By learning to access pleasure from a task’s effort, you can improve your motivation and develop discipline for hard work. For many people, hard work can be a daunting task that is often avoided. However, when working towards a monetary, career goal, or social purpose, individuals may feel compelled to put in the necessary effort. The benefits of learning to access pleasure from effort extend beyond just motivation. By developing the discipline to work hard, you can improve your ability to take on challenging tasks and achieve your goals. This can be especially beneficial when external rewards are not immediately present, such as in long-term projects, weight loss, fitness, or personal growth efforts.
Examples and Experiments
A classic experiment was done at Stanford University many years ago in which children in Nursery School and kindergarten drew pictures.
The children were then randomly assigned to one of the following conditions:
Expected reward. In this condition, children were told they would get a certificate with a gold seal and ribbon if they took part.
Surprise reward. In this condition, children would receive the same prize as above but weren’t told about it until after the drawing activity was finished.
No reward. Children in this condition expected no reward and didn’t receive one.
Each child was invited into a separate room to draw for 6 minutes, afterward either given their reward or not, depending on the condition.
Then, the children were watched through one-way mirrors over the next few days to see how much they would continue drawing independently.
The expected reward had decreased the children’s spontaneous interest in drawing, and there was no statistically significant difference between the no reward and surprise reward group.
Those who had previously liked drawing and had a high intrinsic motivation were less motivated once they expected to be rewarded for the activity.
The expected reward reduced the spontaneous drawing the children did by half.
Judges also rated the pictures the children drew, expecting a reward as less aesthetically pleasing.
The study demonstrates both the dangers of extrinsic motivation and the power of intrinsic motivation. 
The researchers started rewarding the kids for drawing, such as a gold star. But when they stopped giving the gold star, the children had a higher tendency not to want to draw on their own. This activity was something the children had learned previously to enjoy intrinsically and chose to do. This relates to the concept of intrinsic versus extrinsic reinforcement. When we receive rewards, even if we give ourselves rewards for something, we associate less pleasure with the activity that evoked the prize. This doesn’t mean all rewards are bad, but it’s essential to understand that dopamine underlies our motivation for action.
The Power of Dopamine
Dopamine controls our perception of time. When we engage in an activity, such as hard work or exercise, because of the reward we will receive at the end, we extend the time we analyze or perceive that experience. Because the external reward comes at the end, we start dissociating the neural circuits for dopamine and the reward that would have been active during the activity. As a result, we experience less and less pleasure from that particular activity while doing it. The opposite of this is a growth mindset, which is the mindset of striving to be better.
The Growth Mindset
The growth mindset delivers tremendous performance results. People with growth mindsets perform very well because they’re focused on the effort itself. All of us can cultivate growth mindsets by learning to access the rewards from effort and doing.
To develop a growth mindset, you must learn to access the rewards of effort and action. This can be challenging because it requires engaging your brain’s prefrontal component of the mesolimbic circuit. You must be able to tell yourself that the effort you’re putting in is fun and enjoyable, even if you’re experiencing physical discomfort while exercising or studying.
The most beneficial thing that can serve as a motivational amplifier on all endeavors, especially challenging ones, is not to start layering in other sources of dopamine to get started but to subjectively attach the feeling of friction and effort to an internally generated reward system. This system exists in the human mind and has existed for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s not just pursuing innately pleasurable things, like food, sex, warmth, or water, but rather accessing pleasure from effort.
How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset
This approach is accessible to all of us. To do this, you need to start telling yourself that the pain of the moment will lead to an increase in dopamine release later. You must also tell yourself that you’re doing it by choice and because you love it. This is different from thinking about the reward that comes at the end. By doing this, you can associate dopamine release with friction and effort.
- Embrace challenges: View challenges as opportunities for growth and learning.
- Believe in your ability to learn: Believe that you can learn and grow, regardless of your current level of knowledge or skill.
- Focus on the process: Focus on learning and growth rather than just the end result.
- Learn from failure: See failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.
- Emphasize effort: Emphasize the importance of effort over innate talent or ability.
- Accept feedback: Be open to feedback and criticism, and use it to improve.
- Embrace learning: Embrace the learning process and seek new challenges and experiences.
- Encourage others: Encourage and support others in their efforts to learn and grow.
- Celebrate progress: Celebrate moving toward goals step by step and small successes rather than just the final outcome.
- Maintain a positive attitude: Maintain a positive attitude and a growth mindset even when facing obstacles or setbacks.
Accessing pleasure from the effort aspect of our dopaminergic circuitry is one of the most potent and essential aspects of dopamine in our biology. When we learn to spike our dopamine from the effort itself, we can experience an increase in energy and focus, which can help us to stay motivated and engaged in the activity.
It’s crucial to note that we should not spike our dopamine before or after engaging in the effort, as this can undermine the overall process of accessing pleasure from the steps. When we only focus on the reward that comes after the effort, we associate the reward with the activity itself rather than the action we put in. An extrinsic reward system can make the activity less enjoyable and less efficient in the long run.
By focusing on the effort and learning to access the pleasure from it, we can develop a growth mindset and be more motivated to take on challenging tasks. This can also help us to maintain our motivation and avoid burnout, as we’re not relying solely on external rewards to drive our efforts.
Overall, spiking dopamine from effort is a powerful way to cultivate a growth mindset and achieve our goals. By embracing the effort and learning to find pleasure in action, we can develop greater resilience, motivation, and a deeper sense of satisfaction in our accomplishments.