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5 Surprising Tricks To Increase Your Motivation Immediately, According to Fresh Research
By Dan WangJuly 28, 201416 Comments
This is not a post to help you keep your New Years’ Resolutions.
Instead, it presents simple tips and exercises to increase your motivation, all of which you can do in the next few minutes. Researchers have discovered some quick ways to get you to be more focused and more motivated at what you do so that you can work smarter, not harder.
Some of these motivation tips take seconds to do. Some others require that you get out of your chair for a few minutes. All of them are derived from the results of recent scientific studies.
Get ready to get more done. We’ll start right now.
1. Strike a high-power pose for a jolt of confidence
Body language may be a lot more important than you imagined. It affects not just how you’re perceived by others, but also your internal body chemistry.
That’s right, holding your body in a certain position literally changes the way you are.
How does it work?
Amy Cuddy gave a TED Talk in 2012 on the significance of body language. She is a professor at the Harvard School of Business, and she presented the research she conducted with two other professors. It starts from the premise that non-verbal communication (i.e. body language) may be just as important as verbal communication. And one of the ways that you can communicate non-verbally is with a “power pose.”
There are two kinds of power poses: high and low. A high-power pose usually means having your body open rather than hunched up. That means chest out, arms spread, no slouch. Most simply, it means that you try to take up a great deal of space. Here’s an example of what that looks like:
And what does a low-power space look like? Anything that makes you small and bunched up, like this:
What happens when you strike a high-power pose?
The researchers found that simply holding a high-power pose for as little as two minutes increases your testosterone levels, which are associated with confidence, and decreases your cortisol levels, which are associated with stress.
Our bodies affect our minds. The implication is that you may be able to “fake it until you make it.” Holding high-power poses really can set you up for success.
So put that to use right now.
This is a no-tech lifehack that you can do while you sit or stand, while you’re alone or with others: Holding certain poses gives you more confidence and helps you to work better.
Stop slouching and strike a high-power pose. Lean back, put up your legs, and if you have space, make a V with your arms. You can do these while you sit or stand.
Don’t want to look weird with co-workers around you? Do this in a bathroom, or grab a meeting room and close the door.
And there are other ways to take advantage of body language research: In addition to striking high-power pose, you can focus on the position of your feet, smile more, align yourself better with your conversation partner, and lower your voice with deep breathing.
Look, these cool people are doing it:
Go ahead, open up.
2. Tell yourself that you’re going to have a fresh start
I said that this post isn’t exactly about helping you keep your New Years’ Resolutions. I stand by that.
But have you ever wondered why it is that everybody chooses January 1, of all dates, to make commitments?
Yes, it’s a new year. But it’s also an arbitrary point in the lives of most people. January 1 may be a good date to set new commitments, but it’s not much better than July 28.
And here’s the thing: If you just keep in mind that you’re going to have a fresh start, whatever the motivation, then you’re going to have a burst of energy. That’s one of the findings from a study by three professors at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
The researchers find that these “intertemporal markers” encourage us in two ways: first by making people disconnect from past failures, and second by promoting a big-picture view of life.
Why does that matter? Believing either makes us more motivated to sequester away our failures and get things done. The idea is that we think of the past as the past, that tomorrow is a totally new day.
So think of a recent event, be it a promotion, a breakup, some other special occasion, and contrive a fresh start. You’ll find it more believable than you think.
Try sitting yourself down to craft a message. Write it down and make it concrete. Here’s an example of a note that you can write, typed or by hand:
“Gosh, I complain of being busy all the time, but how much of it is spent wasted, unproductive? From now on, I’m going to make the most of the minutes every hour, and deliver my work with time to spare.”
Or, try this out:
“I’ve been putting this off for way too long; it’s long past time for me to start the business I’ve been dreaming about. I’ll start slow as a side project for now and see where it takes me. Today I’m going to make things happen.”
Believing it helps make it true.
3. Grab some chocolate – or some other dopamine-releasing reward
Here’s another low-tech hack to increase your level of motivation: Eat some chocolate. Chocolate is delicious, easily available, and most importantly, well-documented to stimulate dopamine levels in your brain.
And what is dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has stimulating effects on the brain. It plays a particular role in pleasure, cognition – and motivation.
A study has found that people who work hard, or “go-getters,” tend to have higher levels of dopamine, while “slackers” tend to have lower levels of dopamine. Meanwhile, chocolate is as effective as certain pharmaceuticals in inducing strong dopamine responses.
The effects of chocolate on the brain are well-studied. Here are some of the things that happen when you eat chocolate:
- It increases both serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes calm, and also phenylethylamine, which promotes stimulation. White chocolate does both even more intensely.
