Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Happiness and success

 

Whether we want to:

  • Get that project done
  • Do that homework
  • Change that behavior
  • Do our daily exercise/meditation/ daily mental health practice
  • Overcome that fear/anxiety
  • Get though a day of depression
  • Not smoke/emotionally eat/gamble for a day

It can be hard to:

  • Get started
  • Keep started and
  • Reach our goal

Rewards work very well for humans because we are goal and achievement oriented. Each time we reach a milestone, even a small one – we get a little burst of dopamine in our brain – the neurotransmitter that is involved in our reward and pleasure centres, but we do tend to put things off, so that burst can be a long time coming.

Clients often say to me 'I feel so good when I use the techniques you give me – I can't understand why I'm not doing them'. In other words – you're getting a dopamine burst so why isn't it enough to keep you on track?

Once again I come back to Back of Brain (BOB)/survival brain and our survival mechanism. Doing our practice (for example, to control anxiety) – is working. We feel better – and so we want to venture out and do more – possibly taking risks; even minor ones like going out for a drink with friends.

If you have read my previous post about being stuck up the back of the cave, you will remember my example of BOB sensing that there is threat or danger and wanting to keep us up the back of the cave so that we will avoid the danger and be safe. My theory is that we feel motivated for a while because our enthusiasm gives our thoughts the drive strength to overcome BOB's urging to avoid. As we become de-sensitised to the dopamine burst (it's there but we're not as excited about it), BOB starts to win again – and unconsciously, we avoid doing the very things that make us feel better.

So – I believe part of the key is to maintain out excitement and enthusiasm by giving ourselves extra rewards – like this 'Motivation Marbles' game, and also by having an enthusiastic and excited attitude towards it.

Remember 'what fires together wires together' – so if we become complacent about the change we've achieved – less wiring and firing will occur, and the gains we've made will slip away.

Doing it with someone else or having another person's support is also helpful in keeping up the enthusiastic attitude and the dopamine bursts of reward – so find a friend.

The other factor to stand in our way is procrastination. I've written about how procrastination can be caused by an unconscious fear of the task or thing you wish to accomplish.

I believe that procrastination can be functional (I believe just about anything can be functional - to a point). I see mindful, creative procrastination as putting something off by choice – either because you have more important priorities – or in the hope that a better idea will come along – or that the energy will come for you to do that thing if you just wait, as opposed to a mindless procrastination.

All of these can be true.

However, when it's past the point of working for you and you're just not achieving anything – plus beating yourself up for it – or you're enthusiasm and excitement over your gains made has disappeared - then this might be a fun thing for you to try.

Muriel's Motivation Marbles

I firmly believe in 'sleeping on it' and I 'slept' on this problem of what could motivate us and give us a dopamine burst (reward). My brain came up with this idea as I was waking up the next morning (absolute truth) – and so here it is – my 'Motivation marbles'. It's cheap – simple and a bit of fun – it could work very well for kids as well as you.

Ingredients

  • Two clear glass jars or plastic containers marked with permanent marker into quarters – one small (see illustration) and one larger.
  • The small jar should be able to contain 28 marbles (you should be able to make a change in 28 days if you're doing one marble a day)
  • If you're putting marbles in frequently – e.g. for every time you avoid emotional eating – move on to the larger jar (you should be able to fit in 56 marbles).
  • The larger jar can also be for 'advanced' motivating/reinforcing when you're on track and you want to stay on track.

Cost

  • I got my jars at the Reject Shop – they cost $3 altogether
  • One bag of marbles – again the Reject shop – for $3
  • One bag/container for the marbles to go in (if they're not already in one) – I used an old coffee jar – free.

Rewards

  • You need two small rewards, a medium sized one and a substantial one.
  • The rewards should be inexpensive and as creative as you can make them. You could involve family and friends in making up rewards. Reasonably low-cost rewards are:
    • A special or extra coffee (especially with a friend)
    • A DVD you've been saving for a special occasion
    • A pizza night
    • A trip to the beach
    • A visit to the zoo
    • A massage
    • A sleep in (with your partner)
    • A mental health day of reading, snoozing and pampering etc.
  • You could also use one sheet of paper cut into small squares with rewards on them. You could print them, or write them.

Method

Every time you:

  • Get a bit of that project done
  • Do that homework
  • Change that behavior
  • Do your daily exercise/meditation/mental health practice
  • Overcome that fear
  • Get though a day of depression
  • Don't smoke/emotionally eat/ gamble for a day
  • Stick to your diet

You get to put one marble in the small or large jar (small for one a day – large for more frequent achievements)

  • When the jar is a quarter full – you get a small reward
  • When the jar is half full – you get a medium sized reward
  • Three-quarters full is another small reward
  • A full jar is the major prize – the big reward – that's when you get to put the 'tomboller' in (the BIG marble) and give yourself a big pat on the back

Motivation Marbles is an easy, fun way to stay on track and you can clearly see how far you've come.

Print this out – share it with your family or friends – get them to support you.

It's not the whole answer but it could help.

Be aware though, that the longer you use a technique for, the less 'exciting' it becomes and it can lose its efficacy. You could try to increase the excitement by using different rewards or different things to put in the jar – like Scrabble tiles – pebbles you found on the beach etc.

So - don't forget to keep up that enthusiastic, excited attitude. Don't forget emotional intensity helps to fire and wire positive trains of thought in your brain and to keep them strong. Even if you feel like you're 'faking it', BOB will not know the difference – that's why 'faking it till you make it' actually works.

Visualise your jar getting fuller and feeling good about it.

What was I motivating myself for? I don't like going out in the cold to exercise. I'm a sun lover and the cold weather can tend to make me feel miserable, even though I know going outside is very therapeutic.

I Googled 'motivation games' and I didn't find anything that looks like it's aimed at procrastination – so I think maybe my brain came up with something original.

Good luck! If you try it – let me know what happened.

I even had the thought that perhaps I could have this made into some kind of game app. Please let me know if you would be interested in that.

Show comment form
­