Be it studying, exercise, work, or just mundane day-to-day tasks, certain activities can quickly sap our motivation if they are not inherently enjoyable. Yet it is often the most difficult, unpleasant and boring tasks that make the biggest difference to our lives; diligent research can make a presentation, trading strategy, or sports game, while sloppy preparation will invariably lead to failure. That’s why so many people are seeking nootropics for motivation.
While caffeine has long been the standard supplement for increasing motivation, there are much more effective motivation nootropics available today; substances with more targeted and substantial effects which enhance cognition and raise motivation itself, not just energy. In this article, we’re going to present the very best nootropics for motivation in the world right now. We’ll explain their mechanism of action, effects, and potential side effects. Before that though, let’s look at the neuroscience of motivation.
Neuroscience of Motivation: The Brain, Dopamine & You
Contrary to popular belief, motivation is not something people inherently just “have”, nor is it something governed entirely by your childhood, your experiences, or your character. Of course all of these things influence your motivation levels and your ability to harness that motivation, or to work hard despite your total lack of motivation! But if we’re talking the nuts and bolts of motivation, drive, and determination, then we’re talking neurochemistry.
Like most things related to the mind, if you reduce it down to the most basic parts, motivation is a matter of brain chemistry and neurobiology. More specifically, motivation is largely governed by a single neurotransmitter: dopamine.
Dopamine is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the body. It is a catecholamine, and by far and away the most abundant monoamine neurotransmitter in the human brain (other monoamine neurotransmitters include serotonin and norepinephrine). About 80% of the monoamine neurotransmitter content in the brain is dopamine, so it is clearly a vital neurotransmitter for several cognitive processes.
While most armchair psychologists and laymen consider dopamine a ‘pleasure chemical’, it is not actually thought to be a neurological reward signal by modern neuroscience. Instead, dopamine is thought to create motivational salience; in simple terms, rather than acting as a reward for certain behaviors, dopamine actually propels an individual toward those behaviors. Dopamine is not a reward neurotransmitter; it does not act on the reward pathway or the pleasure pathway. Rather, dopamine is the motivation neurotransmitter within the central nervous system.
In other words, dopamine creates motivation.
Or to think of it another way, dopamine is motivation.
Neurochemistry of dopamine
Much of the brain’s dopamine is made by nerve cells in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). From there, the dopamine is transported to and released in both the nucleus accumbens (an area of the brain associated with motivation, aversion, reward, and repetition learning) and the prefrontal cortex, which is the brain’s center for planning complex cognitive processes. Dopamine is one of the most important brain chemicals in the human body. But it is these functions which are clearly the most prominent and they are the functions we are most interested in when looking at motivation nootropics.
So, the best motivation nootropics will be those substances that most effectively raise dopamine levels in the brain.
What substances raise dopamine levels?
What are the best nootropics for motivation?
Let’s look at our top recommended nootropics for boosting motivation, drive and energy.
The 7 Best Nootropics For Motivation
For this list, we stuck to natural nootropic substances which are primarily involved in motivation, drive, productivity, and mental energy. That means we have ignored the dangerous synthetic nootropics, prescription drugs and powerful stimulants which just increase energy without affecting motivation. We also exclusively chose nootropics that have excellent side effect profiles. At the end of the list, we recommend a nootropic stack which is ideal for boosting motivation and cognitive performance.
Here’s the list of the best motivation nootropics:
- Rhodiola rosea
- Lion’s Mane Mushroom
- Vitamin B6
We’ll now go through these motivation boosting nootropics one-by-one, explaining what they do, how they work, and how you should use them. If you ahve any questions, please post in the comments section at the end of this article and VAGA’s Editor, Brian Johnson, will get right back to you.
Tyrosine is an amino acid, but it is probably the single best supplement for increasing motivation. Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine; Tyrosine is converted to L-DOPA which is in turn used to create dopamine itself. Supplementing with Tyrosine has been shown to quickly increase dopamine synthesis in the brain. More importantly, clinical trials have shown that Tyrosine significantly improves cognitive function in people placed in stressful, demanding conditions (such as sleep deprivation, extreme cold, etc). This makes sense as the Tyrosine is ramping up dopamine production, which keeps you motivated to complete your task despite being tired, cold, etc.
For getting motivated and mental performance quickly, we recommend using N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine; ideally, use a pure, standardized form of N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine. For quick results, 150mg of high quality Tyrosine is ideal. This will not only acutely raise motivation levels, but it will also promote learning, focus, and memory.