- It triggers a release of dopamine, which will elevate your heart rate and significantly increase motivation.
- It also results in a mild antidepressant effect, literally because your brain responds to the stimulants by promoting blissful emotions.
Pretty cool, right?
So if you want a dopamine rush, try eating a bit of chocolate. If you’d like to maintain a good disposition, you can maintain a healthy diet consisting of dopamine-inducing foods like blueberries, spirulina, and fish high in Omega-3 fats.
If you’d like to experience more of a high, try to find dark chocolate or white chocolate. But really, milk chocolate is quite good too.
4. Write a contract – and donate the proceeds to charity if you lose
Have you ever visited stickK.com?
It’s a platform for writing informal contracts. Put down a concrete goal, on say losing weight or on becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business, then ask a friend to monitor that you’ll get it done. Put up some money, say $50, and if you succeed, you get your money back; if you fail, then your friend donates the $50 to a charity of your choice.
StickK is an example of a commitment device, and it’s a remarkable mechanism for getting things done. Rather than a loose determination to make an abstract goal in the future, you have a concrete task to work towards on a specific date, and you lose more than your pride if you fail.
The founder of stickK is a professor of economics at Yale University who used a commitment device himself when he was a grad student. He promised to pay his friend $10,000 if he did not lose 38 lbs by a certain date. Fortunately he succeeded in shedding weight, not dollars.
Why do commitment devices work?
The logic of commitment devices like stickK is based on psychology and behavioral economics.
People tend towards hyperbolic discounting, which is a fancy way of saying that they overvalue the short run relative to the long-run. The examples are obvious: Do you sit and watch TV or go out for a run? Do you grab the fruit salad or the cheesecake for dessert?
All of us know that what’s good right now isn’t necessarily good for the long run. Commitment devices like stickK try to change this up so that choosing what feels good in the short run gets more costly.
In addition, it requires that you set a concrete goal. Instead of saying that “I’ll lose weight this year,” you’ll have to say something like “I’ll lose 20 pounds by June.” Having something specific makes the task more concrete and more actionable.
So try it out. Create an account on stickk.com, write down a goal, and then get a friend to monitor you. (Grab a friend who will follow through with the act of donating the money to a charity, or the whole purpose may be defeated. You don’t want to have in the back of your mind the thought that you’re not going to lose out if you don’t succeed on your goal.)
If you don’t make it to your goal after all, you can feel glad that at least a charity of your choice is going to get a donation.
5. See some green
Certain colors make us think of certain things. Ever wonder why all sales signs are red, for example? It’s because people react faster and more forcefully when they see the color. People tend to associate the color red with a danger cue, and that attracts attention.
Red isn’t just associated with danger. It’s associated with attraction as well. A recent study found that simply wearing the color red makes a man more physically attractive to women. The effect is unconsciously associated with higher status and higher income.
Other studies have found that blue is associated with trust and dependability, while pink is supposed to have a more calming effect on the brain.
Now guess which color provides the biggest boost in motivation and energy?
The color green.
Researchers have found in two studies that surrounding yourself with a bit of green provides a boost in motivation; and also that a glimpse of the color green sparks creativity.
Two recent studies back that up.
The first study was published in 2012 in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology via six researchers at the University of Essex.
They asked subjects to perform three moderate-intensity cycling exercises while watching a video of a rural cycling course. The videos were randomly selected to have green, gray, or red filters. What was the result?
The red filter made the research subjects angry, while the green filter made them happier and less tired. Simply seeing lots of green made them more motivated.
The second study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology in 2012. The authors are four researchers at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich.
The researchers asked their subjects to write as many uses for a tin can in under two minutes, and graded them for creativity. Before each test they showed the subjects quick flashes of green, blue, white, and gray. The color that was most associated with encouraging creativity? Green.
A researcher hypothesized that seeing green makes people think of growth. It’s taken as a cue that we can improve task mastery and that we have room to grow.
These two studies suggest that seeing the color green may make you more creative and motivated. How can you act on that?
The best way to do that is to go outside for a short walk. Take a stroll in a garden, or anywhere with shrubs and greenery. Is there a local park that people around you like to have lunch at? Are there lots of trees that you can walk around? Are there at least a few patches of grass by your workplace?
Go out and walk in these places. It’s not just the color green; you’ll be a lot more motivated after a brief physical exertion and some fresh air.
Can motivation be hacked? These studies that draw from psychology and neuroscience suggest that there are at least a few things that you can do to boost your motivation right now, whether that’s putting yourself in a certain frame of mind or finding a quick and no-tech way to boost your levels of testosterone.
So take a break at a natural point and try one of these five tricks to boost your energy. Your work will thank you for it.