Motivation isn’t some rare butterfly that we have to capture in a net, it’s a thing we can create inside ourselves. And because motivation builds motivation, you can start by creating just a little bit and it will keep growing until it adds up to all the motivation you need to do something big. I know the hardest step is the first one, so this episode is all about how to begin.
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Welcome to the Cara Brookins Show, where you’ll find all the tools you need to get unstuck and build a better life. I know what it feels like to need a friend to talk you through the hard stuff. From cleaning off your desk, to building a new desk, or even rebuilding your entire life from scratch, I’ll be here with you for every step. Let’s get moving and build exactly the life you want.
I used to think that if you set the right goal, motivation would just come with it, like a pre-packaged two-for-one combo. If I just picked the right goal, it would come with all the motivation I needed to reach it. But what happens when you set a goal that you really, really need or want to reach, and the motivation doesn’t show up? Building motivation can be a skill of its own, And fortunately, our brain is perfectly set up to create an endless supply. Best of all, it’s pretty easy to set this machine in motion. So, you want to learn how?
First of all, the things that motivate all of us are very similar. Just like we all liked candy as a kid because our bodies and brains like sugar. And the way we all liked to play the same types of games on the playground or around the game table.
When my kids were little, we played the board game Candyland about 7,000 times. Per week. They loved this game. Actually, I played it with MY mom and brother too. I don’t know if my mom played it when she was little, but it’s been around since the year my mom was born, 1949. Obviously, there’s something about this game that just works. Let’s take a closer look at what that is.
Honestly, there really isn’t much to the game. The board is a path of bright colored squares and a handful of places all with a candy theme and characters that have candy names. (Princess Lolly, Mr Mint, Grandma Nut and more like that) That’s why it’s CandyLand. It’s all about candy.
To play, you pick up a card with a color on it—you don’t have to count or read or anything. Just move your little guy to that color on the path. And sometimes instead of a color, your card will have one of the candy places or characters. So that’s the best part.
Winning is straight forward too, the first one to reach the big castle at the end of the path, wins and hangs out there with King Candy. His arms wide to welcome you. And let’s note here that this part of the game is super important. The kids have to understand what the goal is. Why they are drawing cards and moving down this path. It’s not a circle. You don’t just keep moving around and around. No one would play if that’s what you did. There has to be a goal.
My kids loved this game so much that the little cards with candy characters on them were bent and worn out, partly because the kids occasionally licked them—just to test if the candy was real this time around. Anyhow, it’s very bright and cheery and sugar themed. No real question why kids love this game, is there.
But there’s actually more to this than pure candy love. This little game is set up to work with the way our brain creates motivation. A little trickle to begin with and then because motivation builds motivation, a steady flow of stronger motivation until we reach the goal—the candy castle.
It’s such a powerful motivation chain that when you finish a game and reach King Candy at the top, guess what happens? The kids scream: AGAIN! Let’s do it AGAIN! Because their little brains weren’t kicking and screaming and being pulled through the motivational process . Their brains, and our brains, actually love this stuff, this process of building motivation. We like to go through this process of building motivation over and over and over again. That’s excellent news, isn’t it.
What we want to create, is the same motivation for our goals today. The equivalent of running into our work day with the same level of enthusiasm my kids had running to the game closet.
We want to enjoy the cards we draw, those steps along the way, so much that we’re tempted to lick them—you know metaphorically, not actually. Unless your goal is to be a candy maker. Then lick away.
When you finally succeed and reach the end of your goal? You should want to repeat the process of setting & reaching goals with enough excitement and enthusiasm that you immediately pin your next big goal to the wall and scream AGAIN! Let’s do it AGAIN!
And what I’m telling you today, is that this is 100% possible. In fact, it’s not just possible, it’s how it’s meant to be. It’s supposed to be like this. Life and your journey toward every big goal you set for yourself is meant to feel good, not bad. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. But it doesn’t have to be easy to feel good. We all have an example of when this is true, when even really hard work felt good because you were doing something you love.
But what we don’t always know how to do—but you’re going to learn today—is one way to intentionally set up that situation where you feel good about doing the work.
So let’s talk about how to build motivation. Which is pretty simple. I mean, if little kids can get the hang of this process with Princess Lolly and Lord Licorice, so can you.
The most important step in building motivation is to know what your big goal is. In Candyland, it’s getting to King Candy at the end of the path first. When I was building my house, it was finishing the house before the bank deadline. Setting up and completely understanding what that thing is that you really want at the end is essential. It’s non negotiable in this process. You can’t run in circles trying to build up motivation and then figure out what goal you’re going to set. The goal has to come first.
BUT, Listen up: don’t get discouraged after you set your goal, that a mountain of motivation doesn’t automatically fall from the sky and land in your lap. Don’t even try to deny it, you expected that to happen. We all have. We’ve all had the idea before that if we just hit on the right goal we’ll know it’s meant to be just based on the amount of motivation we feel—like, by magic. But that’s not how it really works most of the time. Just stick with me though, the motivation is going to come. Because we’re going to build it.
