There are plenty of articles, books and blog posts on motivation that tell you how to become more motivated. Often, they give tips like ‘getting more sleep’ and ‘introducing new habits slowly’.
These ideas are all useful to an extent but they ultimately fall short. If you struggle with motivation and can’t keep yourself focused on new tasks, then a tip like this isn’t going to transform your ability to focus overnight.
And if you struggle to motivate yourself, how are you expected to keep up the changes that lead to greater motivation? It’s something of a vicious circle don’t you think?
If you really want to see changes, then you need to look a little deeper. You need to focus on the actual neuroscience that underpins our ability to get and stay motivated. In this report, you’ll learn exactly how motivation actually works on a biologically level and more importantly, you’ll discover how you can manipulate that process to your own ends…
Learn about The Salience Network
What we’re interested in here is what neuroscientists and psychologists refer to as ‘attentional control’ or ‘executive attention’. This describes the ability we have to direct our attention and hold it – the control we have over what we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore.
So how does this work? It comes down to several frontal regions within the brain that control this function. Perhaps most notable is the anterior cingulate cortex which has been the result of a fair amount of research.
In fact though, attention is controlled by two separate networks of brain regions in the brain: areas that work together in order to get the desired result. Specifically, these networks are referred to as the ‘dorsal attention network’ which includes brain regions that run along the top of the brain (dorsal means ‘top’ in biology – hence ‘dorsal fin’) and the ‘ventral attention network’ (which runs along the bottom).
Understanding these two different attention networks is key because they have different purposes that clue us in on how to get superior attention. The dorsal attention network is concerned with our intentional attention (bit of a tongue twister). In other words, when you decide that you want to focus on a book for a while, or you choose to check the time, you are using the dorsal network.
The ventral attention network meanwhile is used when our attention is directed beyond our control in a reflexive manner. In other words, when you hear a loud bang and you turn to look at it, that is your ventral attention network.
But your ventral attention network can also be distracted by a range of other biological clues. If you are hungry for instance, then your ventral attention network will begin to direct your attention toward getting food and if you are tired, then your ventral attention network will direct your attention that way.
So, if you’re trying to get work done and things keep stealing your attention away, then it is going to be hard for you to maintain your attention!
But we need to go further than this if we’re going take complete control over our motivation. Ideally, we need to ensure that our ventral and dorsal attention networks are aligned. How do we do this?
The answer lies with the reason that we are distracted in the first place. The reality is not just that we think other things are more important, but also that we feel that what we should be doing isn’t important. You might know consciously that you need to clean the house, go to the gym or tidy up. That’s your dorsal network doing its work.
But your body doesn’t know that. To your body, this is an unstimulating activity that isn’t serving any of your prime directives. One thing our brain needs is stimulation and that corresponds with neural activity that comes from doing something that seems biologically important. This is why we find it easy to focus on computer games or films – they simulate exciting, important events happening, all charged with emotion.
Entering information into a spreadsheet though? Not so much.
But our human intelligence comes from our ability to focus not just on what is biologically important right now but on what we need to be doing in the distant future. In other words, it’s our ability to extrapolate, plan and predict that has made us so highly effective.
This comes from our working memory, which is our ability to store information in our ‘mind’s eye’ as it were. We can focus on things that have happened or that we think are going to happen and this causes the brain to light up as though they are happening. This is what our visualization really is – we’re internalizing our experience so as to be able to manipulate the variables.
One way to give yourself more motivation then, is to learn to link the boring event or the thing you don’t want to do, to the worthwhile and important goal that you hope to achieve.
In other words, you need to remind your brain why you are doing this using visualization. If you’re sat typing out a spreadsheet, then visualize how this is going to eventually lead to you being wealthier, more successful in your career and less stressed tonight. Consider what will happen if you don’t do it – you will be behind with work and you won’t be able to accomplish the goals you’re aiming for!
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to go to the gym, then imagine what it will be like to have rippling abs and a 10% body fat. Seem worth it now?
Another tip is to make whatever you’re doing more interesting and more fun if you can, which makes it more salient to your brain. I always say that the best cure for writer’s block in particular is to make the scene or the paragraph you’re writing more interesting. If it’s not interesting enough to write, then it likely won’t be interesting to read!
If you’re doing data entry, then make it a little more rewarding by putting some TV on in the background on silent – as long as it isn’t too distracting to prevent you from paying attention to what you’re doing. A good option is to watch people play computer games on YouTube, as this has no plot but still provides stimulation.
Oh, and once you get into the flow – make sure that there is nothing there to break that concentration. Put your phone on silent.