‘D.R.I.V.E’: How to build and maintain consistent motivation

| Apr 29, 2024


What comes to mind when you hear the word “motivation”? Do you think of a diligent high-performer with a burning focus on the HSC? Someone sitting and waiting, hoping for a burst of inspiration before finally getting started on that history paper? Maybe an ice hockey coach pumping up a team with a half-time pep-talk?

Motivation is really just a reason, or reasons, why we do something. Equally, a lack of motivation is a reason or reasons why we don’t. Using the “D.R.I.V.E.” framework and evidence-based strategies, this article unpacks some of these reasons, showing you how to build and maintain motivation in your life and the lives of those you are looking to help.

D – Dopamine

Found in nearly every animal, the chemical foundation of all motivation is dopamine. Without it, nothing gets done, and positive emotion ceases to exist. An experiment was conducted in which rats’ brains had their dopamine receptors disabled, and it was found that if food was put directly under their nose, they would eat it, but if it was placed even one rat’s body length away from them, they would starve to death before getting up to eat it (Huberman, 2021)!

“we not only need to get adequate sleep, morning sunlight, exercise, and social connection, but we also need to avoid spiking our dopamine which can lead to a crash”

To keep our dopamine levels healthy, we not only need to get adequate sleep, morning sunlight, exercise, and social connection, but we also need to avoid spiking our dopamine which can lead to a crash (which typically involves addictive behaviours such as excessive gaming, social media and sugar consumption, but can also come from stacking too many pleasureful activities together). Dopamine levels can also be raised with cold water therapy and supplements such as L-Tyrosine – just note that some people can have adverse reactions and it is important to speak to a GP first (Huberman, 2023).

R – Reward and recognition

When it comes to rewards and recognition, it is possible to have our cake and eat it too – just not every time. The single most powerful mechanism to compel human beings to maintain a behaviour is an intermittent reward schedule, meaning we reward or acknowledge a behaviour both occasionally and randomly. It is the same reason why poker machine “wins” and social media “likes”, “shares” and “followers” are so effective in creating compulsive users, and it’s the same reason why occasionally giving in to a child’s tantrum is one of the most counter-productive things a parent can do (Whitbourne, 2013).

The reason why this works so well is we are hardwired to hunt and to forage – activities which usually brought us nothing, but also gave us rewards of unpredictable sizes at unpredictable times. However, it’s not just our primitive ancestors, casino barons and tech CEOs who can benefit from this. You can create your own simple intermittent reward mechanism by flipping a coin each time you engage in a difficult yet productive behaviour, patting yourself on the back when it comes up heads, or doing nothing when it comes up tails.

You could get more creative and roll a six-sided die, doing nothing when it comes up 1, 2, or 3, giving yourself a small acknowledgement when it comes up “4”, a small reward when it comes up “5”, and a bigger reward when it comes up “6”.

Just remember if rewards and recognition happen every time, or even on a predictable schedule, this can undermine “intrinsic” motivation (the desire to do something for the sake of doing it). So this is one area of life where you don’t want to be consistent (Froiland & Worrell, 2016; Clark et al., 2014)!

I – Initiative

Regardless of how enjoyable or desirable our goals may or may not be, we all hit a point where motivation is low, or we procrastinate and pour unnecessary anxiety and pressure into the task. Enter the “two-minute” rule. When you find yourself procrastinating, struggling with motivation, or coming up with excuses, simply commit to two minutes. More often than not, motivation comes after we start something, not before. What you will generally find is that after two minutes, you want to keep going, and if not, two minutes is way better than nothing (remember as well the habit is more important than the target) (Clear, 2018).

V – Visualisation

Research suggests visualising the accomplishment of a goal does help with motivation, but there’s a catch – it only works if motivation is already at a moderate-to-high level. If motivation is very low, this doesn’t seem to provide the activation energy needed to get started. However, as humans are far more motivated by the avoidance of pain than the pursuit of pleasure, what does work is to actually visualise what failure would look and feel like (Huberman, 2023a). The emotional discomfort caused by this can provide the activation energy needed. Just remember to use it sparingly, lest you find yourself relying on negative emotional states to get things done!

E – Environment

Finally, one of the best things you can do is to drop the reliance on “motivation” altogether. Do this by creating an environment that makes healthy and positive habits easy to create and maintain by either removing the friction between the desired habits, or increasing the friction between the undesired ones. For example, if you want to get your studying done before playing video games, simply removing the batteries from the controller or turning the console off at the wall can provide the extra bit of friction needed to second-guess the undesired habitual behaviour. Alternatively, setting up an environment to make positive habits easier, such as keeping exercise clothing next to the bed rather than in the wardrobe, can make the creation of a morning exercise habit much easier (Clear, 2018; Wood, 2019).




  1. Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. Avery Pub Group.
  2. Clark, M.H., Middleton, S.C., Nguyen, D. & Zwick, L.K. (2014). Mediating relationships between academic motivation, academic integration and academic performance. Learning and individual differences, 33, 30-38.
  3. Froiland, J.M. & Worrell, F.C. (2016). Intrinsic motivation, learning goals, engagement and achievement in a diverse high school. Psychology in the Schools53(3), 321-336.
  4. Huberman, A. (2021). “How to increase motivation and drive”. Huberman Labs Podcast. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA50EK70whE
  5. Huberman, A. (2023). “Leverage dopamine to overcome procrastination and optimise effort”. Huberman Labs Podcast. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-TW2Chpz4k
  6. Huberman, A. (2023a). “Goals toolkit: How to set and achieve your goals”. Huberman Labs Podcast. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrtR12PBKb0
  7. Whitbourne, S.K. (2013). Give your motivation a makeover with a little psychology. Psychology Today. 1st October. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201310/give-your-motivation-makeover-little-psychology
  8. Wood, W. (2019). Good habits, bad habits: The science of making positive changes that stick. Macmillan USA.