How To Boost Cognition Through the Chemistry of Motivation

There are many ways to energize the brain and improve cognition through lifestyle adjustments, such as healthy eating or exercise. However, humans have the ability to boost their cognition through merely understanding what motivates them!

Brady Wilson - TEDx - How to fix the exhausted brain


The Neuroscience of Human Interaction
As outlined by Brady Wilson, human interactions have a big impact on how we feel and that in turn affects our energy levels.

At the simplest level, when we feel we have had a good connection with somebody, such as spending a cheerful time with good friends, we feel more motivated. The same can be said in reverse about bad connections, such as having an argument or feeling misunderstood.

The chemistry at play is more complicated than Wilson outlines, and the impact that these two extremes have on our health and cognition is rather astonishing.

Let’s take a closer look at human interactions in more depth.

1. How Positive Interactions Energize the Brain
When we have a good connection with a fellow human being, we feel uplifted and motivated, whether in a formal work environment or at a relaxed social gathering.

What is going on inside the brain?

Firstly, Dopamine is released, activating the reward center of the brain. That makes us feel good and reinforces the behavior of seeking out positive social interactions. Many people spend their free time socializing, and this is mostly why!

However, making positive connections through feeling understood and accepted has the further benefits of releasing Serotonin and Oxytocin in the brain.

Elevated Serotonin levels prevent Dopamine levels from going out of balance. If that happens, it can lead to withdrawal effects similar to what drug addicts feel when they can no longer get a fix.

Increased Serotonin levels also make us feel more awake and energized, counter depression, and enhance cognition[1]Role of serotonin in memory impairment. Serotonin deficiency has often also been linked with mental disorders, sleep deprivation and a low-functioning immune system.

Oxytocin is involved in the feel of trust, and at the same time, it entirely inhibits feelings of fear and anxiety. The simple act of preventing emotional stresses such as these will also energize the brain and leave more room for bright ideas, creativity, improved reasoning and so much more!

Preventing stress has a profound effect on the immune system, inhibiting inflammation and helping improve symptoms of multiple lifestyle disorders from cancer to arthritis.

2. How Negative Interactions Deplete the Brain
In contrast to uplifting positive human interactions, what can be said of negative ones?

When we have an interaction with somebody where we feel misunderstood, we can feel a variety of emotions such as isolation, alienation, social anxiety, fear, stress, sadness, or even sometimes anger.

In a study, it was shown that these emotions – which are based off of either anger or fear at heart – generate inflammation in the body[2]The plasmatic and salivary levels of IL-1β, IL-18 and IL-6 are associated to emotional difference during stress in young male..

This suggests that feeling negative emotions will suppress the immune system as well as cause free radical damage to occur to all organs in the body, including the brain.

This sheds some extra light on how negative interactions can leave the brain feeling depleted, or in more scientific terms, subject to neuroinflammation and more!

Understanding What Motivates Us & Others
After taking a look at the pros and cons of human interactions, it’s useful to take a fresh look at what motivates ourselves and others.

Out of the five motivations, as outlined by Wilson, everyone will find that they fall into one or more categories.

These categories ar security, belonging, significance, meaning and freedom.

When we act in accordance with what motivates us, we feel exceedingly good. If others endorse our motivations in us, we feel even better due to the chemistry of human interaction.

All these positives stack up, unleashing the full benefits of social reward, bonding behaviors and partnering with others to achieve success.

This doesn’t only apply to us, but it also applies to how others respond to us.

Through placing ourselves fully in the shoes of others and understanding what motivates both sides in any interaction, we can start to work towards social fulfillment in life and have a very positive effect on everyone around us (including ourselves!).

Integrating Motivational Chemistry Into Everyday Living
Self reflexivity is a very important part of integrating what motivates us into our day-to-day worlds.

As Wilson says, one should start asking ourselves and our loved ones “what matters most?” in any given situation where a negative interaction arises. Observing what triggers positive emotions can also provide valuable insight on what motivates us to shine.

The answer to this question should highlight which category of motivation you or the other fall into, which can shed light on how to unlock your brain’s fullest potential!

Keeping a journal and writing down these interactions along with all feelings and in response to what is a great way to show us what motivates ourselves.

It also helps to get rid of pent up stress and emotions which are not conducive to leading a healthy lifestyle.

After seeing what motivates you at any given moment, you can start to work with your perception of what is good and bad to achieve frequent positive results.

Often miscommunication does not occur because somebody else is stepping on your needs intentionally. It’s usually due to the fact that they are motivated by something different and are trying to do the best that they can from their point of view.

We react to others when our needs feel threatened and respond well when they feel met.

If you find yourself in conflict more often than not then understanding what motivates both sides will improve your reactivity. The next questions to ask in these situations is “whose need is greater?” and “is there a way both of our motivational needs can be met?” .

Mindfulness meditation is another useful tool for helping us to be more aware of our emotions, as well as lowering stress, anxiety, reactivity and cognition all at the same time!

Through meditating, you will also become more aware of the difference between what you feel and other bodily sensations that can often be confused or add to anxiety unnecessarily.

For example, having a digestive problem is likely to cause tension or discomfort in the gut, which is commonly confused with or compounds upon emotional stresses.

Enhance your focus, reduce stress, and get a grip on how you perceive the world through learning how to meditate!

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