Hacking Motivation with Nootropics

David Tomen
David Tomen
12 minute read


Are you stuck in a career that doesn’t inspire you? Or a relationship that doesn’t excite you? Or a lifestyle that doesn’t fulfill you?

Of the many excuses and issues for this complacency, one problem that surfaces the most is lack of motivation.

To make matters even worse – lack of motivation to change things that could make your life better often end up making you feel guilty and depressed.

And if left unchecked, a slow but steady spiral into long-term guilt, poor self-esteem and ongoing depression.

So what can you do to boost motivation? And where does that energy come from? That’s what we’re going to explore in this post.

We each have a limited amount of time on this planet. And no matter what stage you are in life. Realize this body will not live forever. It’s time to take back control. And learn how to change up the things you can change to create the life that you want to live.

This is where nootropics may be able to step in to boost brain function. And providing the fuel you need to steer you on a new path toward the things you want to achieve.

The Neuroscience of Motivation

Dopamine and Motivation

Researchers have long known that the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in pleasure and reward. More dopamine in your brain results in feelings of greater pleasure. And the presence of dopamine in your brain push you to seek this ‘reward’ of pleasure.

But researchers have recently discovered that dopamine also regulates motivation.

Dopamine provides the initiative and perseverance
needed to go after what is important to you.

In 2012, a team at Universitat Jaume I of Castellón changed the thinking and prevailing theory on dopamine. Mercè Correa said, “It was believed that dopamine regulated pleasure and reward and that we release it when we obtain something that satisfies us.

But in fact, the latest scientific evidence shows that this neurotransmitter acts before that. It actually encourages us to act. In other words, dopamine is released in order to achieve something good or to avoid something evil.”[i]supplements-for-motivation-and-energy

Dopamine levels vary by individual. Some people are more persistent than others when going after goals. Which you’ve likely noticed in the people around you when it comes to athletics, school and work.

Those with higher dopamine levels get more done.

Dopamine helps you to maintain the level of activity needed for what you intend. Whether it’s positive or negative. Depending on what you’re after. The goal to be a good student, or to abuse drugs.

High levels of dopamine could also explain the behavior of sensation-seekers because they are motivated to act. You see this in extreme sports. Or wildly successful musical performances.

Correa went on to say, “Depressed people do not feel like doing anything and that’s because of low dopamine levels”.

This lack of energy and motivation is also related to several debilitating health problems. Often associated with mental fatigue. Diseases like Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.


Slacker or Go-Getter

Another study by a team at Vanderbilt University used a PET scan to map the brains of go-getters and slackers. And they found that those willing to work for rewards had higher levels of dopamine in the two areas of the brain known to be involved in motivation and reward (striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex).

On the other hand, slackers had higher dopamine levels in an area of the brain called the anterior insula. This area is involved in emotion and risk perception.

This last observation came as a complete surprise to researchers. Because more dopamine in the insula is associated with a reduced desire to work. Even if it means earning less money.[ii]

Glutamate AMPA-Receptors and Motivation

nootropic-stack-like-adderallTurns out that dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter involved in motivation. In 2014, researchers discovered that glutamate neurons in a specific region of your brain (dorsal raphe nucleus) activate dopamine neurons in the dopamine-reward pathway.

Glutamate receptors are associated with neural communication, memory formation and learning. When glutamate AMPA-receptors in this area of the brain (dorsal raphe nucleus) are stimulated. It ends up activating the dopamine reward system.[iii]

The researchers followed this pathway all the way through using special tracers and labeling compounds.

The reward (or motivation) pathway starts with stimulation of glutamate AMPA-receptors that connect to dopamine neurons. Which in turn follows the pathway to the nucleus accumbens. The brain structure linked to motivation, pleasure and reward.

The Motivation Missing Link in Nootropics

Common wisdom in nootropic circles (so far) advise us to boost dopamine to hack motivation. It is true that as dopamine levels rise in the nucleus accumbens (reward pathway), motivation, pleasure and reward are all affected.

But this same common wisdom would have you believe that if you boost overall dopamine levels in your brain, you’ll increase motivation. And it’s just not true.

In fact, if you increase dopamine levels too much, excess dopamine converts to norepinephrine. You get irritable and can’t sleep.

The missing link in this dopamine → reward → motivation pathway are glutamate AMPA-receptors.

Rather than boosting overall dopamine levels and hoping for the best . We need to encourage stimulation of glutamate AMPA-receptors to in turn, fire up dopamine neurons. And send dopamine on its way to the nucleus accumbens.


