How to hack your brain and unlock your money motivation


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It is relatively safe to assume that throughout human history, most people who achieved anything of significance only did so after setting a goal. I want to climb that mountain, win that competition, achieve that status, conquer that country, be that person.

Even people who were incredibly fortunate to find themselves in positions of power due to chance or birth right never did anything of significance in those roles until they had a goal they wanted to achieve. Why is this so? Why is goal setting so crucial to performance?

Essentially, our brains are hardwired to love to win, but without something worth winning we find ourselves lacking the motivation to set out to achieve something.

how to find your money motivation

As soon as we have a psychological marker that articulates what winning means, our body releases chemicals in our brain that help us overcome the pain of effort and, better still, reward even the thought of winning.

Goal setting defines to our brain what a win is, activating our automatic emotion centre (the amygdala) to pump energy into both our conscious brain (to concentrate and work harder to solve problems) and our physical body (to overcome obstacles and push through pain).

This is why setting health goals, financial goals, relationship goals and mental health goals is so important. Without goals, we simply have no energy to achieve bigger things. Goal setting is therefore the ultimate brain hack.

What is interesting is that we often don't set goals for our overall wealth like we do for large expenses like holidays, homes or luxury purchases. We don't often say, "I want my wealth portfolio to be worth $5 million in 10 years." Imagine yourself setting this goal and how that would change your decisions or behaviours. Does it scare you? Could it be achieved?

If the answer is yes to both of these, then it's probably not a bad goal. But this feels much harder than simply saving for a holiday. One reason is that we can't "purchase" our future wealth like we can a car or a unit, which makes it harder to define the "win".

However, imagine if you considered the $5 million a loan that you had to pay back your future self. It feels more definable as a goal, more like a concrete finishing line, more motivating.

It is worth noting that even with the activation and motivation that comes with setting goals, attaining them can still be really, really hard. It takes focus, dedication, commitment, delaying gratification and denying ourselves other pleasures. There is no gain without some pain. But, the joy and satisfaction of achieving, of winning, is well worth the sacrifice.

Another great brain hack to help stay the course is to set multiple small goals that keep your reward system active on the way toward achieving your ultimate aim.

If we want to lose 10 kilograms, we're best to set a goal of losing 500g every week for 20 weeks, or 250g every week for 40 weeks. Likewise, setting weekly spending or earning goals and getting small hits of reward along the way is much more effective than simply focusing on the end goal, where you're likely to run out of motivation after a short time.

Use goal-setting to your advantage. It's your inbuilt motivation machine that is purpose-built for your success.

Five tips to help unlock your motivation

1. Set goals that are achievable, but also a little bit scary. Push yourself beyond your expectations and don't let your self-limiting beliefs trick you into small-mindedness. Better to aim high and miss than aim low and hit.

2. Break down big goals into small chunks. This will help keep you on track and hack your brain's reward system to keep you going when things get tough.

3. Control frustration. We all know that feeling of being "in the zone" as we sharpen our focus and efforts to achieve a goal, and how frustrated we can get when someone or something tries to stop us achieving our target. Frustration can be an energy vampire that robs us of perspective and our ability to rationally solve the problem.

4. Reframe fear as excitement. Nervousness and anticipation look remarkably similar in the brain. Fear leads to reactive, limiting decisions, but excitement embraces opportunity and keeps you in control.

5. Create simple rules. Try not to complicate things. Set up simple routines, clear spending rules, and simple investment rules. This helps conserve brain energy to focus on the things that matter, and how to better achieve your goal.

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Phil Slade is a behavioural economist and psychologist and the author of Going Ape S#!t! and founder of Decida. He works across digital innovation, strategy and cognitive bias. Phil holds a Bachelor of Psychology from The University of Queensland and a Master of Organisational Psychology from Griffith University.