The key to achieving insane levels of productivity is motivation, the phenomenal experience that drives you towards achieving your goals.
And the science behind motivation is dopamine.
So find a way to hack your dopamine and you boost your productivity automatically. That is, it!
Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters — a chemical that ferries information between neurons. Dopamine helps regulate movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. It also enables us not only to see rewards but to take action to move toward them.
Since dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasures and satisfaction as part of the reward system, the neurotransmitter also plays a part in addiction. From paying attention to hallucinating, and experiencing sexual arousal, dopamine is a key molecule in the puzzle of how humans navigate the world.
And Motivation happens when your dopamine spikes because you anticipate something important is about to happen.
The brain can be trained to feed off of bursts of dopamine sparked by rewarding experiences. You create the dopamine environment, and the brain does the rest.
And Here’s how to get your dopamine flowing.
Adopt a Preventive focus towards Work
Psychologists define two ways to look at any task.
Here you do something because you see it as a way to end up better than you are now. For example — “if I do this, my boss will be happy and I will get a promotion. “In other words, you treat the task as a milestone to be achieved and you are eager and motivated to finish it.
Sounds good. Isn’t it?
But there is a flip side to this focus. What if you are not able to complete your task?
This thought will burn you and make you anxious. And anxiety will start undermining your motivation levels. In the end, you may not even attempt to do the task. You fail before you even start.
So what you ideally need is a mechanism by which you can harness the power of doubt or anxiety to your own advantage. This brings us to prevention focus of doing any task.
So instead of thinking of ending up better, what if you see any task as a means to safeguard what you have already got. In other words, prevent any damage to your current situation. “If I don’t do this task, I will never be considered for promotion. Worse, I may be pink-slipped. “There is a threat but that threat motivates you to complete the task.
Decades of research, described by Halvorson in her book entitled Focus, shows that preventive motivation is actually enhanced by anxiety about what might go wrong. When you are focused on avoiding loss, it becomes clear that the only way to get out of danger is to take immediate action. The more worried you are, the faster you are out of the gate.
So go ahead, scare the shit out of yourself. It is awful but it works.
Use “IF-THEN” Planning if you don’t “feel” like doing a Task
In his excellent book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman points out that much of the time, when we say things like “I just can’t get out of bed early in the morning “or “I just can’t get myself to exercise,” what we really mean is that we can’t get ourselves to feel like doing these things.
Physically, nothing is stopping you. You just don’t feel like it. But as Burkeman asks, “Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it?”
The problem is dependence on willpower. We depend too much on willpower to motivate us to finish a task. Do yourself a favor, and embrace the fact that your willpower is limited, and that it may not always be up to the challenge of getting you to do things you find difficult, tedious, or otherwise awful. Instead, use if-then planning to get the job done.
The IF-THEN planning is simple. It just helps you to decide what specific steps you need to take to complete an activity and when and where will you take them. For example,
If it is 6.00 AM I will go to the gym and do 45 minutes of cardio.
If it is a Sunday, I will devote 45 minutes to Writing before Lunch
And so on…
The beauty here is that you are deciding in advance what you are going to do and when you are going to do. So when the time comes there is no confusion. There is no procrastination. In fact, if-then planning has been shown in over 200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200–300 percent on average.
Do Something Every day that You don’t feel like doing
The problem with excuses is that they are always readily available in any situation.
So in short while we might not have a solution to every problem, we have a readymade excuse not to find a solution to every problem. And that becomes our Achilles’ heel.
“I can’t jog today. I am feeling tired”.
“I have a lot of work in the office today. I have no time to write today”.
“The AI project has still not come. No point in learning AI now.”
And so on……
Now Let us do exactly the reverse.
· Prepare a list of things you did in the past which made you uncomfortable. Can you pick one of those and do it every day?
· Relate discomfort to Pride: “I am proud that I ran 5 km today”.
· Recognize that discomfort is temporary: “ All discomfort is temporary. It won’t kill you. In fact, it will make you stronger.
· Schedule one uncomfortable task to be completed every day. If that task is not done, the day is not finished yet.
The point here is to refute the idea that you need to like what you do. That is bullshit.
You don’t have to like it. You have to do it.
Rely on your Habits and not on your Feelings
Imagine it is a Monday morning and you have important customer meetings lined up.
And you call your boss and say “Jim, I cannot attend the meeting. I am not feeling motivated.”
The chances are very high that either your boss may consider you completely nuts or may downright fire you from the job.
Motivation is not a bus that you get onto. You are the driver of your own motivation. Rather than wait for the motivation to show or wait to feel like you want to do it, choose to do it anyway.
In other words, make something you want to do desperately (going to the office, going to the gym) as a habit. Once the habit kicks in, you will do it without fail every day come what may.
Make a list of three habits that you want to commit to over the next three months and keep track of any behavior that represents that habit. You make progress by practicing your habits, not by letting your feelings and your inertia dictate what you do.
Practice Constructive Discomfort
Robert Leahy, a psychologist and an author of many books, shared a story about when he was in graduate school. He took Judo from Insoo Hwang who had been the National Champion in Korea. Insoo Hwang told that in Korea they would practice outside at noon during the summer — when it was the hottest — and during the early morning in the winter when it was coldest.
On the same lines, Vygotsky argues that learning is most effective within the “zone of proximal development.” I know this sounds like a psychology lecture so, in simple terms, it is the space slightly beyond a learner’s current knowledge base and skills level, but a place where learning is still within a person’s reach.”
In simple words, we are talking about discomfort here. Constructive discomfort.
Think about discomfort as a means to accomplish your goal. Reward yourself for tolerating a little bit of discomfort every day. Do something every day which is a little bit away from your comfort zone but can be accomplished with a little bit of effort.
In other words, aspire to be in an aspirational zone without being discouraging.
Set a goal which is just high enough to stretch you but not too high to discourage you. That sets up productivity levels on the rise.
Bringing It All Together
If we have to summarize a productive life into 3 steps it will be like this.
· Create an “aim” goal. An aim goal is never-ending. It’s the direction you want to go in life: “I live a healthy lifestyle.” “I want to be best-selling writer” and so on…
· Create an “end” goal for the “aim” goal. An end goal is specific, measurable and achievable within a certain timeframe. “I want to have a fit and toned body weighing up to 70 kg”.” I want to finish my book by end of Dec 2018” and so on…
· Create “mini” goals for the “end” goal every day. A mini goal is something which you can achieve within a day or two with a certain degree of effort which is manageable. “I will run 5 km every day”. “I will write 1000 words every day” and so on……
And while doing your bit every day, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own. Make every day count. Focus on less to get more out of life.
As Nathan Morris has rightly said.
“It’s not always that we need to do more but rather that we need to focus on less.”