Best Nootropics for Motivation

We know that dopamine is critical to motivation. In the lab, researchers have demonstrated that without enough dopamine, rats starve themselves to death. Despite having access to food.[iv]

But in our world it’s doubtful that you have problems with motivation to eat. Or drag yourself out of bed in the morning. So basic dopamine levels are likely not an issue.

But what about changing course in an unfulfilling career? Or getting started on that book you want to write? Or plowing through boring and tedious work that’s just part of the job?

To successfully tweak and boost motivation, you need to address the efficiency of the dopamine – motivation pathway. And this is where many of the racetam nootropics come to the rescue.

Here’s a brief list of the most potent nootropics that we’ve discovered so far that will boost motivation. First on this list is ensuring we have enough dopamine available because it’s an integral part of the dopamine – motivation system.  The rest of this list of nootropics are supplements that can influence your glutamate AMPA-receptors. And modulate the effectiveness of the main neurotransmitters that affect the motivation pathway in your brain.

  • Iodine – This essential trace element combines with tyrosine to form thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Thyroid hormones affect every cell in your brain and body. Within your brain, T4 is converted to T3 by selenium which then affects gene expression controlling metabolism within cells. And activates dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine.[vi]
      It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see Iodine on any nootropic list to boost motivation. But a malfunctioning thyroid which is often caused by not enough iodine results in poor cognition, difficulty learning, problems with recall, depression, anxiety and certainly a lack of motivation.
  • Nefiracetam – This fat-soluble racetam nootropic is structurally similar to Aniracetam. Nefiracetam increases the amount of time calcium channels in neurons remain open. Enhancing signaling in the pathway critical for long-term potentiation and forming long-term memories.Nefiracetam also potentiates protein kinase C alpha (PKCα) which is involved in long-term potentiation (LTP).[vii] PKCα is dependent on glutamate signaling. And Nefiracetam activates Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) which is critical in memory formation.[viii] Again dependent on glutamate signaling. Remember, glutamate signaling fires dopamine neurons which leads to a boost in motivation.
  • Noopept – This peptide-derived nootropic related to the racetam-family, Noopept increases BDNF, stimulates dopamine, nicotinic and serotonin receptors.[ix] Boosting energy, cognition, memory, logical thinking, mood and motivation.Noopept also boosts Alpha and Beta brain wave You become calmer and more creative. It’s easier to go into a flow state. And you are prone to making innovative and resourceful decisions.
  • Oxiracetam – This water-soluble ampakine nootropic in the racetam-class of compounds modulates AMPA receptors.[x] Oxiracetam increases acetylcholine And boosts ATP synthesis in brain cells.Oxiracetam significantly improves cognition, memory, sensory perception, reflexes and motivation.
  • Phenylpiracetam – This water-soluble nootropic in the racetam-class of compounds is known for its stimulatory effects. It increases the density of acetylcholine (ACh), NMDA, GABA and dopamine receptors in the brain.[xi] More receptors mean more binding sites for neurotransmitters that affect memory formation, cognition, sleep, mood and motivation.Similar to Noopept, Phenylpiracetam has been shown in clinical studies to affect Alpha and Beta brain waves. And like Ritalin or Adderall, this nootropic increases the effectiveness of dopamine in your brain. Increasing alertness, decision-making capability, cognition and motivation.
  • Piracetam – The first racetam ever developed, this nootropic modulates AMPA and NMDA receptors.[xii] And boosts the flow of acetylcholine (ACh), sensitivity and density of ACh receptors in your brain.Piracetam also boosts cerebral blood flow. Delivering more oxygen and nutrients to neurons. Improving neural signaling, cognition, memory, focus and motivation.
  • Pramiracetam – A derivative of and more potent than Piracetam, Pramiracetam stimulates choline uptake in your brain. And has a profound effect on the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh).[xiii] Boosting energy levels, providing focused stimulation for your brain energy for better mental drive and motivation.
  • Resveratrol – Resveratrol is a polyphenol that some plants produce in response to stress, such as injury or fungal infection. Recent research shows this polyphenol works like an ampakine nootropic in the brain.Resveratrol is an inhibitor of enzyme PDE4 (Phosphodiesterase-4).[xiv] Studies demonstrate that when you inhibit PDE4, you raise levels of cAMP in the brain. cAMP-dependent pathways in the brain activate AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase).

    Inhibiting PDE4 and boosting cAMP also makes the effect of normal dopamine production more effective. Boosting processes in this stream of chemical pathways in the brain increases learning, memory and motivation.

