Nootropics: Willpower and Determination

Today’s the day that you skip grabbing your usual bag of chips and finally get that diet kickstarted. Really. This time you’re serious. Well, maybe you’re actually staring at the empty bag crumpled on your couch, wondering how you finished the whole thing that fast (and resolving that tomorrow is the day you’ll really start).

It’s a lesson you’ll encounter again and again when you try to start a new habit or kick an old one: willpower is a tricky beast, and it isn’t always as easy as firmly making a decision and sticking to it. So what is it then, exactly? Why are people so bad at making a decision and sticking to it? Read on for some insights on how to get motivated, and an overview of key nootropics for motivation.

To boil it down psychologically, there are two main “systems” that operate in your brain: the Go System, and the Stop System [1]. Their functions are more or less what you’d imagine. The Go System wills your body through the day-to-day habits that keep you running, while the Stop System kicks into gear when there’s a need to stop you from engaging in an unwanted activity. Willpower lies in the Stop System. It’s your ability to halt a familiar (but undesired) activity and replace it with a willed one. There’s a big downside to the stop system: apparently, the more you use it in any given day, the harder it is to engaged. In other words, if you want to figure out how to get motivated and stay that way, you’re going to need a closer understanding of how to keep the Stop System energized.

You might intuit that, since the more you use it, the harder it is to engage, the Stop System is tied to your energy levels. In fact, that’s exactly what earlier research suggested. Trialed subjects were able to re-engage tired-out Stop Systems once they drank a glucose drink. So next time you’re tempted to sit out the couch for a few hours and put off that run, pop a soda, right?

Determination will get you up and over the wall!

Determination will get you up and over the wall!

It turns out that it’s not quite that simple. A refined version of the same experiment decided to investigate willpower further by trialing several different groups: some swished a sugary drink in their mouth and spit it out, others did the same with an fake-sugar drink. The fallout? Groups who swished real sugar performed better on willpower tests. Since this was with no actual glucose ingested, it indicates that willpower/Stop System resolve isn’t just tied to energy. Instead, it’s tied to your motivation, or how energized you feel. So you don’t have to neccesarily worry about low energy next time your willpower is flagging: just do something rewarding for yourself to perk up your mood.

Another perk for this updated understanding of willpower is that taking nootropics for motivation is ostensibly more effective than ever. If you take a nootropic that both gives your brain a sense of reward and boosts energy levels, then you’re giving your ability to stay resolved a nice one-two boost. The question, then, is which nootropics would be most effective for boosting your willpower.


First up is aniracetam. Taken as a whole, the ‘racetam family of nootropics is extremely versatile, and there’s almost always one that will cater to your specific needs. If mood boost and increased energy is what you’re looking for, then aniracetam is your best choice. Studies with rats have shown aniracetam to reduce both anxiety [2] and low moods [3]. Since both of those will severely sap your motivation and energy levels, a dose of aniracetam is a quick way to jumpstart a flagging resolve.

As an AMPA modulator, aniracetam will also provide you with mild stimulatory effects — less ‘edgy’ than the kind you get from caffeine, and minus the crash [4]. Anybody looking for the best nootropics for motivation should place aniracetam near the top of their list.


Next is sulbutiamine. Sulbutiamine is a derivative of vitamin B1 which was specifically engineered to combat, asthenia, a form of mental and physical fatigue [5]. Since it’s effective at low doses and has very low side-effects profile, this makes it possibly the premier energy-boosting nootropic, and an invaluable tool for anybody looking to keep their motivation at sufficient levels. As an added bonus, sulbutiamine has been shown to reduce conditioned responses to feared or negative stimuli [6]. In other words, if there’s something you’ve learned to avoid through years of conditioning, sulbutiamine will make it easier to overcome that avoidance. Perfect for the chronic procrastinator looking to finally get back into the gym!

Nootropics kickstart the brain and can give you back your motivation.

Nootropics kickstart the brain and can give you back your motivation.

Rhodiola Rosea

Last up is rhodiola rosea. For those who like to stick to more natural nootropics, this is the ideal choice. Rhodiola rosea is derived from a flower, and has been used by cultures such as chinese and the vikings for hundreds of years to reduce fatigue [7]. How does it stack up under scientific surveillance? Very well, actually. There are numerous trials that have documented rhodiola’s ability to boost energy levels, with lesser studies also indicating that in can reduce stress and improve mood while boosting cognition [8, 9]. In other words, it’s not only your go-to natural solution to flagging energy and willpower, it’s a potent nootropic for motivation by any standard.

Consider cycling or stacking any of the above nootropics if you’re looking to maximize your willpower. Odds are all they might give you that extra push you need — next thing you know, binging on junk food will be a distant memory, and daily workouts will just be another part of your routine.