In a podcast episode with Tim Ferriss, Dr. Andrew Huberman discussed the concept of motivation and how to maintain it over the long term. One key insight he shared is that people who are able to maintain constant levels of motivation have embraced the effort and limbic friction that comes with pursuing a goal, rather than trying to find shortcuts or hacks to remove the effort. In other words…
You’ve gotta rewire your brain to love the grind.
Our brains are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain, which is why we’re always looking for shortcuts and instant gratification. But if you really want to stay motivated, you have to learn to find satisfaction in the process itself.
Take exercise, for example. People who enjoy working out have learned to embrace the physical discomfort and effort that comes with it, rather than trying to find ways to avoid it. By shifting their focus from the end result to the journey of working towards it, they’re able to maintain a higher level of motivation over the long term.
I’m able to ride hundreds of kilometers and climb thousands of meters of elevation on each bike ride with no “proper” training simply because I believe in myself and that’s enough motivation to never give up, turning it into a sustainable habit.
Before my fitness journey:
- “Another hill. I’m going to find another way around so I can avoid it.”
- When I see a mountain, my brain lights up and I get giddy AF.
- Always take the harder, longer, steeper route.
- Never take shortcuts.
I proved to my brain that I can do anything by showing up consistently = confidence = intrinsic motivation = results.
And here’s the kicker: Dr. Huberman argues that dopamine, the neurotransmitter for motivation and drive, is the key to all this. It’s the currency for the reward system in our brain, and you need a healthy amount of dopamine to maintain motivation.
The key point: people who are able to maintain constant levels of motivation for a long time have learned to embrace the effort and limbic friction instead of trying to find hacks to remove the effort.
It’s all about building resilience, discipline, and a sense of purpose that can keep you motivated even when things get tough.
If you’re looking to stay motivated and smash limiting beliefs, you gotta learn to love the grind and find satisfaction in the effort itself. And remember, dopamine can be your BFF or your worst energy— it’s up to you to learn how to use it to your advantage.
Dopamine: Use it or let it use you.
Dopamine is a double-edged sword. It’s the neurotransmitter that drives us to pursue our goals, take risks, and explore new territories. It’s the reason why we feel motivated to work towards something, and it’s the fuel that keeps us going when things get tough.
But on the other hand, dopamine can also be the cause of addiction and impulsive behavior. When we get a hit of dopamine from something pleasurable, like food or drugs, our brains learn to associate that pleasure with the reward system. And over time, we can become addicted to that feeling, always seeking out more pleasure to get that dopamine fix.
Addiction to exercise, food, drugs, love… all comes from the same dopamine pathway.
So, how do we use dopamine to our advantage without letting it use us? We need to find healthy ways to get that dopamine hit, and learn to manage our impulses.
The Link Between Motivation & Dopamine
When you’re not motivated, you’re not productive, and you may be suffering from a lack of motivation due to a deficiency in dopamine. Things that drive human actions are necessities (food, sleep, avoidance of pain) and rewards. Dopaminergic people are usually highly ambitious focused “go-getters” types. Since dopamine is also known as the molecule of more, it controls our motivation and drive and delivers a sense of satisfaction after completing a task.
Dopamine deficiency may result in:
- Low motivation
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Sugar Cravings
3 Ways To Rewire Your Brain To Love The Grind
1. Turn Effort Into Reward
The expectation of a reward powerfully influences our reaction.
As creatures of comfort, we naturally drive towards our end goal, thinking once we achieve x, we will be happy (we feel this in a dopamine release).
Because we keep on getting the dopamine hit at the end of the activity, we will receive less and less pleasure from that activity, the more we do it.
Dr. Huberman claims this is the antithesis of a growth mindset.
Having a growth mindset means focusing on the effort itself.
2. Focus On The Journey
The striving should be about the journey— the progress.
Not the reward.
We can all cultivate this but we have to learn to access rewards from effort and doing.
In moments of most intense friction, you tell yourself: “this is very painful but it will evoke dopamine release later.”
It’s also important to tell yourself you are doing it by choice and you want to do it. You have to truly believe and want it and even if you don’t at the moment, keep on telling yourself you do until you truly do. Your brain is listening!
Strengthen those neural connections.
3. Stay Obsessed With Neuroplasticity
I’ve been playing around with neuroplasticity for years and I used this hack to get myself into loving the Grouse Grind, by repeating to myself “I love this, I love this” while hiking up the grueling mountain over ten years ago.
Now, I truly love it and it’s part of my routine like brushing my teeth. I also did this with Crossfit, going to the gym, nutrition and cooking for health, and cycling.
From these habits, my discipline and motivation in both work and life increased and I’m all about the HEALTHY x WEALTHY life.
It’s hard work but possible by consistently appreciating and attaching the feelings of friction and effort to your internally generated reward system which has strong implications for goal-oriented behaviors, cognitive functions, reward, and motivation.
6 Strategies To Increase Dopamine Naturally
1. Exercise Regularly.
Exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain because it slows down aging, increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) aka ‘the fertilizer for your brain’ which is a key player in neuroplasticity, and most importantly, increases dopamine.
Lack of sleep will reduce concentrations of neurotransmitters in your brain, including dopamine.
Your body does all its repair work while you sleep, giving a chance for your brain to wash away any built-up toxins during the day, properly store away memories, and keep your nerve cell connections and pathways active.
3. Meditation and Breathwork.
Meditation has many science-backed benefits including increasing gray matter in our brain, lowering cortisol, reducing anxiety, depression, and blood pressure, and improving memory and focus. Meditation develops self-awareness which will help you overcome challenges and develop constructive patterns.
If you don’t know how to meditate, check out the Insight Timer app for free guided meditations.
4. Intermittent Fasting.
Fasting has many benefits including autophagy, reducing inflammation, and boosting cognitive performance. In relation to dopamine, deliberately restricting food restricts dopamine and increases the rewarding properties of deprivation so once you have your first meal, the dopamine effect will be much stronger.
Note that fasting is not for everyone. Please consult with your doctor before making changes to your diet.
5. Maintain A Healthy Diet.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that’s naturally produced by your body and is a precursor to dopamine, amongst other neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and norepinephrine.
By ensuring you have a diet that includes protein-rich foods such as eggs, fish, almonds, and chicken, you can maintain healthy levels of brain chemicals.
You can also consider taking a supplement but do your due diligence and consult with a health professional first.*
6. Validate Your Existing Beliefs.
Simply hearing something that validates one’s prior beliefs can increase dopamine. If you tell yourself that certain behaviors are good for you, it will also reinforce them on a chemical level.
As mentioned above, if you don’t believe it now, just keep on doing it and telling yourself it will because you’ll eventually see results through consistency– which will eventually turn into belief.
The dopamine circuit is sensitive and vulnerable to subjective interpretation— which can be used for good or bad.
I’ve felt this rush of dopamine when I listen to podcasts or audiobooks that validate [through science] something I may have experienced years ago. I remember the dopamine rush and excitement just by hearing that alone.
Now It’s up to you.
I’ve always lived by the philosophy that ‘knowledge is motivation’ and once I understand the underlying mechanisms, it gives me power and motivates me to stay on my path. Perhaps it will do the same for you!