How I Built work hard in order to achieve some end goal

I will suggest a protocol by which you can achieve a better relationship to your activities and to your dopamine system. In fact it will help tune up your dopamine system for discipline, hard work and motivation.

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hard work is hard – generally most people don’t like working hard. Some people do but most people work hard in order to achieve some end goal. The  end goals are terrific and rewards are terrific whether or not they are monetary social or any kind however because of the way that dopamine relates to our perception of time working hard at something for sake of a reward that comes afterward can make the hard work much more challenging and make us much less likely to lean into hard work in the future.  

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 Let me give you a couple of examples by way of data and experiments.  There’s a classic experiment done actually at Stanford many years ago in which children in Nursery School and kindergarten Drew pictures. They drew pictures because they like to draw. The researchers took kids that liked to draw and they started giving them a reward for drawing. The reward generally was a gold star or something that a young child would find rewarding.  Then they stopped giving them the gold star and what they found is the children had a much lower tendency to draw on their own. No reward now. Remember, this was an activity that prior to receiving a reward the children intrinsically enjoyed and selected to do no one was telling them to draw. 

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What this relates to is so-called intrinsic versus extrinsic reinforcement. When we receive rewards even if we give ourselves rewards for something we tend to associate less pleasure with the actual activity itself that evoked the reward.  Now that might seem counterintuitive but that’s just the way that these dopaminergic circuits work and now understanding these Peaks and bass lines in dopamine which I won’t review again. 

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 This should make sense if you get a peak in dopamine from a reward.  it’s going to lower your Baseline and the cognitive interpretation –  is that you didn’t really do the activity because you enjoyed the activity you instead did it for the reward but now this doesn’t mean all rewards of all kinds are bad but it’s also important to understand that dopamine controls our perception of time, when and how much dopamine we experience is, the way that we carve up what we call our experience of time when we engage in an activity. let’s say school or hard work of any kind or exercise because of the reward we are going to give ourselves or receive at the end the trophy. 

Whatever it happens to be, we actually are extending the time bin over which we are analyzing or perceiving that experience and because the reward comes at the end we start to dissociate the neural circuits for dopamine and reward that would have normally been active during the activity and because it all arrives at the end over time. We have the experience of less and less pleasure from that particular activity while we’re doing it now. this is the antithesis of growth mindset. my colleague at Stanford Carol dweck as many of you know has come up with this incredible Theory and principle and actually goes beyond theory in principle called growth mindset which is this striving to be better to be in this mindset of I’m not there yet. but striving itself is the end goal and that of course delivers you to tremendous performances been observed over and over and over again that people that have growth mindset, kids that have growth mindset end up performing very well because they’re focused on the effort itself and all of us can cultivate growth mindset. 

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The neural mechanism of cultivating growth mindset involves learning to access the rewards from effort and doing and that’s hard to do because you have to engage this prefrontal component of the mesolimbic circuit you have to tell yourself okay this effort is great this effort is pleasureful even though you might actually be in a state of physical pain from the exercise or I can recall this from college just feeling like I wanted to get up from my desk but forcing myself to study forcing myself enforcing myself what you find over time is that you can start to associate a dopamine release.  

You can evoke dopamine release from the friction and the challenge that you happen to be in you completely eliminate the ability to generate those circuits and the rewarding process of being able to reward friction while in effort if you are focused only on the goal that comes at the end because of the way that dopamine marks time.   so if you say oh I’m going to do this very hard thing and I’m going to push and push and push and push for that end goal that comes later not only do you enjoy the process of what you’re doing less you actually make it more painful while you’re engaging in it you make yourself less efficient at it because if you were able to access dopamine.  

While in effort dopamine has all these incredible properties of increasing the amount of energy in our body and in our mind.  Our ability to focus by way of dopamine’s conversion into epinephrine but also you are undermining your ability to lean back into that activity the next time.

 the next time you need twice as much coffee and three times as much loud music and four times as much energy drink and the social connection just to get out the door in order to do the run or to study so what’s more beneficial.  In fact can serve as a tremendous amplifier on all endeavors that you engage in especially hard endeavors is to a not start layering in other sources of dopamine in order to get to the starting line not layering in other sources of dopamine in order to be able to continue but rather to subjectively start to attach the feeling of friction and effort to an internally generated reward system.   

This is not meant to be vague this is a system that exists in your mind that exists in the minds of humans for hundreds of thousands of years by which you’re not just pursuing the things that are innately pleasureful food warmth water when you’re thirsty but the beauty of this misolimbic reward pathway that I talked about earlier is that it includes the forebrain so you can tell yourself. The effort part is the good part I know it’s painful I know this doesn’t feel good but I’m focused on this I’m going to start to access the reward you will find the rewards meaning the dopamine release inside of effort if you repeat this over and over again and what’s beautiful about it is that it starts to become reflexive for all types of effort. When we focus only on the trophy only on the grade only on the win as the reward you undermine that entire process so how do you do this ?  you do this in those moments of the most intense friction you tell yoursel.  This is very painful and it will evoke an increase in dopamine release later meaning it will increase my Baseline in dopamine but you also have to tell yourself that in that moment you are doing it by choice.  You’re doing it because you love it and I know that sounds like lying to yourself and in some ways it is lying to yourself but it’s lying to yourself in the context of a truth which is that you want it to feel better.  You want it to feel even pleasureful now this is very far and away different from thinking about the reward that comes at the end the hot fudge sunday for after you cross the finish line and you can replace hot foot Sunday with whatever reward happens to be appealing to you. We  Revere people who are capable of doing what I’m describing David Goggins comes to mind as a really good example many of you are probably familiar with David Goggins former Navy SEAL who essentially has made a post-military career.

Out of explaining and sharing his process of turning the effort into the reward there are many other examples of this too of course throughout evolutionary history there’s no question that we revered people who were willing to go out and forage and hunt and gather and caretake in ways that other members of our species probably found exhausting. And probably would have preferred to just put their feet up or soak them in a cool stream rather than continue to forage the ability to access this pleasure from effort aspect of our dopaminergic circuitry without question.  The most powerful aspect of dopamine in our biology of dopamine and the beautiful thing is it’s accessible to all of us but just to highlight the things that can interfere with and prevent you from getting dopamine release from effort itself don’t Spike dopamine prior to engaging in effort and don’t Spike dopamine after engaging in effort learn to spike your dopamine from effort itself.

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