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. The best-rated cognitive enhancers can significantly increase motivation while also supporting cognitive function, brain health, and energy levels.
In this article, we’re going to present the very best nootropics for motivation, mental energy and drive 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 16 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
- Cordyceps Mushroom
- Vitamin B6
- Mucuna pruriens
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 have any questions, please post in the comments section at the end of this article and the VAGA 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, and at least one trial has found that Rhodiola rosea increases the production and proliferation of dopamine-producing cells.
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.
Modafinil needs to be on any list of motivation boosting nootropics. It is perhaps the single most effective nootropic compound for raising motivation and drive, as well as for reducing fatigue and preventing the onset of sleep without causing side effects. Modafinil’s effectiveness and safety profile have made it one of the most widely-used nootropics on the market today, and with very good reason.
Exactly how Modafinil works is not something everybody agrees upon. Clearly it is a potent eugeroic (meaning it promotes wakefulness and alertness), but it also seems to have a dramatic effect on dopamine levels; we know this from Modafinil’s immediate effects on motivation, drive and mood. The best evidence suggests that Modafinil acts as an atypical, selective, and weak dopamine reuptake inhibitor. It also indirectly activates the release of orexin neuropeptides and histamine from the lateral hypothalamus and tuberomammillary nucleus, all of which contributes to heightened alertness.
Modafinil is not a natural nootropic. It is a potent pharmaceutical and is usually a prescription-only medication for the treatment of sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and shift work sleep disorder. It is easily the most powerful nootropic for motivation you can use.
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 . 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.
Nicotine is an extremely powerful stimulant, and it is also a great nootropic for motivating you and keeping you motivated for hours on end. Nicotine is a potent dopaminergic nootropic. This mechanism is exactly why nicotine is so addictive; it rapidly increases dopamine receptor activity, producing a feeling of relaxation, motivation and mild euphoria, thus driving you to seek another hit.
Of course you don’t want to become addicted to nicotine, but when used correctly, it is a phenomenal and extremely safe nootropic capable of enhancing several facets of cognition, including motivation and energy levels. If you’re interested in using nicotine to boost dopamine and increase motivation levels, we highly recommend looking into using nicotine gum or patches rather than vapes or traditional tobacco products since these have enormously harmful effects on health.
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 . 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.
Noopept is one of the most popular synthetic nootropics. It is regularly used to reduce social anxiety, promote overall brain health over the long-term, and to enhance executive cognitive functions like focus and concentration. These are broad benefits, and Noopept is genuinely capable of delivering them. Noopept works by raising BDNF levels in the brain, which stimulates the growth and development of neurons, hence why the Piracetam derivative can deliver such broad nootropic benefits.
One Noopept benefit often overlooked is its ability to boost motivation levels. Studies show that taking Noopept improves mood, increases mental clarity, and raises motivation levels. This effect may be an indirect consequence of having lower anxiety levels and better cognitive function. There is also some evidence to suggest that Noopept may increase dopamine levels, at least in the context of low dopamine levels caused by illness.
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.
Mucuna Pruriens, a tropical legume, goes by many names including velvet bean and cowhage. The beans and pods of mucuna pruriens contain l-dopa. This is a precursor to dopamine.
Studies show quite clearly that Mucuna pruriens supplements can be used to improve mood, memory, brain health, anti-aging, libido, and overall mood by significantly increasing dopamine concentrations in the brain.
There is evidence to suggest that Mucuna pruriens may be used to treat Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by low levels of dopamine. At present, large doses of L-DOPA are being tested as treatments of early stage Parkinson’s Disease. If succesful, researchers will then look at the efficacy of Mucuna pruriens as a natural dopamine supplement to prevent the disease progressing quickly.
One study found that this herb works even better than the levodopa medication for Parkinson’s, but much more work is needed before such treatments are rolled out. Parkinson’s patients should not self-medicate using Mucuna Pruriens, as it interacts with other medications. Talk to your doctor if you have Parkinson’s disease and would like to try it.
Kava ( piper methysticum ) is a traditional South Pacific ceremonial drink that is non-alcoholic. People who use Kava on a regular basis typically find that it makes them feel relaxed and even euphoric.
Kava has been reported to have a number of benefits, including an increase in happiness, overall well-being, sleep quality, and stress reduction. It is as effective as prescribed anti-anxiety medication, mainly because it increases levels of the relaxing brain chemical GABA.
Kava also increases dopamine, which is thought to be responsible for the sensations of euphoria people experience when taking the drug. In fact, one dose of kava can significantly increase brain dopamine levels for up to 8 hours. This results in a sustained boost to motivation levels.
Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant with proven beneficial effects on long-term brain health and cognitive function. More specifically, resveratrol is a type of polyphenol that plants make in response to stress such as injury or fungal infections.
