Got a few minutes? Get ready to get more done.

Researchers have discovered some quick ways to get you more focused and motivated at what you do so that you can work smarter, not harder.

Some of these motivation tips take only seconds to do. Others require that you get out of your chair for a few minutes. All of them are derived from the results of recent scientific studies.

For some simple tips and exercises to increase your motivation, we’ll start right now.

1. Strike a high-power pose for a jolt of confidence

Time it takes: 2 minutes

Body language may be a lot more important than you imagined. It affects not just how you’re perceived by others, but also your internal body chemistry.

That’s right, holding your body in a certain position literally changes the way you are.

Amy Cuddy, a professor at the Harvard School of Business,  gave a TED Talk in 2012 on the significance of body language. Her premise is that non-verbal communication (i.e. body language) may be just as important as verbal communication. And one of the ways that you can communicate non-verbally is with a “power pose.”

There are two kinds of power poses: high and low. A high-power pose usually means having your body open rather than hunched up. That means chest out, arms spread, no slouch. Most simply, it means that you try to take up a great deal of space. Here’s an example of what that looks like:

power-poses-standing

And what does a low-power space look like? Anything that makes you small and bunched up, like this:

low-power

The researchers found that simply holding a high-power pose for as little as two minutes increases your testosterone levels, which are associated with confidence, and decreases your cortisol levels, which are associated with stress.

This is a no-tech lifehack that you can do while you sit or stand, while you’re alone or with others: Holding certain poses gives you more confidence and helps you to work better.

Stop slouching and strike a high-power pose. Lean back, put up your legs, and if you have space, make a V with your arms. You can do these while you sit or stand.

Don’t want to look weird with co-workers around you? Do this in a bathroom, or grab a meeting room and close the door.

In addition to striking high-power pose, you can focus on the position of your feet, smile more, align yourself better with your conversation partner, and lower your voice with deep breathing.

2. Tell yourself that you’re going to have a fresh start

Time it takes: 3-5 minutes

Have you ever wondered why everybody chooses January 1 to make commitments?

Yes, it’s a new year. But it’s also an arbitrary point in the lives of most people. January 1 may be a good date to set new commitments, but it’s not much better than July 28.

Here’s the thing: You can give yourself a fresh start anytime. By doing so, you’re going to have a burst of energy. That’s one of the findings from a study by the Wharton School of Business.

The researchers found that these “intertemporal markers” encourage us in two ways: by making people disconnect from past failures, and by promoting a big-picture view of life.

These factors make us more motivated to sequester away our failures and get things done.

So think of a recent event, be it a promotion, a breakup, some other special occasion, and contrive a fresh start. You’ll find it more believable than you think.

Try sitting yourself down to craft a message. Write it down and make it concrete. Here’s an example of a note that you can write, typed or by hand:

“Gosh, I complain of being busy all the time, but how much of it is spent wasted, unproductive? From now on, I’m going to make the most of the minutes every hour, and deliver my work with time to spare.”

Or, try this out:

“I’ve been putting this off for way too long; it’s long past time for me to start the business I’ve been dreaming about. I’ll start slow as a side project for now and see where it takes me. Today I’m going to make things happen.”

Believing it helps make it true.

3. Eat some chocolate – or some other dopamine-releasing reward

Time it takes: 1 minute

Here’s another low-tech hack to increase your level of motivation: Eat some chocolate. Not only is it delicious and easily available—the effects of chocolate on the brain are well-studied.

Here are some of the things that happen when you eat some:

  • It increases both serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes calm, and also phenylethylamine, which promotes stimulation. White chocolate does both even more intensely.
  • It triggers a release of dopamine, which will elevate your heart rate and significantly increase motivation.
  • It also results in a mild antidepressant effect, literally because your brain responds to the stimulants by promoting blissful emotions.

healthy foods

Other dopamine-inducing foods that can help maintain a healthy diet: blueberries, spirulina, and fish high in Omega-3 fats.

healthy foods

4. Write a contract – and donate the proceeds to charity if you lose

Time it takes: 3-5 minutes

Have you ever visited stickK.com?

It’s a platform for writing informal contracts that help achieve goals and form new habits. Put down a concrete goal, on say losing weight or on becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business, then ask a friend to monitor that you’ll get it done. Put up some money, say $50, and if you succeed, you get your money back; if you fail, then your friend donates the $50 to a charity of your choice.

StickK is an example of a commitment device, and it’s a remarkable mechanism for getting things done. Rather than a loose determination to make an abstract goal in the future, you have a concrete task to work towards on a specific date, and you lose more than your pride if you fail.