That motivation, by the way, isn’t just a word, or a feeling, it’s an actual thing, a chemical in your brain. A thing that can be measured. I’m telling you that not because I want to get really clinical or scientific about this, but because it’s important to understand that what we’re doing is a real, measurable scientific process. And knowing that the thing we’re creating is REAL, changes the way we approach it. This chemical we’re after is called dopamine. And there are a lot of ways to get your brain to produce it. We’ll set up several of them for you today so you can see immediate results and motivation. And we’ll start at the very beginning of your day.
Because motivation feeds motivation, it can double and triple itself. So if you can get this process started the second you open your eyes in the morning, it will build and compound on itself all day long. Start out by setting up a motivational pull, to get yourself out of bed.
I know this sounds small, but it works. And I want you to do this even if you’re thinking “I drag myself out of bed just fine right now, thank you.” Because what we’re going for is a lot more than just getting you out of bed, what we want, is that action to come with a brain release of dopamine, followed by another, and then another. We want a chain reaction of this stuff to keep building bigger motivation all day long.
A quick warning, what I’m gonna to tell you to do is going to feel like a weird trick at first. You might even feel like arguing with me a little. BUT DON’T. This is a very successful and proven way to kick start your motivation. You won’t have to keep doing the basic things like this forever. But think of it like when you first learn to play a musical instrument, or a sport. You have to go over and over and over the basic scales & steps at a basic level, to just train your mind and body to do the thing. You won’t always have to start your day this way, but if you do right now, for a little while, you’re going to set yourself up for incredible success. So here we go. Here are some of the things you can start with:
Get an automatic coffee maker that starts before your alarm. When you smell the coffee after your alarm goes off, you aren’t just getting out of bed you’re doing it with a smile. And here’s the important part:
That smile comes with a tiny dose of dopamine that’s released in your brain. Maybe coffee isn’t your thing (you monster) Then instead, buy some luxurious cologne or shaving equipment. Or buy a robe, slippers, or fuzzy socks that you absolutely love, something decadent, but only let yourself wear this when you first wake up. Your alarm goes off, you see the slippers set up next to your bed and can’t wait to slip your feet into them. But, just for an hour. You can’t wear these all day. Even on the weekend. One hour, then they go back by your bed to pull you forward tomorrow.
This feels like a cheesy gimmick. I get it. But it’s a really amazing system that is built in to our brains already. Think of your motivation level through your day like a really tall ladder. Every little motivational trick you do will launch you a step up that ladder. And the earlier in the day you start up the ladder, the further along you’ll be by the end of the day. Do you see how amazingly this works?
After you get the hang of this, your motivation from one day of starting right off with a great step, will build up so much motivation that it carries over to help you start the next day with a little boost up the ladder, so you’re starting a step or two up.
This right here is why some people look like they’re naturally motivated or to ‘just wake up that way’ it’s not some magic thing anyone is born with, it’s a system, an engine, and you can fire up your motivation engine just like all the other super motivated people out there.
Before we dig into more details, we’re going to take a short break.
. . .
Before we dig into those details, we’re going to take a short break.
Do you have an idea that you just haven’t been able to get off the ground? Or maybe you worked on it for a while and then got stuck? And even though you still love the idea—can’t get it out of your head, you just have no idea how to get unstuck.
If you could *just* take all the time you spent putting off a project, and put that time into doing the work to reach your target it would change everything. Take the distractions, the extra coffee breaks, TikTok videos, and Netflix binges and instead spend all those hours, weeks, sometimes years making real progress toward your goal.
If procrastination has been holding you back, my course Build Something can help.
I’ve put EVERY SINGLE THING you need to build your ridiculously big project into Build Something. All the strategies, tactics, and methods I used (and still use) to successfully turn my big ideas into real-life projects and finish them. #BuildSomething will teach you how to: plan your projects, get started, take action, actually do the work, work through the hard parts, and stay motivated until you reach your goal.
This is your chance to get unstuck and start the project of your dreams so you can #BuildSomething you’re proud of.
. . .
And now, back to the show.
The game of Candyland starts out with every player standing up at the start of the path. And of course that goal at the end. But if that was it. If it just had a path of colored squares the kids would maybe play it once through just to try to land on their favorite color or something. But what really keeps them engaged and then makes them want to do it again—which is the actual definition of motivation, we have to call that out. What does that is the promise of little sweat treats along the way.
Yes, it’s those candy characters and candy places. The ice cream sea and the gumdrop mountains. Every time you land on or even near one of these, you imagine doing things like licking the tall candy cane trees in a peppermint forest. And just imagining the sugar rush gives you a shot of dopamine. Not even real candy, just pretend candy, is powerful enough to set this system in motion.
