Lately, we’re hearing more of our guests say they are having difficulty focusing, making decisions, and following through with actions they know would be in their best interest both at work and in my personal life. It’s not easy to perform as well as we would like mentally or emotionally during times of stress—and this past year has certainly been one of the most stressful in our lives! Here is the latest neuroscience on willpower, decision making, and motivation to help you do your best.
Our decision-making “muscle”, commonly called willpower, resides in the prefrontal cortex of our brain. It is the executive functioning center that helps us weigh the pros and cons of a decision from a logical perspective. These deliberate value-based decisions vs our endless reactive and automatic unconscious decisions max out at approximately 75 per day. According to researchers at Cornell University, the average North American adult is making 35,000 decisions a day (226 just about food)!
The most successful decision-makers don’t have super willpower, rather, they conserve willpower by developing routines and habits that help them avoid having to make inconsequential decisions. These mental energy conservationists know what researchers are confirming; making too many decisions and wading (or surfing) through too much information depletes cognitive resources and decision power.
Multitasking is another mental energy drain that results in poor decision-making, mental fatigue, shallow thinking, and impaired self-regulation. It takes energy to jump from task to task, and even more energy to attain a level of focus where we perform our best. Focus on one task, do it really well, then move on.
Motivation is the force that drives our decisions through to completion. We have intrinsic motivation, which is driven by our internal value set. We are motivated to make decisions and take actions that align with our “authentic self,” and are rewarded when we do so—an increase in brain stimulation in our learning and creativity centers is seen when make decisions that align with our values. We also have extrinsic motivation. We feel this form of motivation when we receive external rewards such as awards, praise, status, a raise, or bragging rights. Extrinsic motivation is rewarded by our feel-good hormone dopamine. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play a role in progressing towards our goals.
When under duress, motivation wanes and is replaced with anxiety (fear of failure), burnout (depleted energy reserves), and low self-esteem (competitive self-comparisons). Here is a list of options for you to consider to boost your decision-making willpower as well as your motivational energy.
How To Cultivate Will Power
- Work in focused time blocks and avoid multi-tasking. Minimize interruptions by turning off prompts, alerts, and auto feeds.
- After focusing with uninterrupted concentration, set a time limit to followup on emails, texts, and important information feeds.
- Trust your subconscious “gut instinct” for the less important decisions. Neuroscientists have found that our intuitive subconscious is able to make a decision several seconds before our prefrontal cortex can, and does so without “over-thinking”.
- Practice daily meditation and mindfulness. A study by INSEAD and The Wharton School showed 15 minutes of concentration and awareness practice made smarter choices while derailing compulsive and addictive patterns.
- Ensure that self-resourcing and self-regulation punctuate the focus and admin time allotments to keep the brain fueled, oxygenated, and less stressed.
How To Cultivate Motivation
- Set SMART goals.
- Pre-analyze potential obstacles and list solutions.
- Reflect on the benefits of following through on a decision in a journal to build mindfulness skills. Importantly, hold an experimentational mindset.
- Include fun in some of the decisions to cultivate dopamine rewards.
- Enlist support from others for emotional alignment.
- When possible, find alignment to your internal authentic values, and trust that following through will enrich you.
What is Mountain Trek?
Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out below: