much recovery!
You need a balance of energy expenditure and energy recovery. “Go-getters” push beyond normal limits followed by adequate recovery. Even napping is good as long as it’s no longer than 20-30 minutes.
KEEP YOUR WORD
“Go-getters” make commitments and keep them. They don’t waste energy thinking about following through. They just do it. There’s no other option. These attributes generate “I’m feeling good” dopamine which spreads motivation like wildfire. You will not benefit from dopamine if you don’t do what you said you’re going to do. You’ll feel like a loser, beat yourself up and whatever dopamine you have goes straight to the amygdala. If you commit to something stick to it. And the solution can’t be, “Then I just won’t commit to anything.” I’m not feeling the dopamine in that solution, are you?
Develop specific routines and your energy will be better managed. Any part of your life where you find success, you’ll find a routine. Habits are effortless. When you are indecisive about doing something you are burning up your greatest resource: energy. Without habits you will be demotivated. For more on developing habits check out these blog posts.
Choose what you are going to do to start pumping more dopamine. Share your plan with the “Boss it Back” Community in the comment section.