The Role of Dopamine in Motivation

There are many tips and tricks across the internet and social media to increase your motivation and productivity. However, to see the most success, it is best to play to the body’s natural motivation-driver, dopamine.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a type of chemical released by the brain called a neurotransmitter, which means that it helps nerve cells send signals to each other. These messages that dopamine sends make you feel satisfaction, pleasure, and motivation. Because of this, dopamine is often considered to be the hormone that makes you feel “good.”

There are many things that can trigger a rush of dopamine, such as shopping, sex, or smelling cookies as they bake.

Dopamine does more than just make you “feel good,” though, playing a role in the following body functions:

  • digestion
  • blood flow
  • heart and kidney function
  • executive functioning
  • mood and emotions
  • memory and focus
  • pain processing
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • stress response
  • pleasure and reward-seeking behavior
  • pancreatic function and insulin regulation

Dopamine’s Effect on The Body and Behavior

Dopamine is an integral part of the brain’s reward system, playing a role in reinforcement. When an action causes a release of dopamine, it makes it more likely for you to repeat that action. Eventually, your body can get to the point where just anticipating an action that has previously been associated with pleasure can raise dopamine levels[1].

Going back to the way that baking cookies can trigger a dopamine release, if you enjoy eating cookies as a comfort food, your brain may release more dopamine when you smell them baking. Then, when you eat the cookies, your brain is flooded with dopamine, which helps to reinforce this craving.

Dopamine creates a cycle of motivation, reward, and reinforcement.

When you have the right amount of dopamine in your body, you will likely feel focused, motivated, alert, and happy. These feelings are ideal for planning, learning, and productivity.

However, when dopamine levels are low, you will have difficulty concentrating, may feel less motivated and enthusiastic, and may have poor coordination or movement difficulties.

Dopamine and Motivation

Many people associate dopamine with pleasure, but in reality, it is a brain chemical that does more than respond to rewards; it encourages you to seek them.

This is because the brain craves this sense of reward, so when it learns that a particular action leads to a pleasurable feeling, it releases dopamine as a way to encourage you to repeat this action. Additionally, your brain uses this dopamine release to determine if a mental task is worth the effort[2].

Knowing this, it is possible to utilize dopamine as the motivation neurotransmitter to improve your productivity[3]. By making something like crossing an item off your to-do list pleasurable, you can trick your brain into releasing dopamine, making you more likely to repeat these actions and be more productive.

Key Takeaways

The neurotransmitters produced by the body play essential roles in many different functions. Dopamine is one neurotransmitter commonly considered for its ability to make someone feel good, yet it also plays a large role in motivation.

Dopamine serves as the driving force behind motivation, with the brain seeking the rush of dopamine released by certain actions. By manipulating your dopamine levels, you can increase your productivity and motivation.


  1. [1] Wise R. A. (2004). Dopamine, learning and motivation. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 5(6), 483–494.
  2. [2] Dopamine affects how brain decides whether a goal is worth the effort. (2020).
  3. [3] Bromberg-Martin, E. S., Matsumoto, M., & Hikosaka, O. (2010). Dopamine in motivational control: rewarding, aversive, and alerting. Neuron, 68(5), 815–834.