Self-Motivation for Unlimited Productivity

What if I told you that the chocolate you are saving for when you finish writing that essay is demotivating you?

Motivation, in its most basic forms, comes as intrinsic – internally, or extrinsic – externally. Everyone has at some point or another experienced extrinsic motivation; you are offered star shaped stickers in primary school for finishing your homework that day, and maybe more stickers accumulate to equal a bigger prize. In some families, a weekly pocket money allowance is offered for your first household chores.

Intrinsic motivation is the feeling that you want to do something purely for the satisfaction of achievement. You write the essay because you are interested, you empty the dishwasher because you like to be productive, you make your bed because you like clean sheets, and not because there is a pretty blue $10 waiting on the kitchen bench. You work hard because it feels good to work hard or because you love the job.

Eric Delcroix, September 2, 2015


Struggling with motivation is a concept we all relate to, whether it be completing our assessment at university or getting up early in the mornings. Motivation is not simply wanting to do something and then doing it; it is a complex conversation between parts of the brain and neurotransmitters, plus internal and external factors like fatigue, interests, rewards and praise.

How does motivation work?

The complexity begins when we look at the mechanisms involved. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter, particularly when it interacts with the brain’s main reward centre, the mesolimbic pathway. When dopamine is released, it triggers a positive feeling which encourages us to act. The action can be to avoid a bad situation or to achieve something good, which explains why dopamine is released in high-stress situations and when rewards are offered.

Research has found that people reporting an extreme lack of motivation have low levels of dopamine. This is also a factor in mental illness, as dopamine levels are often depleted, and so motivation can be low or non-existent.

How can we boost those levels and improve our productivity?

It has been proven that the anticipation of a reward increases dopamine release. So, we would assume that increasing external rewards might be the solution. However, there is a consequence of receiving rewards where you become gradually demotivated over time. This is called the Over-Justification Effect, and the American Psychological Association defines it as,

“a paradoxical effect in which rewarding (or offering to reward) a person for his or her performance can lead to lower, rather than higher, interest in the activity. It occurs when the introduction of an extrinsic reward weakens the strong intrinsic motivation that was the key to the person’s original high performance.”

One theory is that when you are offered a reward, it causes you feel bribed or coerced, reducing the satisfaction of completing the task. It has been found that verbal praise focused on the effort made, is much more valuable in the long-term. Saying statements like “you worked really hard for your grades, well done!” and “Look at all the time you put into your essay, it is excellent”, are hugely beneficial.

Do not think that you must stop eating chocolate to stay motivated. However, consider just eating chocolate because it’s delicious, and keep the external rewards to a minimum and the pats on the back to a maximum. Perhaps a bit of positive self-talk in front of the mirror couldn’t hurt. Check out some links below for improving motivation and start getting productive!

What is Self-Motivation?

How to Stay Insanely Self-Motivated, According to Science

Self-Motivation Explained + 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself

2 Responses to “Self-Motivation for Unlimited Productivity”

  1. Darren Chieng says:

    Such a well written and much-needed post! It is often hard for me to find motivation for my studies. Sometimes I forget the intrinsic motivations and focus a little too much on the extrinsic ones. Thank you for posting!

  2. cdoneill says:

    Thanks for the tips Ellen,
    Very useful information for all of us. Explained simply with follow up information.