Part 03: Autonomy

Psychologists from Columbia University published a study in Trends in Cognitive Science (October 2010), showing that when people believe they’re in control of their lives, they work harder and push themselves more.  They earn more money and live longer.

In the research, the psychologists looked at the striatum of the brain, which serves as a way point between our pre-frontal cortex (where we make decisions) and the primitive basal-ganglia (where movement and emotions emerge).  When the striatum is sluggish, decisions that we make with our pre-frontal cortex can’t connect with the action and emotional oriented basal-ganglia.

This means that while we can think about how something is correct, rational, or a desirable thing to do, we don’t feel driven to actually follow through on it.

Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that the more engaged with, and in control of, your actions and surroundings the more you experience the drive of self-motivation.  The less decision making we do in our lives, the less motivated we become to do anything.

Motivation is a feeling and like all other feelings it may come and go, but taking control and becoming autonomous is a skill in self-direction.  Developing this skill will require practice, but doing so can help us become focused and determined even when we have lost our motivation to accomplish our goals.

The process of taking control can start out as small decisions we make about our daily activities, such as the chores we do or errands we want to run.