Just about every big thing in our life begins with a very, very small step. While choice is something our brain wants, so is completion. If we want to feel the bliss of completion, we have to take action once we have made our choice. We just have to decide to start, to activate ourselves. We’ve tweaked Nike’s advice—“Just do it”—into our activation mantra: “Start small, start now.” You just have to begin—even if you really, really, really, really don’t want to. The simplest and most crucial step we can all take in living the life we want is to start doing it now. If we wait to have all of our ducks in order, the first ducks we collected will have flown the coop by the time we get to the last ducks and it becomes a never ending amassing of ducks. The prize goes to those who can get over being completely prepared before they begin.
If we don’t start, we will have nothing to show for all of our choices or our preparedness. Start small, start now.
excerpted from “Activate Your Brain” available in May 2015
Activation Spar ks Motivation
A sense of accomplishment often ignites the confidence we need to say, “I can achieve more if I want.” Psychologist Frederick Herzberg found that among a list of motivational drivers at work—accomplishment/ achievement, the work itself, earned recognition, responsibility, advancement opportunities, and personal growth—accomplishment tops the list. This desire for accomplishment stems from the brain’s desire for completion. Accomplishment sets up a chain of pleasure chemistry, while the lack of it does quite the opposite. To leverage the power of our pleasure chemistry, we need to activate.
Half of my garage at home serves as the dumping ground for summer items that need to be stored over the winter. They never really get completely sorted, and year after year the items are multiplying, crammed into unseen places. It’s a mess, and each time I walk into the garage I have a viscerally bad reaction to it. It actually switches on a bit of anxiety because I know I need to get it organized, but I’m not. I want it done, but I do not want to be the one to do it. Alas, no one else is stepping up and there are only so many things in life you can hire others to do for you. Guilt. A voice telling me to get it done or be a loser-procrastinator. Most of us have this general low-level anxiety driven by all of those things left undone. But once we activate and start going, we’re better able to keep on going. A body in motion stays in motion. And it works because our brain rewards us for completing tasks, even just the first step.
There is a place in the brain, just above your left eyebrow, that could be one of the big activators we need to get going. Put your finger under your left eyebrow, closer to your nose, and find the subtle notch in the bone. Just above and behind that is roughly where a big part of our motivation is activated—the medial orbitofrontal cortex, or the mOFC. Along with a complex highway of other neural architecture, it’s one of the areas that activates and is involved in rewarding behavior. It sends signals to the reward centers of our brain and activates desire impulses to do the behavior again. On the opposite side of the brain around the right temple is an area called the right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex (RVLPFC). It’s like a braking system; it says “Stop” when we need to stop.
The Choice To Start: Activation For Motivation
These two areas modulate our behavior in a variety of different ways, and for our purposes, we want to positively activate the mOFC. Armed with this information, I know that if I just put one thing in its rightful place, the neurochemistry to do more of it—the “Attaboy,” “Keep going!” chemistry—will likely activate and before you know it, I’m putting more and more in its place and the task is completed.
Now you can see why this concept of activation could very well change your life. Envision activating at work and at home for all of the things that need to be accomplished. Activation seems to be easier when we are clear about the steps to take. There is a lesson for leaders in this. Employees will be more easily activated to achieve the enormous revenue goal the company has when they’re clear on what, specifically, they can do to help achieve it. Again, do not confuse motivation with inspiration here. Once employees activate around the steps laid out for them they may or may not become inspired, but they will likely keep going as a duty of their job when they have a clear roadmap. Many leaders get frustrated when they feel like they have to spoon-feed the steps to employees; that it’s a part of the employee’s job and they should just know what to do and do it. Of course, it would be bliss if everyone was a selfstarter. However, many of us are kick-starters and need a little kick in the pants to get going—and sometimes a kick to keep going. It may not be necessary to lay out every step, but clarity on the first few will certainly get the momentum rolling. Be clear and precise, and with a little direction and help, activation has a chance to take hold. If I had had someone to hold my hand and offer to get me started with the garage, I would have gotten it cleaned out a lot earlier.