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Our brains are parallel computing systems. Billions of neurons and trillions of synapses all fire independently. Yet, we can only take one action at a time. For example, we can't sit and jog at the same time.
The basal ganglia is situated in the brain's neocortex and receive inputs from many cortical regions, such as your frontal cortex (thinking, working memory) and motor cortex (physical actions). It controls which action to support based on which set of activities will lead to the best rewards. But the system is very short-sighted.
Motivation can be compared with water flowing downhill. Water will always flow in the path of least resistance. If there's a slight lip of land, the water will pool because it can't get over the hump.
Our motivations are similar. We want to be rich, fit, intelligent and successful, but the action to get there requires some effort (uphill). Our impulse is to procrastinate instead.
Two factors contribute to a lack of motivation.
The two factors can work separately. We may have a few problems but little drive and thus don't move ahead. Or our goal could be very desirous, but a proportionately large pain can hinder us from moving forward.
Effort represents an investment of a fixed resource, like calories.
For this reason, running takes more effort than sitting. It takes more calories and strains muscles and joints. If you run non-stop, you will need to eat more to stay alive, and you will wear your muscles out.
However, effort as energy expenditure does not fully answer why we struggle to take action, as effortful tasks, such as playing tennis, is more fun than doing nothing.
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