How to Trick Yourself Into Feeling More Motivated

A counterintuitive strategy for getting back on track

Photo: Nisian Hughes/Getty Images

Surely I’m not the only one who has found it difficult to focus and work efficiently recently, by which I mean for the past year or so. But I’ve also discovered an unexpected trick for getting work done in difficult times: You don’t need to find your own productivity if you can borrow it from someone else.

I’m not talking about some kind of dark magic where I transfer my procrastination to others. The alchemy I mean is the burst of energy I can get simply from watching TV. When my productivity dwindles, I watch Survivor, Alone, The Amazing Race, or an epic sports event — and watch my productivity and motivation skyrocket.

Take Survivor, for example. Strangers are left on a beach with a bag of rice and forced to play a physical, social, and emotional game. It’s a constant struggle to stay strong enough to win physical challenges and make enough friends to avoid getting voted out. After I’ve mentally processed how difficult this would be, replying to my pile of unread emails seems much more manageable.

Another of my favorite productivity programming choices is watching Serena Williams play tennis. The challenges Williams must overcome to win a match are far more difficult than any deadline I’m up against. If she can win match after match, after childbirth and despite aging, surely I can finish this project. I’m leeching off the productivity I see exemplified in others, and it’s working.

There’s science to back up my hunch: The body releases dopamine while we watch TV, giving us feelings of happiness and pleasure. Studies have found that dopamine also affects our motivation. So it’s possible that by boosting your dopamine levels, you can trick your brain into feeling more motivated.

Logging into a presentation for a meeting has nothing on building shelter, starting a fire, and finding food in the Arctic Circle in late autumn, like people did on the show Alone. But it’s fun and exciting to watch them triumph, and it helps me remember that, hey, if someone can build themselves a log cabin in the woods and collect berries into a shoe, I can write 1,000 words today, no problem.

Writer, rock climber, more coffee please

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