The most successful people in life recognize that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.
~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
Is there a secret to greatness? Is there an underlying feature that laces the success of all the most prominent people in history?
The answer is simple: yes. It is called passion.
This is something you may have heard a number of times, but very few people understand what the word passion implies. The word itself, ‘passion,’ derives from the Latin root ‘pati’ — which means ‘to suffer.’ The veracity in this linguistic statement lies in the fact that passion is what moves you to persevere at something despite fear, unhappiness or pain. It is the determination and motivation to push through suffering for the sake of an end goal. What is more — this kind of motivation has an actual source in the brain.
A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience has identified the part of the brain that is activated during motivated activities — the ventral striatum, in combination with the amygdala (known as the brain’s emotional center). Researchers observed that the ventral striatum was activated in proportion to how motivated a person felt: the higher the degree of motivation, the higher the activation level.
So that feeling of intense creativity, or that feeling of euphoria when engaging in something that is truly meaningful to you — it is real and it is something physiological that happens within your brain. It is one of the least researched aspects of psychology, yet it has the biggest impact on our personal lives. Motivation does not simply give you the energy to work, but allows you to entirely change your perception of everything that you do. Conversely, your change in perception will start to affect the types of long-term behavior in which you engage.
This follows the concept of neuroplasticity, the ability to rewire your brain using behavior. According to this prominent neuroscientific theory, you have the power to create motivation yourself, and the art of finding this passion in life lies entirely in your actions and your choice of behavior:
- Find that for which you have a natural affinity.
Music, writing, sports, art, science? Whatever activity it may be, set a certain number of hours aside and completely indulge yourself in it.
- Reject complacency.
Complacency suggests a defeated approach in accepting your current circumstances. In constantly challenging yourself to be better, and do better, you allow yourself to explore exciting new possibilities.
- Ask the ‘why’ question.
The self-help staple of affirming yourself – by telling yourself that “I can do it,” “I will go to the gym today,” “I will work on my book tonight” — is ineffective. In the science of self-motivation, studies show that asking yourself whether you will do something enables you to get better results. So instead of “I will read tonight,” ask yourself “Will I read tonight?” Professor Dolores Albarracin from the University of Illinois suggests that in asking a question, people were more likely to reflect on what the activity means to them and thus build their own motivation for doing it.
There are very few people in this world who would shun the idea of success and fulfillment. As we are constantly told, we can only really succeed by doing what we love. The science is simple; when you enjoy something, you have a natural tendency to work at it and become better at it. By doing so you are effectively building new neural connections that keep multiplying as you keep working.
The bottom line in finding motivation is never to betray yourself and what you love. So instead of reciting empty affirmations, ask yourself this question: ‘Will I take what I just read and implement it in my life?’