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Endorphins & Dopamine Explained

By on November 1, 2017

Understanding Connections to Your Motivation Level

By: Siphiwe Baleka, Founder, Fitness Trucking

In the September-October issue of RoadKing, my article focused on the connection between loneliness and hormones, specifically oxytocin. Prior to that, I wrote several articles about metabolism based upon the effects of the hormones leptin and ghrelin. This time, you’ll learn about hormones called endorphins and dopamine and their connection to motivation. When it comes to behavior and behavioral change (or lack thereof), the role of motivation is very important.

When I ask drivers why they don’t exercise, a clear majority responds that they don’t have time and/or they’re not motivated. In order to solve time problems for drivers, the 4 Minute Fit exercise plan has proven to be an excellent solution. So let’s deal with a problem that’s tougher to pinpoint—a potentially very dangerous lack of motivation.

Understanding Motivation

According to most dictionaries, the definition of motivation is “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” It comes from the root word “motive,” which is derived from the Latin word “movere,” meaning “to move.” Interestingly when I ask drivers what motivated them to enroll in my Driver Health and Fitness 13 Week Program, they frequently talk about wanting to be alive for their kids or grandkids or wanting to accomplish a particular goal.

Other times, drivers focus on fear factors such as a recent health scare like being diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, high blood pressure, or sleep apnea. Sometimes, a family member has died because of cardiovascular disease. Each of these testimonies produces a high amount of emotion. So, there is a linguistic connection between motivation and emotion. Likewise, there is a hormonal connection.

Feel-Good Hormones

When you listen to a motivational speaker or participate in fun activities, including vigorous exercise, your brain releases a feel-good hormone called “endorphins.” The principal function of endorphins is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals, or cause a feeling of euphoria very similar to that produced by opioids. Thus, certain experiences are like drugs that release endorphins, causing a short-term feeling of euphoria.

Another important hormone, dopamine, sends signals to other cells via “pathways” in the brain that play a major role in reward-motivated behaviors. It does this through its role in the action-selection process of behavior. First, it sets the “threshold” for initiating actions. The higher the level of dopamine activity, the lower the impetus required to evoke a given behavior.

A recent article in The Huffington Post put it this way, “Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked with low levels of dopamine.” Thus, while motivation involves the whole brain and its relationship with the world, dopamine and endorphins (and oxytocin) hormones are an important part of the process.

What Should You Do?

So, what can you do to increase your motivation? The first thing you can do is tap into your emotions. Remember, emotions come from the Latin word movere, which means, “to move.” It literally means “energy.” That’s what emotions are—energy. When you tap into strong emotions, you’re accessing a store of energy. What you do with this energy is up to you.

As a national champion and world-class swimmer, my coaches always taught me about the power of visualization. My teammates and I would be challenged to visualize swimming and winning a race and feeling all the pain, as well as the emotions of winning, standing on the podium with a gold medal, the crowd cheering. This would, indeed, produce an “endorphin” rush that would make me excited to get in the water and train.

You can do this too, when you are driving or resting in your sleeper. Think about what you want to accomplish. Think about how you will feel if you lose 10, 20 or 30 pounds. What would you do? Visualize yourself accomplishing the things that are important to you and experience your own endorphin rush. Then use that as motivation to get up and go do something that will further produce more dopamine. Keep doing this and the next thing you know, you’ll have a more healthy, happy, active lifestyle.

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