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How can I make myself more motivated?

For some, motivation seems to come easy, a bottomless well of enthusiasm that can be drawn on to make things happen. For others, the drive to get up and go seems lacking. There are a number of factors that determine how motivated you are, or can be. From your sensitivity to rewards to the way in which dopamine affects you.

But, if you find yourself lacking the necessary determination to exercise, lose weight, learn a musical instrument or just cook dinner, is there a way to ‘hack’ your brain and make yourself more motivated?

Think realistically, not just positively

Having positive thoughts and mental images about a desirable future makes us feel better in the moment. But in the long-term, positive thinking saps motivation, according to Gabriele Oettingen , a psychologist at New York University. Oettingen has found that people who engage in positive fantasies work less hard and perform less well than people with more questioning, realistic thoughts. The trick, she suggests, is to combine the two: think of a desired future as likely, but visualise the obstacles involved in reaching it, too.

Reward yourself

It is quite simple: “Any action that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated,” says Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist at University College London. If you are the sort of person who doesn’t feel an intrinsic buzz after exercise, for instance, you could find a way to reward or bribe yourself. Multiple studies suggest that financial incentives boosted the willingness of a previously sedentary individual to exercise. And these days, apps (sort of) pay you to work out: Sweatcoin offers vouchers when you hit step targets, while Charity Miles allows you to earn money for charity when you run.

Connect with your future self

Altering our sense of how close the future is can enhance motivation, says Daphna Oyserman, a psychologist at the University of Southern California. Her studies show that when high school students are taught to relate to their future selves in both positive and negative scenarios, they work harder and get better grades. One approach might be to imagine yourself months or years from now, in a future where things have gone according to plan, and write down what it looks like.

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