  • Rhodiola Rosea – In Russia, Rhodiola Rosea is widely used as a remedy for fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased memory. It’s also believed to make workers more productive. Research shows Rhodiola can increase attention to detail-oriented tasks by improving concentration over a prolonged period. The ideal study nootropic.Rhodiola Rosea stimulates your nervous system to fight fatigue that stifles mental clarity. And studies show it even saves injured neurons. And encourages the growth and development of brain cells (neurogenesis).[xv]

    Any kind of fatigue you experience – regardless of source – Rhodiola Rosea is like your “magic bullet”. Mood, energy, stamina, concentration and motivation can all increase with a dose of this herb.

  • Sulbutiamine – Synthesized in the lab from Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Sulbutiamine is another favorite of mine because it boosts memory, motivation and is a heck of an antidepressant.Thiamine is essential for producing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh).[xvi] ACh is used to relay messages between neurons in your brain. And is critical for cognition, learning, memory and motivation.

Final Notes on Motivation

If you’ve ever felt mentally drained after writing an exam, an intense study session, a misunderstanding with your partner, or working out a business problem – select 2 – 3 nootropics from the list above for your nootropic stack.

Or save some time and money and get a bottle of Mind Lab Pro® which contains an effective dose of N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine to raise dopamine levels in your brain. As well as Rhodiola Rosea which is widely used as a remedy for a lack of motivation, fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased memory.

And if a lack of energy is holding you back, try a bottle of Performance Lab® Energy which helps your brain produce the fuel it needs for better motivation.

Energy and motivation go hand-in-hand.

When I’m energized, it usually translates into motivation to get things done. When energy stores are depleted in my brain and body, I’m burned out and nothing much is going to happen.

Mental fatigue has a variety of causes. Depleted neurotransmitters can cause fatigue as well as a host of other issues. A lack of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which is the energy source for brain cells is another cause of mental fatigue. And leads to neurodegenerative disease.

Hormones that are out of balance can cause fatigue. And poor cerebral circulation which provides oxygen and nutrients to brain cells can result in fatigue.

The amount of available mental energy in your brain has a direct influence on your cognitive performance.

So now that you know how the motivation pathway works in your brain. Add two or three of the natural nootropics suggested in this post. Or just get some Mind Lab Pro® and Performance Lab® Energy. And instead of feeling guilty for being a slacker, join the go-getters who improve cognitive function and are living life to the fullest.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may also contain other affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

[i] Correa M., Salamone J.D. “THE MYSTERIOUS MOTIVATIONAL FUNCTIONS OF MESOLIMBIC DOPAMINE” Neuron 2012 Nov 8; 76(3): 470–485. (source)

[ii] Treadway T.T. et. Al. “Dopaminergic Mechanisms of Individual Differences in Human Effort-Based Decision-Making” The Journal of Neuroscience, 2 May 2012, 32(18):6170-6176 (source)

[iii] Qi J., Zhang S., Wang H.L., Wang H., de Jesus Aceves Buendia J., Hoffman A.F., Lupica C.R., Seal R.P., Morales M. “A glutamatergic reward input from the dorsal raphe to ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons.” Nature Communications. 2014 Nov 12;5:5390. (source)

[iv] Berridge K.C., Robinson T.E. “What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience?” Brain Research; Brain Research Reviews. 1998 Dec;28(3):309-69. (source)

[v] Testa B., Mayer J.M. (1 August 2003). Hydrolysis in Drug and Prodrug Metabolism. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 109–. ISBN 978-3-906390-25-3. (source)

[vi] Peterson A.L., Gilman T.L., Banks M.L., Sprague J.E. “Hypothyroidism alters striatal dopamine release mediated by 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy).” Synapse. 2006 Apr;59(5):317-9. (source)

[vii] Malenka R.C., Kauer J.A., Perkel D.J., Nicoll R.A. “The impact of postsynaptic calcium on synaptic transmission — its role in long-term potentiation” Trends in Neurosciences Volume 12, Issue 11, p444–450, 1989 (source)

[viii] Moriguchi S., Han F., Shioda N., Yamamoto Y., Nakajima T., Nakagawasai O., Tadano T., Yeh JZ, Narahashi T., Fukunaga K. “Nefiracetam activation of CaM kinase II and protein kinase C mediated by NMDA and metabotropic glutamate receptors in olfactory bulbectomized mice.” Journal of Neurochemistry. 2009 Jul;110(1):170-81 (source)

