So, how can you stay motivated? There are several ways to keep dopamine flowing and to ignite those different areas of the brain and body needed to reach your goal. We’ve summarised a few useful tips you can put into practice to help you centre yourself and refocus, and explained the science behind why they work.
1) Create intention by increasing attention: concentrating your visual attention on one point in the extra-personal space for 30-60 seconds
Vision is a powerful tool in bringing the mind and body into a state of focus. By concentrating your visual attention on one point in your extra personal space (beyond your body and immediate surroundings) for 30-60 seconds, you can bring together the thought of a goal and the execution of it. Vision can influence neural circuitry in the brain through two pathways, one is associated with focusing your eyesight on one point which brings your body into a state of alertness, while the other involves broadening your visual view). Broadening your sight -imagine looking at the horizon - relaxes the neural circuitry leading to a greater sense of relaxation.7
2) Don’t underestimate the power of visualisation: imagine how failure would feel
Whilst positive mantras can be effective and have their place, science has shown that picturing how feel if you didn’t achieve your goal can help give you the extra push needed to get there. Studies have shown that imagining the disappointment you may feel by not reaching each step of your goal can almost double the probability of you doing it. This goes back to how the amygdala in the brain aids goal pursuit. As it governs emotions such as worry or fear, visualising the feeling of failure is an effective way to activate that neural circuitry and get yourself back in the headspace of going for your goal.8
3) Step just outside your comfort zone
The 85% rule for optimal learning states that to be successful, you need to be getting things right 85% of the time. This re-affirms conclusions from studies that show setting goals that are aspirational - but most importantly - achievable are the best way to activate your neural circuitry into a state of readiness. If goals are too easy or too difficult, they do not produce a rise in systolic blood pressure (and the secretion of dopamine) in the same way an achievable goal does, meaning there’s less motivation. Of course, how we perceive the possibility of achieving a goal changes with circumstance, such as being ill or our emotional state, so it’s important to be realistic in updating the goal to meet where we currently are in our lives and our capability at that point. In short, keep your goals just outside of what feels comfortable and update them realistically as you go.9
4) Have a plan.
Studies show that you are more likely to achieve your goal if there is a specific and detailed action plan. Clear communication of a goal can help you modify your short-term behaviour for results, but long-term action is more effective with detailed steps along the way. For example, if your goal is fitness related, setting out specific days and times to work out with a regime that fits with your personal fitness level and lifestyle can make sticking to your plan much easier than winging it or trying to go in too hard and too fast.10
5) Mindfully multi-task
This might sound counter-intuitive, but actively multi-tasking before working on your goal can help bring the brain and body into a state of alertness and increase the secretion of adrenaline, which can be useful to aid concentration for a task that requires high focus. 11
6) Reward yourself- Randomly
Reward centres in the brain are closely linked to the areas governing motivation and learning. Predictable rewards have been shown to lose their motivation quickly, so we should reward ourselves randomly and intermittently. 12
The exact reason this occurs is still being investigated and debated, but it is suggested that whilst the fast (phasic) release of dopamine that comes with regular rewards helps to form the behaviour this comes with the same level of stimulation each time meaning you will eventually seek it out less often. Slower (tonic) release of dopamine from random rewards is associated with an increased likliehood of continued engagement with the goal orientated action. 13
 Balcetis, Emily. 2020. Clearer, Closer, Cetter: How Successful People See the World. New York. Ballentine Books
 Wilson, R. C., Shenhav, A., Straccia, M., & Cohen, J. D. (2019). The Eighty Five Percent Rule for optimal learning. Nature Communications, 10(1).
 Bailey, R. R. (2019). Goal Setting and Action Planning for Health Behavior Change. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(6).
 Wetherell, M. A., Craw, O., Smith, K., & Smith, M. A. (2017). Psychobiological responses to critically evaluated multitasking. Neurobiology of Stress, 7.
 Grace, A. A. (1991). Phasic versus tonic dopamine release and the modulation of dopamine system responsivity: A hypothesis for the etiology of schizophrenia. Neuroscience, 41(1).