The Motivator Molecule

The Motivator Molecule

Boosting Dopamine in Constructive Ways

We hear this all the time – “Nowadays it seems that children are only interested in their video games, smart phones, and tablets.” We get it! Parents are frustrated with their children’s lack of motivation for and attention to other activities that they are at a loss as to what to do. Therefore, parents often respond by taking devices away and punishing their children. And although this seems like the right approach, did you know it can reduce motivation even more? The exact opposite of what we want! To truly change children’s behaviors, it’s important to understand how to boost dopamine (the “motivator molecule”) in natural and more positive ways so that children will be propelled into more constructive actions.  

When dopamine levels are low, symptoms such as difficulty focusing, and decreased motivation can result, so simply removing devices is not helpful. Dopamine is often referred to as the “motivator molecule” because it causes us to seek out things that produce good feelings. Devices and apps give children an influx of this, so they continue their screen time to keep the boost going. The neural circuitry targeted by various apps is the same as casinos have been using for years with slot machines. “PULL THE LEVER!” The anticipation of a reward is what keeps us coming back for more and more. The remarkable factor about dopamine, however, is that it can help modify behavior in a POSITIVE way as well.  The good feelings that dopamine produces creates motivation, so we can also learn and retain information better. 

When given the proper channels, dopamine levels can be boosted, and children can benefit from an increase in more positive goal-directed behaviors. To help enhance dopamine levels naturally, parents can do tried and true things like make sure children get adequate sleep and avoid processed foods, sugar, and caffeine. In addition, making sure that children get daily physical exercise is essential. The key to this, however, is to make sure children find activities that are ENJOYABLE to them. By immersing children in an environment that generates a flood of dopamine in more productive ways, children will form more constructive habits, and learning will be supported. 

At Legacy Martial Arts, we develop our lessons with the brain in mind. We disguise positive life skills like focus, respect and hard work with FUN. By implementing techniques in class that trigger students’ dopamine systems, the “dopamine-seeking reward loop” initiates. This generates neural pathways that open students’ motivation to learn and helps them retain knowledge. With our game-based learning approach along with applying teaching skills that support intrinsic motivation, we keep students engaged and having fun. In addition, students are given belt clips and ready-to-test stripes so the anticipation throughout the cycle keeps them extrinsically motivated as well. Parents are then able to implement these same type of systems at home to reinforce these behaviors even more.

An essential element to increasing children’s dopamine levels naturally is knowledge. When parents and other adults in a child’s life are familiar with the reward pathways of the brain, they can ensure that children get dopamine boosts in the best way possible. By reinforcing the relationship between wanted behaviors and a “feel-good” reward, parents can be confident that children will be more focused, listen better, and be motivated to do their best. Need more ideas on how to get that motivator molecule going? Message us for more tips or to try out classes to see it in action!

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