And because we already know that motivation builds motivation, this lifts kids up their little ladder of motivation. Until they reach the top, and are all pumped up and want to do it all over again. Dopamine is a reward system in your brain. It’s what pulls us forward. It’s at the heart of your motivation, and it’s this easy to use it to create a system that will increase your motivation level from the start of the day to each of the little sweet spots along the way.
If kids can get the hang of using this system, so can you.
Remember how I said we played Candyland 7,000 times per week? Just to clarify, that was not my idea, that was my kids’ idea—and the reason they kept coming back for more is because motivation feels good. Motivation doesn’t feel like hard work—even if you are working hard at something. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that feels good. And this isn’t the only way to get it to appear. But it’s by far one of the easiest ways to get it to appear.
As kids get older and try more things independently, they will also build on this system in other ways naturally. Even things like successfully writing their name or finishing their chores will give them a little dopamine. Unfortunately, so will finishing a level in a video game, but that’s actually a topic for a whole other show.
Another way to think of this is maybe if you think of dopamine like a little guy in your head who hands you a hundred dollar bill every time you make a move in the right direction, whether that’s getting out of bed or signing the lease for your new office, or teaching your son to drive, or whatever the next step is that you need to get done for your project is. Every step in the right direction, a 100 dollar bill lands in your hand. If you think of it that way, you can really understand why it feels good, and why it gives you the incentive to get to the next level, and the next, for the next 100 dollar bill.
To our brain and body, dopamine is a stream of 100 dollar bills and our brain and body wants us to just keep them coming.
And while kids get locked into a single game as an easy and cheap source of motivation, that’s just because they don’t understand it yet the way you do. You can be a lot more targeted. You can get a lot better at aiming your motivation directly at a bigger more impressive and possibly life changing goals.
Don’t worry about coming up with coffee maker style tricks all day long for the rest of your life though. That’s just not necessary. Of course your whole day and life isn’t going to be built with manufactured tricks like fuzzy slippers to create motivation. Because it doesn’t need to be.
Once your brain gets a few doses of this chemical, dopamine, it will keep seeking out ways to get more—all by itself. So you will keep finding successes naturally, and you’ll gravitate to projects that you enjoy both starting & completing. Because you can see the larger picture of how they are getting you closer to that goal. Each one will build more opportunities for success. And we all need more of that, don’t we.
What you’re doing is you’re helping your brain form a habit. And if you keep doing that, your desire to get up and moving on your project will become more and more automatic. Because your brain will associate every step closer to that goal with a reward of dopamine so you are creating a loop of your brain wanting and expecting this reward so it seeks out new ways of fulfilling this expectation on its own. Eventually without you setting up the intentional triggers.
Of course, anytime you feel your motivation lagging, you can always go back to setting up things like this. And especially throughout the day if you notice that your energy falls at a particular time, like after lunch. You don’t have to use food or clothes, you can use work tasks that you enjoy more and give you easy wins. You can clean up some clutter right after lunch so your space feels better.
Whatever the thing is that gives your brain a little push of dopamine for motivation. Experiment with this. And get ready to be creative. Because no matter how much you love a thing, your brain will get used to it and say, “what that old robe? Whatever. Not worth it—I”m hitting snooze.” And you’ll have to switch up the routine to keep surprising your brain into a dopamine release.
I’m pretty easily delighted. I mean, I can find a lot of things that I enjoy so much that they will pull me through the day. So when I feel like things are lagging, I place those things in strategic locations. Sometimes it’s a mug of cocoa, but only after I clean out my email. Or maybe it’s an afternoon walk on a gorgeous spring day, but only after I do the laundry or rehearse my next presentation. You get the idea. It’s a process, but you’re definitely up for this. The rewards are incredible.
Here’s the thing. You know people who have a lot more motivation than you do. And you want to have that level of motivation and achieve things at the level they are. Keep that goal in mind. That high level of motivation is your goal. This is your chance to build that motivation in yourself. And the first steps are so easy. I’ll keep talking about motivation and especially maintaining motivation, in other episodes. So get this step down and you’ll be ready to continue the conversation and excited about your process as we go. Sound like a plan?
You’re going to love the results. And the best part of this particular process, is that you also get to love the journey. Motivation is fun—Just ask my soggy Candyland cards. And when we get a whole pile of us all around the world putting these ideas into practice, imagine the ways we’re going to change the world together? Our personal small world with our family, our house and career, and also the larger world, because there is no holding this back. As motivation builds, you’ll find ways to make your community better and even expand to projects that can change the world.
If changing your life isn’t motivating, I don’t know what is.
Now I’ve got to go see if we have any lemon drops in the pantry. Because I have a candy craving. Next week, I’ll be right here chatting about what it means to get back to normal after going through any kind of a tough time.
Thanks for hanging out with me today, head over to carabrookins.com for more (free) tools, and we should connect on social media too. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast.