Make the effort the reward, and you’re well on your way to achieving great things. This factor for motivation seemingly contradicts using pain and pleasure, after or before you're done, as motivation. Sure, we can use pain and pleasure, and I recommend trying that at first. But eventually I want you to advance to the point where the effort itself actually becomes the award.
Enjoy the grind, enjoy the discipline, enjoy achieving the small things. You’re taking yourself to a higher plane of existence now, you’re generating a different future for yourself by sheer willpower. This is a better high than any reward.
The problem with using rewards and punishments, is that they can actually make the activity itself harder to do! This sounds counterintuitive, but with the way your brain’s neurotransmitters work, you want to take the “high” away from the reward and put it on the activity itself.
Rewards increase dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter in the brain that makes us feel good. But you can actually trick your brain into thinking that the task itself is rewarding so that you don’t have a dreadful state while you’re doing what it is you’re doing.
Let me explain a little bit more. Research shows that rewards can actually decrease motivation, and they can even become counterproductive. If you set up everything difficult you do, like work, behavior change, exercise, eating better, etc., as something which gets a reward afterwards, you’re essentially telling your brain that it’s difficult, dreadful, and hard, and in turn the activity gets even harder. We human beings don’t really care for hard work. So instead let’s play a trick on the brain. The effort itself is going to be the reward!
Give yourself a ton of credit and psychological praise just for getting done what needs to be done. Stop and think for a minute while you’re doing something how good it feels to be moving in a positive direction. Here are some examples from daily life:
- Find a way to actually enjoy the workout itself, without having to rely on rewards.
- Do little things in the morning to build momentum of actually accomplishing things and you will be more motivated to do more difficult things.
- Adopt a positive attitude in challenging circumstances, even if you have to fake it, and eventually you’ll have one.
I want us all to feel good about doing what we need to do, what we want to do, in order to achieve our health and fitness goals. Use a pain and pleasure system to help you get started, but eventually start to motivate yourself into getting a dopamine high just by being able to do your workout. It’s a cliché but it’s true- the journey is the destination. Moving is a gift, we’re blessed, we’re lucky, life is good, and the effort is the reward!
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