If you’re a high achiever, you may attribute your drive to a number of factors: personality, upbringing, persistence and good old fashioned hard work.
But there’s something more complex at play dictating achievement and motivation – your brain. More specifically, the neurotransmitter dopamine.
This knowledge doesn’t just provide insight into why some people are high achievers, it gives us the means to help lower achievers become high achievers, assuming we can leverage their brains’ neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change connections and behavior in response to new information.
This all-important role of dopamine was examined in a recent Forbes article and highlights the fact that employees can be motivated in different ways to become the rock stars they were meant to be (or that you need them to be).
“The image of dopamine the average person is exposed to is that of a ‘pleasure chemical,’ but thanks to neuroscience and pharmacology, we now understand that dopamine primarily deals with motivation,” the article says.
“In fact, a 2012 study out of Vanderbilt University found that dopamine plays a big part in generating positive motivation and negative motivation depending on where in the brain it acted. High levels of dopamine in one area of the brain drove people to want to work hard for a reward; high levels in another drove them to reject that work.”
Building High Achievers
So what can be done to help rewire our brains so we are better able to achieve our goals and improve our performance?
One of the easiest things to do is to set achievable goals – ones you can easily cross off you list. Focusing on one task at a time and successfully completing it is like candy for the brain, literally drip-feeding your brain with the dopamine, keeping you curious and motivated.
Because dopamine rewards us for taking actions and motivates us to repeat them, building and strengthening our brain’s wiring, the more steps we take toward setting our goals, the more motivated we become to keep the dopamine flowing.
Another key strategy for leaders to help motivate their employees is to create a workplace environment they feel connected to and engaged with.
When employees experience a lack of purpose, limited growth opportunities or no meaningful connection to their work, their brain chemistry can get low in dopamine, leaving them feeling discouraged, low on energy, disengaged and apathetic. Low dopamine levels are also associated with depression, low motivation and focus issues – not exactly ideal conditions for would-be high achievers.
Noesis delivers neuroleadership consulting and training to organizations handling everyday change and major transformation initiatives. We help our Fortune 500 clients scientifically improve leadership.