• Stephen Baines

Discovering Your Motivation

How might you make focus work for you to achieve more meaningful results in your day? The vast majority of us tend to lose focus throughout the day. We become distracted and may often procrastinate. This is because we are either not motivated to focus or we are constantly trying to fight a natural inclination to pay attention to certain things. In-turn, we end up struggling to stay in focus.

Think about a time when you forced yourself to focus on creating a deliverable rather than browsing your Facebook, Sports site or whatever else is trying to steal your attention. What is happening here is that you are engaging your salience network and trying to actively force yourself to focus on that thing. Blocking out the other distractions in the process from the ventral attention network, or from the other activity firing in your brain elsewhere.

Sound like hard work? It is! What makes it harder is the fact that those nice, fluffy non-productive tasks also trigger reward centres in our brain too. It can be seen as feeding an addiction.

One thing to do consider though is that maintaining an intense focus is very tiring and actually requires a lot of energy. It’s easy to become worn out as a result and to begin to flag.

So it sounds like a balance is key right? Well, kind of. Here's what you could do instead

Ensure that what you need to focus on is genuinely fascinating and engaging. To do this, find something that truly motivates you and that drives you around that task. If you manage to find something that really matters to you then you will have intrinsic motivation without even trying. In other words, your brain will produce the reward hormone (dopamine) automatically bringing your focus strongly to what you’re doing.

Even the most mundane tasks can be made exciting when we drill into them. Take emptying the dishwasher. At a silent retreat last year, I had the realisation that my role of emptying the dishwasher was incredibly important. If it wasn't for me, no-one would eat off clean plates. Suddenly, motivation existed to do this activity. A focus.

Basically, when you struggle to stop looking at Facebook, it’s because your brain finds Facebook more rewarding and more salient than what you’re currently doing. The same goes for browsing the sports site or browsing YouTube for videos of cats. After all – these things are all designed to be highly rewarding and almost addictive. But if your job is more fascinating and more interesting than these then you won’t be tempted to bring jump ship at the first sign of boredom.

Think about it: when was the last time you started browsing Facebook at the movies, on a roller coaster or at a concert featuring your favourite band? Imagine if you enjoyed your work as much as your favourite band. Imagine if you enjoyed everything as much as your favourite band.

You would likely be more focused and more present at all times and you’d live a richer and more rewarding life.

Flow States

Another interesting neuroscience subject that relates to concentration is a phenomenon called ‘flow state’. A flow state is characterized as a state of mind where the individual experiences intense concentration and focus and where they are highly engaged with what they’re doing. Today, researchers believe that flow states may behind many of the biggest breakthroughs and achievements in human history and it’s believed that this is the most productive, efficient and effective mental state we can achieve.

Chances are that you may have experienced a flow state yourself…

Examples of Flow State

  • When you’re engaging in sports and the world almost seems to ‘slow down’ allowing you to react with perfect clarity and reaction speed.

  • When you’re deep in conversation and lose track of time – you check the time and realize hours have passed

  • When you’re so deep in work that you find yourself ignoring the need to go to the toilet or even get up to eat.

To get a little deep on the neuroscience, these are all considered flow states and are characterized by an increase in catecholamine neurotransmitters combined with a decrease in rapid brainwaves. Rather than seeing beta waves, instead, the brain goes into an alpha/theta wave state. At the same time, many areas of the brain actually shut down in what is known as ‘temporohypofrontality’.

You might think of this as been almost like meditation where every outside distraction is removed and you’re completely focused on one thing – to the point where time almost loses its meaning.

So what does this have to do with finding your passion and focusing relentlessly on it? Simple: when you are working toward your passion, you are in a flow state most of the time.

As an example, studies show that most start-up companies are in better ‘flow’ than any other business. Why? Because they’re excited and passionate about their business and because they have exciting youthful energy. This is great news for those startups because businesses with large amounts of flow actually produce a far greater product than those without.

Now apply this to yourself and your passion and think about how you might take your passions to the next level. And that also if you learn to love what you do, you’ll be in constant flow.

How to Love What You Do and Find Your Passion

If you’re working in a job that you find boring, filled with people you don’t like and in an environment you find uninspiring, then finding a flow state will be a struggle. Unless you’re super-passionate about it, you’re probably not in the flow and you’re probably not working optimally.

For these reasons, you need to change your career right now if you want to fulfil your potential. That means finding your calling – finding the thing that will motivate you to get up first thing in the morning. The thing that will cause that salience network to fire like mad. Now a lot of people will say they can’t do this – they have too many responsibilities and financial strains to just ‘up and leave’ their current job.

So here are some things you can do to start moving towards a career you truly love:

  1. Work out how to bring your passion in your current job: Chances are, your passion will likely bring some benefit to others in your organisation. Work out how you can connect the dots without compromising your position. Focus on value-add

  2. Start looking for outside work while at your current job: You don’t need to quit your day job until you’ve found your perfect position elsewhere. So there’s really no risk!

  3. Try starting a ‘side project’ from home in the form of a small business: You can create a blog, start selling a product etc. and then wait until it’s earning enough money to support you when you love your current employment.

Think about what it is that will truly make you excited. Search inside of yourself to understand more about this fledgeling passion you have:

  • Ask yourself when you last felt truly energized at work or in your personal life

  • Think about the jobs that your role models have

  • Think about what you love doing and all the ways that can be made into a career

  • Don’t be afraid to combine jobs or think outside the box – there’s nothing to stop you having a part-time job and a small business venture!

Visualize what success looks like to you and what happiness looks like to you. Now think about what steps you’d have to take to get there. What career would support this lifestyle?

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