🧠 How to Increase Motivation & Drive | Huberman Lab Podcast

Notes for the Huberman Lab Podcast #37.

The chemistry of motivation is tightly wound in with the neurochemistry of movement.

The same single molecule, Dopamine, is responsible both for our sense of motivation and for movement.

💡 Side note: Acetylcholine is the actual molecule responsible for focus and causes muscles to twitch and move.


Dopamine is the double-edged sword molecule of neuroscience. It lies at the center of so many great things in life as well as some terrible things, mainly addiction.

There's a fundamental relationship between dopamine, released in your brain, and your desire to exert effort.

In fact, if you know what you're doing, you can actually control the schedule of dopamine release through it's natural property called dopamine scheduling.

Dopamine is the precursor to epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which means dopamine leads to the creation of adrenaline and adrenaline allows us to stimulate action.

Dopamine is released from several sites in the brain and body, but most importantly to motivation, dopamine is released in the Reward Pathway, when we experience things that we like.

💡 An important part of the reward pathway is shown and the major structures are highlighted: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, and the prefrontal cortex).

Dopamine is generated through the VTA and the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex serves as a break and controls when dopamine is released and how much of it.

Without that break, we'd be purely a pleasure seeking animal.


Motivation is a two part process, a delicate balance of pleasure and pain.

When we're in a relatively balanced mood, not excited or depressed, dopamine is released at a rate of about about 3-4 times a second.

When you get excited in an anticipatory way, expecting a reward, then the rate of activity in the reward pathway jumps and this leads to triggering desire for movement in the direction of the thing that you're craving.

💡 Dopamine's highest release frequency is when we experience wanting or craving.

Dopamine rates escalates once you start thinking about the thing that you want, when you start looking forward to it.

However, just thinking about any of those things can increase the amount of dopamine to the same degree as the actual thing.

💡 Anticipation of a reward can produce as much dopamine as the reward itself.

A big stimulus of dopamine is novelty. For example, video games where there's always something new or your Instagram or Facebook feeds of continuously new content and notifications can release dopamine at the rate somewhere between nicotine and cocaine.

💡 Dopamine is the currency of pleasure expectation

Pleasure & Pain

Why do we get addicted to things that fail to elicit the same amount of massive pleasure that they initially did?

For every bit of pleasure, there's a mirror image experience of pain, and they overlap in time closely.

The craving that you feel is made out of a combo for desire for pleasure and the pain of not having the pleasure.

Try it the next time you eat something delicious. You eat it, it tastes amazing, and then a part of the experience is that you want more of that thing. This is true for any pleasureful experience.

When we first anticipate something pleasureful, we produce dopamine. Then we produce it further when we experience this pleasure but we also experience an increase in pain shortly after of woven in with the pleasure. With each subsequent time, the experience of dopamine release and pleasure is reduced a little bit and the pain response is increased a little bit.

Even though pleasure decreases and pain increases over time, the amount of craving increases as well, over time.

This is the root of addiction. So much of our pursuit of pleasure is simply to reduce the pain of craving.

Dopamine isn't as much about pleasure as much as it is about motivation and desire to pursue more in order to reduce the amount of pain. Some people, when detached from something they yearn, could experience cravings that can even lead to physical pain.

Your desire for something is proportional to how pleasureful it is to indulge in that thing but also how much pain you experience when you don't have it.

💡 Dopamine creates both the sense of pleasure and the desire for more.

Pleasure vs Bliss

Serotonin is the molecule of bliss. Dopamine and Serotonin can be thought of as exteroceptive and interoceptive.

Dopamine makes us focus on things outside of our personal space, where we actually have to move and take action in order to achieve things. Serotonin has more to do with things that are here and now (which is why it's sometimes called the "here and now" molecule).

Dopamine biases us towards thinking about what we don't have, whereas serotonin and some of the related "here and now" molecules, make you bliss-ed out and content in the present.

The serotonine and similar molecules and dopamine are in a push/pull relationship.

Becoming focused in the moment for one behavior, for example eating one almond and entirely focusing on its texture, flavor, etc, is a mental trick to shift towards serotonin instead of dopamine as the main source of producing pleasure.

Dopamine is the molecule of pursuit. Serotonin is the molecule of patience.

💡 Dopamine is the molecule for chasing what you don't have. Serotonin is the molecule for being happy with what you have.

Dopamine doesn't care how you reach your goals (and in fact, people use various strategies, from active pursuit to passive manipulation), it just cares that you do reach them.

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