The Psychology of Self-Motivation

Cognitive psychologists study how we acquire, perceive, process, and store data. Using many of the same machines in medicine, like the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) cognitive psychologists look at how the brain reacts to stimuli, including new information. 

Through both medicine and psychology, we can see what areas of the brain are impacted when learning new information when adapting our mindset, or even gaining intrinsic motivation.

The studies have helped us to gain personal growth, including more confidence and motivation. We also understand a bit more about the brain, how it functions and why or when it may create new neural pathways for better responses.

In the past, we did not understand the relationship between psychology and medicine, and therefore, we did not pay attention to mental health and only worried about our physical wellbeing. We understand more today, including the need to ensure mental health is being assessed and checked for increased performance.

It is also about the reward system, which Pavlov proved over a century ago. Our mental health, the area of emotions, in which we have positive feelings, likes rewards. Our brain tells us to never do something again when pain, physical or mental occurs. 

We are not going to intentionally put our finger on a hot stove, once we learn that it hurts. However, if we reward ourselves by being lazy instead of following through with goals, it is going to be harder for us to gain motivation.

Based on the premise that we will reward ourselves versus causing pain, we need to assess how we can use psychology and the brain to reach a new pathway of success that ensures we are happier and full of more confidence than in the past.

Going forward you will learn how to use psychology and science to improve.

Psychology and Self-Motivation

According to psychologists, there are three elements to motivation:

  • Activation
  • Persistence
  • Intensity

Maslow, a psychologist, stated there is a hierarchy of needs, which ensures we motivate for our survival. When we feel our survival is in jeopardy we will be activated to act, we will then persist to ensure we live, and depending on the level of “fear” behind survival we may be extremely intense to ensure we survive.

Skinner believed in reinforcement, much like Pavlov and his dog, Skinner analyzed people to see how motivated reinforcement of specific concepts would work. For example, is someone more motivated to succeed when positive or negative reinforcement is provided? The striking result is that with the correct level of negative reinforcement, some people are more likely to succeed than if they are given positive reinforcement.

Unfortunately, we tend to be negative as humans. We dwell longer on the negatives that happen in our life and use them to push us to avoid the negative situation again.

There are just as many people who can succeed based on McClelland’s achievement theory, which states positive reinforcement, with set goals is likely to push a person to have more motivation

In the workplace, rewards such as a little plaque or employee of the month can be highly motivating for certain personalities. They strive to do better for the rewards provided. For example, let’s say a plaque is provided for employee of the month, but with that comes a gift card or a better parking space. Now more people are motivated to get the secondary benefit rather than just doing a proper job.

Motivation and the Brain

Science tells us the area of the brain providing dopamine is where we will gain our motivation. Dopamine is a signal made by the brain, where one neuron will pass a signal to another to tell your body to release dopamine. 

Dopamine when relating to motivation originates from the mesolimbic pathway, which is found in the middle of the brain, where branches will reach out to places like the cortex. 

Science is not as important as the fact that motivation is tied to your cortex, the main part of the brain’s computer, and when the correct signals are released, your body receives the chemical, and you are rewarded by a feeling to achieve something or avoid something bad. Dopamine is also the chemical released in our fight or flight response. 

For soldiers in war, dopamine helps a person react to save themselves and others from danger. When it is related to motivation to help you become happier, it is about the encouragement to act as a way to achieve something good rather than to avoid the bad. In a test by Vanderbilt scientists, it was found that those who have high-performance levels have more dopamine in their prefrontal cortex and striatum, where motivation and reward occur. 

Those who slack off have dopamine levels in the anterior insula or a place where emotion and risk perception occur.

The important thing is you can tell your body to produce more dopamine. You can make your mind work for you to provide bursts of motivation, but it will take setting goals. These goals need to be incremental in nature, so you are building small accomplishments and therefore getting more dopamine to release in the correct area of the brain.

Now that you have an understanding of how psychology, the brain, and motivation connect, it is time to start working on ways you can gain more motivation and confidence.

The Relationship between Confidence and Motivation

In previous sections, we alluded to the relationship between confidence and motivation— the need to have both—to truly accomplish your goal of becoming more motivated and confident in any situation.

Motivation is required to act. However, it is your confidence that can either help or hinder you in those tasks. As a motivation quote says, “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.”

A person who views their world in a negative manner tends to lack confidence and be filled with anxiety. Anxiety can be a motivating factor or hinder your actions. When fear is too great, you fall back on inaction.

Let’s look at social anxiety for a moment. A person with social anxiety will refuse to put themselves in social situations. A spouse may wish to go to a party, but the person with social anxiety will try to find dozens of excuses not to go. The fear is greater than the reward in such a situation.

Another example of confidence and motivation could be family. We will say a younger person, who has a bachelor’s degree is disrespected for their career choice. It is a career choice that requires a lot of challenging work, but the monetary gain is exceedingly small. 

An aunt is extremely disrespectful toward a young person. She feels the younger person is worthless, is putting strain on the parents, and often when the person attempts to speak, the aunt interrupts her, showing derision for her intelligence. 

Such actions eat away at the confidence of the person, depression sets in, and the younger person finds it harder and harder to be motivated believing the parents feel the same way as the aunt.

A cycle of inability begins, completion of goals or even setting goals becomes reduced. Instead of working, the person tries to find things that bring happiness. It means turning to rewards, without getting the work or goal accomplished.

Since it feels better to watch shows that make the person laugh, this cycle continues, and laziness sets in, which creates a cycle of low self-confidence and anxiety that continues to hinder motivation.

While the above example is a negative statement, confidence and motivation can work hand in hand for positive results. Anxiety can either become a force of motivation or be reduced to ensure motivation occurs. 

When the balance of positive emotions, confidence, and anxiety happens, motivation increases so that in any situation a person will display positive qualities. A cycle of positives for motivation and self-confidence ultimately lead to happiness.

Going forward techniques to build motivation and confidence will be provided. You can take these lessons and exercises to reach new heights in work, life, and relationships.

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