Motivate Yourself with Neurochemical Hedonism

How often are we motivated by fear instead of love, joy, pleasure? How often does our self-talk sound like the following? “Oh, God I’m so behind.” “I hate this, but I’ve got to get it done.”

With grim resolve, we put our nose to the grindstone, hating the work, but fearing the consequences of not doing the work more. We fear being fired more than we hate the office project. We fear being out of shape more than we hate the treadmill.

But when, as we work, we look forward to accomplishing something, we feel a delightful dose of dopamine. And when we accomplish something, we experience a sweet surge of serotonin. And after we get a good workout, we get an exhilarating rush of endorphins.

Instead of goading ourselves on with fear, or at best distant prizes, why not entice ourselves forward with the prospect of enjoying these near-term neurochemical “feel good” rewards?

When I’m working my way through my email inbox, I sometimes think to myself, “Ooh, getting to “inbox zero” will give me a nice dose of serotonin. I’m going to enjoy that.”

Or when I’m starting to flag during a HIIT work-out on the exercise bike, I tell myself, “Gotta get those endorphins!” and kick it into higher gear, in eager anticipation of that post-workout “high.”

And then, when I get my neurochemical reward, I make sure to take a moment and relish it, bask in it.

If you’re not getting any such internal rewards after accomplishing something, that may be a sign that what you’re striving for is not ultimately for yourself, and that you’re solely pursuing it out of compulsion.

This “neurochemical hedonism” is a much more joyful approach to accomplishment than dwelling on selfless duty or chronic anxiety, which is soaked in the stress hormone cortisol. And marinating in cortisol for too long can literally kill you.

And since it’s more joyful, it’s also probably more sustainable and less prone to emotional imbalance or burnout.