The founder of stickK is a professor of economics at Yale University who used a commitment device himself when he was a grad student. He promised to pay his friend $10,000 if he did not lose 38 lbs by a certain date. Fortunately he succeeded in shedding weight, not dollars.

Why do commitment devices work?

The logic of commitment devices is based on psychology and behavioral economics.

People tend towards hyperbolic discounting, which is a fancy way of saying that they overvalue the short run relative to the long-run. The examples are obvious: Do you sit and watch TV or go out for a run? Do you grab the fruit salad or the cheesecake for dessert?

hyperbolic-discounting

All of us know that what’s good right now isn’t necessarily good for the long run. Commitment devices try to change this up so that choosing what feels good in the short run gets more costly.

In addition, it requires that you set a concrete goal. Instead of saying that “I’ll lose weight this year,” you’ll have to say something like “I’ll lose 20 pounds by June.” Having something specific makes the task more concrete and more actionable.

And if you don’t make it to your goal after all, you can feel glad that at least a charity of your choice is going to get a donation.

5. See some green

Time it takes: 10 minutes

Certain colors make us think of certain things. Ever wonder why all sales signs are red, for example? It’s because people react faster and more forcefully when they see the color. People tend to associate the color red with a danger cue, and that attracts attention.

Guess which color provides the biggest boost in motivation and energy?

The color green.

Researchers have found in two studies that surrounding yourself with a bit of green provides a boost in motivation; and also that a glimpse of the color green sparks creativity.

The first study was published in 2012 in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology via six researchers at the University of Essex.

They asked subjects to perform three cycling exercises while watching a video of a rural cycling course. The videos were randomly selected to have green, gray, or red filters.

green-nature

 

The green filter made the cyclists happier and less tired. Simply seeing lots of green made them more motivated.

The second study asked subjects to write as many uses for a tin can as they could think of in under two minutes, and graded them for creativity. Before each test they showed the subjects quick flashes of green, blue, white, and gray. The color that was most associated with encouraging creativity? Green.

A researcher hypothesized that seeing green makes people think of growth. It’s taken as a cue that we can improve task mastery and that we have room to grow.

How can you get more green in your life? Go outside! Take a stroll in a garden, or anywhere with shrubs and greenery. Is there a local park that people around you like to have lunch at? Are there lots of trees that you can walk around? Are there at least a few patches of grass by your workplace?

green-motivation

Go out and walk in these places. In addition to seeing more green; you’ll be a lot more motivated after a brief physical exertion and some fresh air.

Over to you!

Can motivation be hacked? These studies that draw from psychology and neuroscience suggest that there are at least a few things that you can do to boost your motivation right now, whether that’s putting yourself in a certain frame of mind or finding a quick, no-tech way to boost your body and mind.

So take a break at a natural point and try one of these five tricks to boost your energy. Your work will thank you for it.

Now, over to you – What tricks and tips have you discovered to increase your motivation or give yourself a big boost in energy? Have you discovered that any of the ones offered above work particularly well for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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Written by Dan Wang

Dan Wang is a content strategist at Shopify, the commerce platform that makes it easy to sell anything, anywhere. Check out the Shopify Blog for advice on marketing, entrepreneurship, and social media.

  • Roy

    Great article overall. Love the tip about power poses. I’ve heard it before but don’t utilize it nearly enough (especially considering it’s so easy!).

    Just an FYI, the image for tip #3 isn’t loading correctly.

    • Dan Wang

      Talk about no-tech hacks!

  • Cool article: it sure made me work and get back to work on my social media posts! LOL Yes, several of these points are used in #spa which is part of the whole #wellness umbrella of thinking, eating, seeing and believing (and also doing = action). Thank you Dan for writing and adding in the research and charts!
    I think it’s #timetospa but first i will have my chocolate break!
    Mark

    • Dan Wang

      Chocolate makes everything better.

  • Angela Booth

    Love the article. “Power poses” work. I like to sit back at the computer with my feet up on my desk. I’ve found that while this pose helps me to relax, it’s not a WORK posture. Sitting up properly helps you to think. (I still like to relax, but not when working… :-))

  • Dustin B

    I’ve been using Aniracetam to help improve my motivation and creativity at work alongside dark chocolate. I’ve given a few of my coworkers some to try and they all liked the Aniracetam (I didn’t share my chocolate lolol). I work in a fast paced job that involves constant communication between either us coworkers or clients.

