Motivation is the emotional capacity, or the desire, to create, produce or get something done—regardless of how pleasant the experience.
This definition makes it seem that motivation is driven by the circumstances in our life and our attitude. Yet if we take a closer look at neuroscience research, we see that it”s the neurotransmitters in our brains that determine motivation. These neurotransmitters send chemical messages to our brain and body that directly impact our behaviours, sleep, learning, memory, mood and motivation.
Ramon David, MSc, is the founder of BrainFirst® Training Institute and a researcher of the neuroscience of motivation—and how to apply it in coaching.
According to Ramon, neuroscientists have established that dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter involved in motivation. Dopamine sends signals between neurons and plays a role in the brain’s reward system, telling us to take action, to achieve something good. He says, “Dopamine is a key substrate of intrinsic motivation. Dopamine drives curiosity, interest and the desire for information, as well as the search for higher meaning.” 1
Motivation impacts our neurotransmitters. When you feel intrinsically motivated, you increase your sense of autonomy and identity. And this helps increase dopamine activity in the brain, which in turn increases your sense of reward. 2
A key factor that plays a significant role in our motivation is whether we’re intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.
Extrinsic motivation can increase productivity in mundane, repetitive tasks that don’t require much cognitive load. But it can reduce motivation and performance in more cognitive and creative tasks.
On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is more effective for tasks requiring thought, planning, challenge and learning. When we tap into our internal/neural reward system, we perform better and are more satisfied.
The takeaway? Leaders will benefit from bringing awareness to how well their values, goals and perspectives align with their work, projects and tasks.
Based on what we now know from applied neuroscience, leaders can intrinsically motivate themselves or their teams—and coaches can help their clients increase their sense of intrinsic motivation—by exploring these three tactics:
Explore any ways in which they see their work, project or task as being forced upon them. Then, help them to choose a more motivating perspective. Ask:
Stimulate their sense of intrinsic motivation by asking:
Ask questions that connect leaders to a deeper personal purpose:
Applied neuroscience offers practical advice you can easily put into action that will enhance cognitive function and ultimately increase your sense of intrinsic motivation.
So take time to reflect on the three key factors of intrinsic motivation discussed above. These are powerful, well-researched tools that will help you boost motivation for yourself, your clients or the teams you lead.
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