WELL, it certainly won’t hurt your chances of success. The more motivated you are, the more likely you are to push through, even if you have a setback. If you really want to be able to see your kids growing up, for example, that may be enough to get you to go out for that walk or put down the cigarettes. But the reality is, motivation is a very fickle thing. It can easily dwindle away, particularly if we spread it too thinly.
Supposing you’ve set a target to go for a walk after work, at least three times a week. But, earlier in the day, you’ve already resisted social media, a doughnut and the temptation to gossip about a work colleague. While the contexts are all different, they’ve each drawn on your ability to stay on target and maintain your motivation levels. So, by the time you’re supposed to be going for that walk, your get up and go has got up and gone.
You can, however, stack the odds in your favour. We rely greatly on neurotransmitters, those chemical messengers that are in constant communication, from our brains to our guts and everywhere in between. There are several pathways for dopamine in the brain, enhancing our motivation levels. The same applies in the gut. In fact, the gut can rightly be called our second brain, so integral is its role in maintaining a healthy gut-brain axis. If your dopamine levels are low, you are that much more likely to succumb to temptation, fall off-course into procrastination or simply not even prioritise the very thing you were so revved up about achieving.
You can enhance your dopamine levels a number of ways, from what you eat to how you live.
Techniques like meditation help to restore balance in your neurotransmitter status. Not only can it leave you feeling calmer, it can also give you a sense of perspective, which helps to keep your lifestyle aligned to your values. A greater sense of compassion, for yourself and those around you, means you’re a lot less likely to sabotage yourself for short-term gains.
Make sure you get enough sleep. That’s when the brain and nervous system restore neurotransmitter levels, unimpeded by the stress hormones we so regularly pump out during the day.
If you can have regular massages too, this alleviates tension, releasing feel-good endorphins that in turn encourage the release of dopamine.
You might be tired of hearing it, but activity is definitely good for your brain. It stimulates the production of BDNF, which is your brain’s growth factor. More brain tissue equals more neuronal connections, creating greater pathways for dopamine transmission, along with other neurotransmitters.
Dopamine is built from tyrosine-rich foods. Include things like almonds, bananas, eggs and chicken to keep your levels topped up.
You’ve probably heard a lot by now about the microbiome, or the population of bacteria, fungi and viruses, mostly either neutral or decidedly beneficial that reside in your gut. A healthy microbiome is key to maintaining a healthy immune system. The relationship between your immune system and your microbiome will also dictate your mood and energy levels. If you are attempting to start a new activity or taking on a challenge which takes you outside your comfort zone, you definitely want your energy and mood to be in top condition to increase your chances of success. Your gut bacteria thrive on fibre from plants like fresh vegetables, fermented vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbs. Make liberal use of these each day, chewing well to increase their bioavailability.
If one of your targets is to eat better, knowing that eating better also means you are feeding your friendly bacteria – and keeping illness and disease at bay is certainly a motivating factor!
While too much routine can really zap your sense of anticipation and motivation, a degree of routine, until something becomes a habit, can really help take the guesswork out of what it is you’re trying to achieve. As soon as we have choice, we will, more often than not, retreat to safe familiarity. So when setting your targets, avoid including opt-out clauses like ‘if I’m not too tired’ or ‘if it’s not raining’. It takes at least 21 days for something to become a habit, more likely over two months. By then, you may become conditioned to doing it, especially if there are rewarding results to keep you on track.
Until that time, mark it in your diary as just another part of your to-do list. Your future self will thank you!