    Aniracetam is a nootropic which is another term for “cognitive enhancer”. Aniracetam works by increasing the rate at which Acetylcholine receptors can intake acetylcholine, as well as AMPA receptors.

    You can learn more about aniracetam at: https://www.smartdrugsforthought.com/what-is-aniracetam/

  • Wow, awesome article Dan, thanks! Especially I like the high-power poses! Will start immediately. For me also affirmations work, like “yes, you can do it and you will handle it, no matter what”
    Chocolate sounds fine, but I choose just sugars :) Like fruits (but as I am almost RAW vegan, I am a different type :-)
    And sometimes just being 100% focused and happy on some task makes me full of energy. To feel the joy from what I do is one of the best energy boosters I know.

  • Daniel Parker

    This is an excellent article.

  • Loved this Dan! What’s not to love….another excuse to eat chocolate :-) I totally agree with the ‘green’ part; I find getting outdoors amongst the trees or near water really boosts me up and exercise particularly gets me feeling motivated. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nice article, under chocolate you said that white chocolate works even better. i think you might have meant to say that dark chocolate works even better. Cheers.

    • Dan Wang

      According to the research roundup I linked to, white chocolate has higher concentrations of tyramine, which increases dopamine levels.

  • PersonalWay

    I made an interesting discovery by applying the transactional analysis by Eric Berne. It says that we habe three ego states. Our Inner Parent (can be vagually campared to Freud’s Super-Ego), our inner Child (like Id) and our inner Adult (Ego).

    When we say I MUST do that, it means that our inner parent yells at our poor and frustrated innder child (creativity, instincts, desire itself) and the poor thing will make it until the parent looks away. This is a way of helplessness and proscatination. Acually the inner child gets angy and says “Do. Not. Want.” in long term. People who resent resposibilty and challenges of daily life have this strong Inner Parent and this confused Inner Child. They feel helpless and angry.

    What changed my way a bit was that I understood that I have this victim mentality. I brainstormed what I know about the notion of “victim” and I also searched in internet what antonyms of this notion are. The antonyms to “victim”, at least in German is Self-Determination!!!

    So I wrote down a little affirmation (as banal as is it is): “I am a consious, proactive designer of my life. I have the POWER make decisions about my emotions, thought and my life. I am a designer of my own life.” This worked miracles!

    I went from “I MUST do that” to “I hereby DECIDE to do that. It is MY life.”

    The next step – and this step ALWAYS comes – is when you do not only fall back in old patterns, you get even more depressed! This is normal and this means that you are on you way to improvement. Fritz Perls (founder of Gestalt therapy) would say that coping with these “dark times” is the clue to healing.

  • Get Motivation.ca

    Great article Dan. So important to be motivated and make yourself go through all the uncertainties in order to achieve something great. For
    these who want to stay motivated or get motivation I have created a website
    which has been getting some buzz lately. Please check it out: http://www.getmotivation.ca

  • Adrian Henry

    For me, lack of motivation to do what I need to do (and even sometimes what I want to do) is caused by other aspects of my life being unbalanced. A simple example of this is when I haven’t had friends and family time for a while, I will no longer have the motivation to improve or even keep up with my professional life or even hobbies.
    Another example is when I lack motivation for costuming simply because my studio is disorganized. Sometimes, I believe my brain registers certain setups as being disorganized, even if they really aren’t.
    In these cases, simply rearranging a stale room kicks my brain into a fresh start; like rearranging a kitchen to promote healthier eating, or redecorating a bedroom to encourage more intimacy with my spouse.
    If you figure out what is killing your motivation, and eliminate it, your motivation will naturally catch back up. (ime)

  • Betty S

    Dan, Wow…I liked your article.

    Your article on the color GREEN being motivating was very interesting. In fact, I was being “motivating” without even knowing it.

    I wrote a poem a couple weeks ago and on the title page, I included GREEN trees with the sun rays shining through. The poem is actually about someone and I was inspired to write the poem because of the kindness of that person. I chose the trees with the light coming through because of their symbolism representing what I was trying to express in the poem… to grow like the seed that flourishes and becomes a tree. While the light rays shining through the trees represents the invitation of warmth and happiness.

    It goes to show that certain people can inspi

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  • Tihomir Sa J

    Intereisting stuff, as an actor I have been working with different poses to get in certain mood/feeling; there is more on that in teachings of Michael Chekhov. But another thing that works quickly for me is to read my CV. Then when I remind myself what great stuff I have done I get pumped to do more.

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