Simple! Do a small task first.

Let’s look at how to motivate yourself to complete tasks, especially the ones you have been putting off.

It is important to understand that the key to motivating yourself to complete tasks lies in your brain, and in particular, your brain chemicals. Its nothing to do with your character. we can all find that motivation, so how do you stimulate the chemicals you need?

First, you need to start by completing a small relatively easy task that pleases you. As an example, you could make your bed, or do your yoga stretches. When you do this your brain rewards you, creating an environment where the neurotransmitter, serotonin can be released. The effect of Seronin is you feel able to cope, you are confident and brave. Crucially it helps when you need to motivate yourself to complete tasks you have been putting off for some time, often, because you don’t feel confident you can actually do them . Moveover putting it off is making you anxious and creates lethagy. The serotonin calms you.

In addition, completing the task gives you dopamine too, creating a little spike above your base level. And here is the thing about dopamine. Essentially it is the desire to have that feeling again that motivates you. In other words the craving to repeat the dopamine spike is the thing that subsequently pushes you into action, in other words gives you motivation to perform your tasks.

How you can use dopamine to motivate yourself to complete tasks

As shown in the table below dopamine works on reward prediction . If the outcome of the task is better than the expectation, then you will get dopamine above your baseline. Accordingly, you have the motivation to do something similar again. Conversely, if you approach the task and find it hard to complete, then your expectation that you would be able do it easily is higher than the reality. In that case you get a dopamine drop below base line . Thus, having a deficit, you become demotivated, hence avoiding the task. In addition to this, having a dopamine deficit will often induce stress. So how do you motivate yourself to complete these tasks and avoid the stress?

ExpectationActual ExperienceDopamine above BaseMood
Lower / New Experience  Higher  Up Motivated
Routine/ Repeated Experience  As expected  Little impactContented or bored
High New/Repeated Experience  Lower/Disappointing  DownRoutine/ Repeated Experience  
dopamine reward prediction error

The important thing is to approach the task with zero expectation, having already completed your pleasant easy tasks. Not only are you armed with serotonin, but also with that bit of dopamine from completing other tasks, which gives you the necessary calm brain and motivation to start the dreaded task. In the event its just something you have to do, and therefore, guess what happens? The dopamine hit you get from completing it is much higher. It didn’t seem so bad. In contrast next time you have to confront it, you will feel even more motivated.

The other thing about dopamine is it comes as a package. It is dopamine that adrenaline is made from, and adrenaline forms cortisol. The adrenaline gives you instant energy. The cortisol gives you stamina. Just what you need to crack on with that task.

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If you want to know more about motivation and dopamine check out Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neuroscience at Stamford University on YouTube

or read the definitive description of how to find balance in our dopamine driven world