Have you noticed how even before the weekend starts, the anticipation of the ‘no work’ time elevates your mood? It’s like a sudden gush of fresh, cold water into the throat of a very thirsty man. Nothing can beat the feeling of a happy, all-me, fun weekend. So much so that Monday strikes and the first thing we think when we wake up is “oh damn! The weekend is over!”
The line “It’s Monday” has become synonymous with “I don’t have any motivation to work”.
Ever wondered why on some days you wake up with extreme excitement and energy (mostly Sundays) but on other days it’s a drill to get off the bed and get dressed? Why do school kids end up having a stomach/headache on a busy school day which vanishes into thin air right before play time? Let’s see what neurobiology has to say about the everyday phenomenon.
Make your passion, your work, they said. Life will be a cakewalk then, they said.
I love music. But when I have a concert coming, I often hit the procrastination mode. Something or the other always stops me from getting up and doing those vocal exercises. Sometimes I just fall short of that little bit of motivation that’s there when I binge-watch Netflix.
Why this difference?
One word, “Dopamine”. Ring any bells? The infamous neurotransmitter highly familiarised by media to be the main culprit in addiction related disorders. What does that have to do with my crappy Mondays you ask? Well, let’s explore what this media hasn’t talked about. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter which is responsible for a lot of cognitive (executive) functions. What that means is; it comes into picture when we talk about motivation, attention and pleasure-seeking reward activities.
Psychologically, there can be a lot of reasons I am not doing those vocal practices. Feelings of inadequacy, underestimating my abilities, some past trauma during a concert, etc etc. But inside the brain, this motivation is a complex thing to comprehend.
Let’s start by understanding neurotransmitters.
We can produce any behaviour through the information that our neurons pass to one another to and from the brain and spinal cord. Think of neurons as being the electrical wires, only disjointed in their length.
This disjoint is called a “synapse”. Information travels through the neurons (wires) in the form of electrical energy and reaches this synapse (disjoint).
Now the information has to pass from this wire to the next through the disjoint. Enter our neurotransmitter! Dopamine is one such chemical acting as a neurotransmitter that helps the information travel from one neuron to the other. Yes, you guessed it right. It seems to be responsible for some morning blues on any workday.
Dopamine has always been seen as the agent responsible for the pleasure seeking activities, and motivation is not something that has been as extensively researched into.
But there are studies that link this chemical to the sloppy to the high state or vice-versa on any given day. Through this same reward system that makes us want to keep going back to those activities, we can understand the motivation. Studies have shown that dopamine release activates the reward system in our brain. This would mean that we become motivated to do an activity when our brain releases dopamine which in turn creates more motivation to do the activity.
Let’s take an example here. Imagine going to a gym for the first time in life. How would it be if the moment you enter you are asked to do 50 crunches and 50 push-ups? Doesn’t sound very motivating, does it?
That is because the sheer number signals your brain that it is impossible to do it. Instead of straight away going for 50 crunches, if you do 10 for a day and observe how you feel; yes that’s some dopamine flooding your system telling you “that wasn’t tough buddy!”; because now you have set incremental goals to gradually reach the ultimate goal of 50 crunches.
Let’s us take a similar circumstance to our usual work day. There can be a lot of factors playing a role in the sloppiness we feel every work morning.
Uninteresting job, horrible managers, you name it. No wonder our reward system seems to have shut down with cobwebs growing in this area. What can be done then? Is there no way that one can wake up in the morning not feeling like a grumpy old grandpa? Again, dopamine to the rescue.
Since we now have a basic understanding of the role of this chemical in motivation, there is an option to schedule our day in a much dopamine-friendly fashion.
1. Do not go to bed angry
We shall start with the adage “do not go to bed angry.” The reason is simple, the more upset you are closer to sleep, the stronger is the de-motivation in that area. This is because you are strengthening the memory of the scenario you were angry with at the first place, and closer to sleep, the brain waves slow down to a level where we are more susceptible to perceptual learning. So before you go to sleep, take in a happier memory. Your pet, some yoga stretches, meditation; anything but your manager!
2. Set a realistic alarm time
When you set the alarm, try and be realistic. If you wake up daily around 8 am, and you are setting the alarm for 6 am; well sorry, but that’s a sure-shot way to fail. Instead, incremental wake-up time. Try to sleep half hour earlier to wake up half an hour earlier.
3. Schedule your work
Every day, as the first task at the office schedule, set that one work that you know you’ll ace as the very first job. This is the secret to motivation. First, do what you like, then go for the work you find it hard to love. When you do that work correctly, your brain will flood with dopamine. This will keep you going for the next tasks.
4. Take breaks
Take a break every 45-50 mins. Even if it means walking to the loo and back. All your brain needs to perceive is that there is no monotony.
5. Go out for a walk
Walk out of the office every 3-4 hours at least. Studies show that being inside a room for long hours decreases serotonin (another neurotransmitter, another article) which increases chances of depression. Go out, get some air!
6. Spend time on your passion
Lastly, spend about 40 mins to an hour on your passion every day. The amount of pleasure that will give you will be enough to drive you through your tasks. Be it music, painting, reading, learning a language, working out or just playing with your pets.