Blame it on dopamine
Sticking to new plans can be hard largely because of dopamine – a chemical messenger in the brain that, among other things, is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward1. Habits that feel good, such as eating sugary food or super-loaded burgers, smoking, or checking your social media account, release dopamine in the brain.
The problem is dopamine feels so nice that it can set off a craving for more. This can make you go back for second helpings or spend hours scrolling your phone.
But you can also use dopamine for good – and that’s where tech tools come in. These tools can help you monitor your progress, trigger the brain’s reward centres, and use dopamine to motivate you and help you stick to your goals.
Get moving with wearables
Wearable tech, such as a fitness tracker or smartwatch, can motivate you to make better health choices.
Wearables work by using motion sensors to monitor your daily activities in real time. As well as clocking the number of steps you’ve taken or kilometres you’ve run, wearables can also monitor health data such as your blood pressure, heart rate and sleep patterns.
It’s no surprise that wearables are popular. They’re comfortable and light to wear and intuitive to use. You can program them to remind you to exercise, have a break from your computer or take your medication.
But possibly the biggest factor behind wearable’s popularity is that they stimulate reward centres in the brain. So if you hit your daily goal for steps taken or kilometres run, or you see an improvement in your fitness indicators, you get a feeling of accomplishment – which helps motivate you to keep going.
Some studies have suggested that fitness wearables can help improve your results. For example, a review of weight-loss exercise programs published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that participants who used a fitness tracker lost an average of 6 pounds (2.72 kilos) more than those who didn’t2.
Tech and meditation
The benefits of meditation are well documented. It can help you reduce stress and anxiety levels, increase focus and self-awareness, feel more positive about life, improve sleep and even control pain3. However, many people find meditation hard to stick to and stop doing it regularly.
Tech devices may be able to help increase motivation and make meditation more rewarding. For example, a 2018 study by researchers in Milan compared the meditation outcome of two groups – one that wore devices that measured their brain activity while meditating, and one that didn’t. The study found that those using the wearable device showed better signs of relaxation, attention and focus4.