Rhodiola rosea is probably one of the most commonly used natural anxiolytics (anxiety-reducing agent) in the biohacking world. Dozens of clinical trials have found that rhodiola rosea can significantly reduce feelings of stress and attenuate the more severe symptoms of anxiety.
Rhodiola rosea has typically been classed as an adaptogen, meaning it improves your ability to deal with stress and anxiety. However, there is some evidence that rhodiola rosea partly works by increasing dopamine availability. Specifically, studies have found that rhodiola rosea supplementation can upregulate dopamine levels in the brainstem, cerebral cortex, and hypothalamus. Some trials have even found that rhodiola rosea may be a slight dopamine receptor agonist.
For increasing motivation, we recommend using about 50mg of Rhodiola rosea per day. Ideally this would be in conjunction with other motivation nootropics like Tyrosine. While Rhodiola rosea does stimulate a dopamine release in the short term (and thus a a short term fix for lack of motivation), it is actually best used as a long-term nootropic for motivation.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s Mane Mushroom is arguably the most interesting nootropic in use today. While the likes of Tyrosine and Rhodiola rosea increase motivation by acutely raising dopamine levels, Lion’s Mane Mushroom works in a completely different, and much more fundamental, way.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom supplementation increases the expression of a neuropeptide called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). NGF regulates the growth, proliferation, differentiation, and maintenance of neurons. By increasing NGF expression in the brain, Lion’s Mane Mushroom directly stimulates the growth of new neurons. This means an increase in dopamine receptor numbers (along with all the other neurotransmitters), which means greater motivation and better cognitive performance all-round.
For healthier neurons and more dopamine receptors (and greater motivation for the long-term), we recommend using about 300-500mg of Lion’s Mane Mushroom per day. This is assuming that you are using a high-quality Lion’s Mane Mushroom extract. Using this much LMM on a daily basis will not only raise motivation, but it will also enhance memory, improve learning, and increase focus for the long term too.
Anecdotally, biohackers have been saying that cordyceps mushrooms are incredible for energy and motivation for a very long time now. However, it is only recently that researchers started publishing hard evidence showing that cordyceps is an extremely effective nootropic for anyone who is suffering from a lack of motivation.
Studies have found that cordyceps has a powerful antidepressant effect on rats. In-depth clinical trials have found that this is not due to cordyceps having an effect on the serotonergic system. Instead, it is thought that cordyceps improves mood by acting on the dopaminergic system (source). In the cited study, researchers found that pre-treatment with a dopamine D2 receptor antagonist reduced the benefits of cordyceps, suggesting that the nootropic acts on dopamine pathways in the brain.
Not only does it seem that cordyceps mushroom is among the most effective nootropics for motivation, but it also looks like cordyceps is effective for increasing energy levels, mood, and several other aspects of health and performance. Preliminary research suggests that cordyceps supports energy production at the cellular level, improves several different neurotransmitter pathways, and stimulates immune system function. However, more human studies are needed before we list cordyceps as one of the best nootropics overall.
Citicoline is – without question – one of the most effective nootropics for boosting brain function across every measure. Citicoline is a cholinergic; this means it delivers choline which is able to easily cross the blood brain barrier (regular dietary choline struggles to cross the blood brain barrier). More choline means more acetylcholine, which means better focus, enhanced learning, more efficient memory formation, faster memory recall, and more.
As well as being an all-round focus and learning enhancer, one of the benefits of citicoline is that it increases dopamine release in the brain. A 2014 study by Wignall et al. showed that citicoline increases dopamine levels in the corpus striatum. They also noted that citicoline supplements seems to increase “Tyrosine levels in the striatum and also stimulates tyrosine hydroxylase activity and dopamine release”. When coupled with the fact that citicoline seems to act on the reward pathway via serotonin, then it’s easy to see why the supplement has such powerful and immediate effects on mental performance.
When using a highly bioavailable form of Citicoline (such as Cognizin), you only need about 150mg per day to see drastic improvements in memory, mood, and motivation. For ramping up dopamine production to increase motivation, shoot for 200mg per day.
Caffeine is not on every list of the best nootropics for motivation because it is often thought that caffeine just increases energy levels. However, when used correctly, caffeine can directly increase dopamine levels and drastically improve mental performance as well as reducing fatigue.
