Having read Part 1 of this two part article on how to change your behaviour, you will know that your brain is in constant conflict.

This article builds on that with five pillars of behavioural change to help you manage your mindset and motivation to change your behaviour.

1. Start with why

The clearer and stronger your why, the more you will benefit from the evidence which follows.

Having completed the Ultimate Triathlon– a 2,000km trip from Morocco to Monaco in 12 days – Luke Tyburski was very clear on his. “Knowing why you want to do something is the first question to ask yourself” explains the Endurance Adventurer & Mindset Coach.

Luke suggests getting past the ‘Superficial’ why (e.g. I want to lose weight so I look good on the beach) towards your deep rooted why – A why that is aligns with you as a person, and will benefit not only yourself, but many times, others. For example I want to lose weight to: increase my self-confidence and health and set an example to my children that consistent hard work is important.

  • Mindset Hack – Write down why you want to change. Then ask why that is the case. Keep asking why until you have your deep rooted why

2. Brain chemistry and dopamine

If you enjoy moving towards your goal you are far more likely to get there.

In the brain, dopamine plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior. As neuroscientist Gabija Toleikyte explains: “dopamine is triggered in different people by different things, for example: exercise with a friend, trying novel new exercise classes or seeing clear results”.

One of the most powerful variables influencing motivation is reward, irrespective of reward. Dopamine is responsible for impulsive decisions (e.g. eat the slice of cake) but can also be used as a force for good. Research shows that it takes only anticipation of a reward, not the reward itself, to boost dopamine release(Sung-Il, 2013).

On the flip side, research by Stadler et al (2009), shows predicting failure can help achieve goal. As Stanford University Health Psychologist Kelly McGonialexplains, the study shows that answering questions which anticipate failure (e.g. what is your biggest obstacle? When is it most likely to occur?) helped one group in the study become twice as physically active (i.e., nearly 1 hour more per week) as participants in the information group.

  • Mindset Hack – Find activities which you enjoy and move you towards your goal
  • Mindset Hack – Notice and attend to the thought or craving you are feeling. Pause and allow your brain time to ‘surf the urge’
  • Mindset Hack – Imagine how you will feel when you achieve your goal

3. Manage Your Energy

Your pre-frontal cortex (Human / System 2 / conscious brain that we talked about in part 1) is responsible for rationale decision making.

When energy levels are low its’ role in decision making is massively reduced and the amygdala (Chimp / System 1 / unconscious brain) takes over. The amygdala evokes an instinctive fear and anxiety and deactivates large chunks of the pre-frontal cortex, which pushes us away from acting rationally.

Research (Yoo et al, 2007) shows that sleep-deprivation can cause >60% increase greater magnitude of amygdala activation.

Neuroscientist Gabija Toleikytealso says low levels of glucose and oxygen have a similar effect: “Research shows that self-control is resource limited and there is a gradual weakening in consecutive self-control task performance akin to muscle fatigue”

  • Mindset Hack – Get the quality and quantity of sleep your body needs
  • Mindset Hack – Eat a healthy balanced diet to keep blood-sugar levels stable
  • Mindset Hack – Shape your environment to make the healthy decision the easy one

4. Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Author of ‘Mindset’ Carol Dweck sees two types of mindset:

  • Fixed: you believe basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are fixed traits
  • Growth: you believe that most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work

Imagine you are in week 3 of a health-kick. You have been going well but just indulged in some chocolate cake. You now have two paths:

  • Fixed: Beat yourself up because the failure is tied to your identity. You enter a downward spiral and the diet crashes to an end
  • Growth: Forgive yourself because your love of learning and resilience will help you recover and resume your healthy lifestyle

You will be much more likely to succeed, and achieve your full potential in life, with a Growth Mindset.

  • Mindset Hack – Don’t beat yourself up for failing
  • Mindset Hack – Write down the 50 reasons why you are capable of changing your behaviour to achieve your goal

5. Keep Taking Action

Willpower is trainable.

As outlined in The Power of Habit, areas near the middle of the brain (amygdala) still “light up” and urge you to indulge, but areas in the front of the brain (pre-frontal cortex) associated with self-discipline become more active over time.

As Luke Tyburski explains, maintaining motivation takes persistence: “to develop a good habit, we must be consistent with our practice, and disciplined in our approach to these rituals”. But as you exercise your self-control it will get stronger over time. Once the healthy choice is hard-wired as habit, achieving your goal becomes easy.

  • Hack – Keep exercising self-control to build healthy habits


If you could do with some support, or want more Neuroscience of Motivation reading, we can try and help. Get in touch with the author – Chris Pinner using the contact details below or visit Chris’s Reading List.