[ix] Ostrovskaya R.U., Gudasheva T.A., Zaplina A.P., Vahitova J.V., Salimgareeva M.H., Jamidanov R.S., Seredenin S.B. “Noopept stimulates the expression of NGF and BDNF in rat hippocampus.”Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine. 2008 Sep;146(3):334-7. (source)

[x] Copani A., Genazzani A.A., Aleppo G., Casabona G., Canonico P.L., Scapagnini U., Nicoletti F. “Nootropic drugs positively modulate alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid-sensitive glutamate receptors in neuronal cultures.” Journal of Neurochemistry. 1992 Apr;58(4):1199-204. (source)

[xi] Firstova Y.Y., Abaimov D.A., Kapitsa I.G., Voronina T.A., Kovalev G.I. “The effects of scopolamine and the nootropic drug phenotropil on rat brain neurotransmitter receptors during testing of the conditioned passive avoidance task” Neurochemical Journal June 2011, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 115-125 (source)

[xii] Stoll L., Schubert T., Müller W.E. “Age-related deficits of central muscarinic cholinergic receptor function in the mouse: partial restoration by chronic piracetam treatment.” Neurobiology of Aging. 1992 Jan-Feb;13(1):39-44. (source)

[xiii] Brust P. “Reversal of scopolamine-induced alterations of choline transport across the blood-brain barrier by the nootropics piracetam and pramiracetam.” Arzneimittelforschung. 1989 Oct;39(10):1220-2. (source)

[xiv] Li Y.F., Cheng Y.F., Huang Y., Conti M., Wilson S.P., O’Donnell J.M., Zhang H.T. “Phosphodiesterase-4D knock-out and RNA interference-mediated knock-down enhance memory and increase hippocampal neurogenesis via increased cAMP signaling.” Journal of Neuroscience. 2011 Jan 5;31(1):172-83 (source)

[xv] Panossian A., Wikman G., Sarris J. “Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy.” Phytomedicine. 2010 Jun;17(7):481-93. (source)

[xvi] Martin P.R., Singleton C.K., Hiller-Sturmhofel S. “The Role of Thiamine Deficiency in Alcoholic Brain Disease” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Retrieved April 7, 2016 (source)

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Join The Discussion - 128 comments

November 17, 2022

Both recommendations are for products from the same company; is your site sponsored, or are you being compensated in any way? Other than that, I found your article quite informative.

    David Tomen
    November 19, 2022

    Jess, I am an affiliate of both Mind Lab Pro and Performance Lab. They pay me a commission whenever someone uses one of my links to purchase from them. I have an affiliate disclosure on every page and post of this site as well as my YouTube channel. It’s the way I support my family and you get access to tons of free information.

Dave Lennon
August 3, 2022

Hi David, I come to bring you feedback on my progress in studies with your blog, I’m doing well with lions mane, cdp coline and the other ingredients like minndlabpro.

but I feel that my entrepreneurial type motivation hasn’t changed much.

Would it be safe to change my stack to:
racetam(which one is better)
rhodiola rosea?

would only these 3 be interesting to start with?
I still have pine bark stock too.

and which vitamin B would be good to keep?

Strong hug!

    David Tomen
    August 4, 2022

    Dave, my favorite racetam is Aniracetam which I’ve been using for nearly a decade twice per day. You any find another racetam works better for you so you may want to experiment depending on availability.

    L-Tyrosine and Citicoline needs to be used twice per day to get the full benefit. Rhodiola Rosea once or twice per day. And depending on your age you may need a bioactive B-Complex AND a high quality bioactive Multi. Pine Bark Extract 2 or 3-times per day should help as well.

    if that is still not enough I suggest you find out what your total and free testosterone levels are as well as Free T4, Free T3 and reverse T3 thyroid hormones. You can have the best nootropic stack on the planet tailored specifically for you. But if your hormone are off you will not get its full benefit.

    And it will definitely affect motivation. I know this from personal experience

      Dave Lennon
      August 5, 2022

      At 30 years old
      I do psychotherapy because I have mild depression (very mild)
      I’ve never been much of a laugher, but I love to laugh.
      I love adventure and I like organization and being in control

      Two years ago I found myself in a profession of love. Marketing and Advertising, I create websites and create online campaigns (facebook, instagram and Google)

      Since I study every day for at least 2 hours and work for 8 hours, I spend 10 hours sitting at the computer every day from Sunday to Sunday. I have felt without thirst for studies and motivation. and I have big projects to do, I know I need to rest because I’m not a machine, but I would like to finish a big project by the end of the year.

      since I started with the nootropics that I read here on the blog I have improved a lot, and now I think I need to change the strategy a little.

      based on this can you help if I’m building a good stack?