There is no room for debate here; caffeine increases dopamine levels in the brain. However, unlike Tyrosine, caffeine does not increase dopamine production. Rather, caffeine affects your dopamine receptors. Studies have found that caffeine consumption directly increases dopamine receptor availability in the brain; more specifically, caffeine consumption raises the availability of D2/D3 receptor availability in the ventral striatum (source). This would drastically increase motivation by allowing for more activity at dopamine neurons. Interestingly, researchers have suggested that this upregulation of dopamine receptors is partly responsible for the increases in mental performance nootropics users get from caffeine.
Caffeine is one of the best nootropics in the world. There are tremendous benefits to be had from using caffeine to enhance your mental performance: increased alertness, faster decision making, heightened focus, and even some degree of neurogenesis. For maximum benefits and minimal side effects, try to stay under 100mg of caffeine per day. Couple with Tyrosine for fast increases in motivation.
You might be surprised to see B vitamins on the list of the best nootropics for motivation, but you shouldn’t be. B vitamins are absolutely vital nutrients; they are all needed for a wide range of bodily functions, from governing nerve cell function and regulating blood cell formation to processing nutrients in the digestive tract. But certain B vitamins also have a significant effect on motivation to the point that some of them can be said to be highly effective nootropics for motivation.
It has long been known that B6 deficiencies can cause dopamine deficiencies. In a 1989 paper by TR Guilarte titled “Effect of vitamin B-6 nutrition on the levels of dopamine, dopamine metabolites, dopa decarboxylase activity, tyrosine, and GABA in the developing rat corpus striatum”, it was shown that B6 deficiency causes a steady loss of dopamine in the rodent brain. Subsequent studies have shown that the same effect is observed in humans. B6 is intimately involved in dopamine synthesis, so ensuring you have healthy B6 levels through targeted supplementation is a great way to promote dopamine and increase motivation.
Like with all B Vitamins, there is no strict target when it comes to B6 supplementation. Just make sure you are getting enough of this nutrient each day and you’ll never suffer from the lack of motivation that comes from B6 deficiencies.
Best Nootropic Stack For Motivation
The list above covers all of the best nootropics for increasing motivation, drive, and mental determination. Many of them also happen to improve memory, mental clarity, mood, energy levels, and brain health at the level of neurons.
But that is individual substances. For many people, sourcing and stacking these substances properly is far too much trouble and far too expensive. We’d go as far as to say that for 99% of people, a pre-made nootropic stack is the best way to supplement for motivation.
So what is the best nootropic for motivation you can buy right now?
By far and away the best nootropic for motivation on sale right now is Mind Lab Pro. This is easily the most complete brain supplement in the world; not only does Mind Lab Pro rapidly improve focus and learning, but it supports brain health and neuroplasticity over the long term.
On top of that, the Tyrosine, Rhodiola rosea, Lion’s Mane Mushroom and Citicoline content means Mind Lab Pro is an incredibly effective motivation boosting nootropic. Using this nootropic every day will rapidly increase dopamine levels, which will in turn put your motivation levels through the roof. Suitable for everyday, long-term use, Mind Lab Pro is an ideal stack for levating and sustaining dopamine levels (and motivation by extension).
Learn more from our detailed Mind Lab Pro review: https://www.vaga.org/nootropics/mind-lab-pro-review/
Synthetic Motivation Nootropics
What about synthetic nootropics for motivation?
Well, there are lots of man-made pharmaceuticals capable of dramatically increasing motivation. Most of these work by increasing dopamine levels. In some cases, nobody is exactly sure how they work, but they certainly do raise motivation levels.
The main synthetic substances associated with raising motivation are: Sulbutiamine, Noopept, Aniracetam, Modafinil. Of these, Modafinil is the most commonly used synthetic nootropic for motivation. While it is far from certain exactly how Modafinil works, it is thought to dramatically increase dopamine availability in the brain, thereby raising motivation, drive, and mood.
While it may be tempting to use these motivation nootropics, you should know that they do come with serious risks. If you start raising your dopamine levels to unnaturally high levels – using chemicals completely foreign to the body – then you could easily damage your dopamine receptors or permanently diminish your ability to produce sufficient quantities of the neurotransmitter.
That’s why we think the best nootropics for motivation are those that increase dopamine and improve mood without causing any side effects; that way you can feel more motivation for the long-term without worrying about neuron damage or poor mental health!