When ocnsumed by humans, Resveratrol is an inhibitor of the enzyme PDE4 (Phosphodiesterase-4), which raises cAMP levels in the brain. AMPK (AMPK) is activated through the cAMP dependent pathway. Increasing cAMP and inhibiting PDE4 directly leads to increased dopamine production in the brain (via the normal pathways). This boost in the flow of neurochemicals can improve memory, learning, motivation, drive, evergy and concentration.
Creatine is most commonly thought of as a pre-workout or sports supplement, but creatine is also an extremely powerful nootropic when used in the right way. Creatine works by increasing the rate of ATP turnover in your cells. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the ‘energy currency’ of your cells; you release energy from nutrients by turning ATP into ADP and back again. By making this conversion more efficient, creatine effectively allows you to release more energy from your cells, including your brain cells. This is why supplementing with creatine is known to increase energy, concentration and drive while supporting sustained mental stamina.
Theacrine appears to positively influence cognitive perceptions of energy, focus, and motivation. People who take theacrine overhwelmingly report feeling more driven and motivated to complete cognitively demanding tasks. People also find it helps support motivation levels in the gym while preventing mental fatigue.
Theacrine has been shown to increase dopamine levels, suppress adenosine (which causes tiredness), and to stimulate the CNS. This makes it a very similar nootropic to caffeine and a great supplement for motivation.
Theacrine is a stimulant as well as a probable dopaminergic nootropic. We recommend avoiding taking theacrine and caffeine together in appreciable doses as this will make side effects much more likely. We also reocmmend stacking theacrine with L-Theanine to help mitigate potential side effects while making the lift in motivation much more pronounced.
Theanine is an amino acid and, like L-Tyrosine, it directly affects dopaminergic pathways in the brain. Multiple studies show that Theanine consumption causes a measurable increase in brain dopamine levels. Theanine has other effects which compliment this dopaminergic action quite nicely. For example, theanine has been shown to increase Alpha Brain Waves, which are associated with calm, clear minded focus and positive mood. By delivering a combined calming and motivation-boosting effect, L-Theanine delivers total productivity support. This is a great nootropic to have in any motivation-boosting stack.
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 stack for motivation you can buy right now?
Top Nootropic Stack For Motivation: Vyvamind
Vyvamind is the single best nootropic stack for motivation on the market today. This broad-spectrum study aid was initially developed by SAP Nutra as an over the counter alternative to ADHD medications such as Vyvanse and Adderall. This has led many to refer to Vyvamind as “natural Vyvanse”. While it of course doesn’t pack the same punch as the amphetamine cocktail, Vyvamind is an extremely effective nootropic and a great dopaminergic nootropic for raising motivation.
The key benefits of taking Vyvamind are:
- Increased motivation and drive
- More mental energy
- Reduced fatigue and vastly greater mental stamina
- Sustained focus and concentration
- Faster processing speeds and reaction times
- Enhanced working memory function
Learn more from our detailed Vyvamind review: Vyvamind review.
Synthetic Smart Drugs vs Natural Nootropics For Motivation
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!
Motivation Nootropics FAQs
Do nootropics release dopamine?
Yes, nootropics can trigger a release of dopamine. Nootropics such as L-Tyrosine, Nicotine and Caffeine can all significantly raise dopamine activity in the brain.
What naturally increases dopamine?
Foods that are rich in tyrosine like almonds, egg fish, and chicken are great for natually raising dopamine levels. Ensuring healthy Tyrosine levels is a great way to support good motivation levels.
What supplement is best for motivation?
A supplement that combines Tyrosine, Caffeine and B Vitamins is best for boosting motivation. Our top rated dopaminergic nootropic – Vyvamind – is the most effective stack for raising motivation, energy and drive.
Does 5-HTP lower dopamine?
Yes 5-HTP may lower dopamine levels. Consuming 5-HTP supplements helps to raise serotonin production in the brain. Higher serotonin levels means lower dopamine levels. So while 5-HTP doesn’t affect dopamine systems directly, it does suppress dopamine by keeping serotonin levels high.
Does L-theanine increase dopamine?
Neurochemical analysis has shown without question that L-theanine increases brain serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels. This is the main mechanism by which L-theanine reduces stress and anxiety. It is also how Theanine gets rid of brain fog, promotes focus and energy, and boosts motivation levels. People with low dopamine will find that L-Theanine supplements can significantly raise motivation and drive without causing side effects.
Does Ashwagandha raise dopamine?
Ashwagandha is said to indirectly increase motivation because it lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is your primary stress hormone, and having elevated cortisol suppresses your dopamine levels, leaving you feel down and demotivated. If chronic stress is keeping your dopamine levels down, Ashwagandha might be the best supplement to take for motivation.
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Learn more about the best nootropics:
- Best nootropics for energy
- Best nootropics for BDNF
- Best nootropics for depression
- Best nootropics for anxiety
- Best nootropics for creativity
- Best natural nootropics
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.