      I would like to buy a consultancy but my country’s currency is ridiculous, 1 dollar can become 6 Brazilian reais… it’s hard to keep the nootropics lion’s mane and citicoline, because they don’t have them here in Brazil and I have to import, but to me is priority.

      All the best for u.

        David Tomen
        August 9, 2022

        Dave, this article I wrote on nootropics for studying may help you because there are some parallels with what you describe:

        Dave Lennon
        August 9, 2022

        if i am sensitive to caffeine can i substitute something? I have mild gastritis and anxiety when I take caffeine

        David Tomen
        August 10, 2022

        Dave, you can try Theobromine or Paraxanthine and see if either provides as much benefit as caffeine.

July 25, 2022

sir, all nootropics are either reducing fat or cholesterol. I’m deficient of both. what nootropic is to be used for motivation without reducing fat or cholesterol

    David Tomen
    July 26, 2022

    Sri, no sure where you get your information from but I have reviewed 102 individual nootropic supplements ( and the majority of them do not touch fat or cholesterol.

    Any supplement which activates AMPA receptors will in turn activate the dopamine/reward/motivation pathway.

      August 4, 2022

      Sir, please mention nootropics that don’t affect fat or cholesterol but increase motivation.

        David Tomen
        August 4, 2022

        Sri see my response to you above. I provide a list of supplements to boost motivation in the above article.

July 20, 2022

i am new to nootropics, i have mild adult adhd,i am52 years old, good health, i was reviewing all your articles about what supplements to stack with mucuna pruriens
i put this together on all your articles
what do you think? anything need to add or take away?
mucuna pruiens(standarized 15%) 800mg seed extract+120mg l-dopa
l-tyrosine(500mg) x2
rhodiola rosea(100mg) x2
NAC 500mg(x3)
acetyl l-carnitine(500mg x3)

    David Tomen
    July 20, 2022

    David, you also need CDP-Choline 300 mg twice per day, Vitamin D3 4,000 IU per day, magnesium chelate 400 mg before bed, a high quality bioactive multivitamin like the one I use:, and 1000 mg per day of DHA (Omega-3).

July 1, 2022

Hi David,
I cycle different nootropics but for very few rare ocassions, I do have modafinil which makes me feel very creative, happier and “entrepreneurial” i.e. I get this desire to do something or achieve something.

I am looking for this last part of the effect that I am calling entreprenuer effect. What do you think is causing that? I am looking for a “non-smart drug” category that can give me the same effect.

Interestingly, sometimes high dose of coffee – like 20oz of drip coffee can make me feel the same but it’s not consistent and always ends up in crash. Modafinil’s effect is consistent. So, i need an alternative for that.

vyshak kv
June 27, 2022

Hi sir,

I have been reading so many articles on how to increase Dopamine receptors for motivation. And i couldnt find Uridine mentioned, which leads me to the same question. So did i read wrong or do Uridine increases receptors for motiavation ?

    David Tomen
    June 27, 2022

    Uridine boosts the ‘release’ of dopamine from receptors. And it increases dendrite growth. But it does NOT increase dopamine receptors.

June 24, 2022

Hi David!

What do you think about this study:

Is this EXACTLY what we want for motivation? I don’t know if beta alanine has anything to do with AMPA receptors

    David Tomen
    June 24, 2022

    Sandra, the study says Beta-alanine modulates dopamine output in the nucleus accumbens. It doesn’t say anything about increases motivation. Or did I miss something?

Jebakumar Asirvatham
June 8, 2022

Hi David, I have a question that is completely opposite of this discussion. Since I do not know where to go , I am asking you this. This is regarding my family member. BTW, I have purchased few supplements based on your articles in the past. My family member has a psychiatric disorder that he has been put on dopamine blockers, as is the current practice of the doctors. He has been taking the blockers for the past 4 years. Lack of motivation is HUGE that can not be explained. What can we do to increase his motivation?
Are they blocking too much dopamine. We can’t simply increase his dopamine level as it might push him into psychosis. Please let me know as the regular doctors are not even addressing these type of questions.

    David Tomen
    June 14, 2022

    There is no cure for motivation without increasing dopamine levels and activating AMPK receptors. But if you activate AMPK receptors but are dopamine deficient you will not be the benefit of increased motivation.

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