Simon Sinek lecture. Looking at Neurotransmitters and our behaviour.

What motivates us and why?

(Taken from Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek)



The primary role of endorphins is to mask pain. Endorphins are released under physical stress/effort. They give the runners high. They allow humans to push levels of endurance beyond the pain barrier. They give us that edge to keep going beyond exhaustion, beyond fear, beyond pain. Its production is what motivated cave men to go back out and face death when hunting, the soldier to risk all for his brother soldiers. Without endorphines we would not stretch boundaries or push beyond comfort zones. They are part of the reason you feel what you feel when you know you have done a job above and beyond others expectations. They give you a boost. Together with Dopamine....



Feel good factor. Finish a task, achieve a goal, win a game, tick off a check list. Dopamine helps us have staying power. It gives us incentive to carry on to complete monumental tasks, solve problems; it gives us a competitive streak. When we are trying to lose weight the production of dopamine can keep us on target. Creating goals that are achievable, giving and receiving recognition of a job well done, we all seek that feeling of approval, peer recognition of achievement. Driven people are hooked on the production of dopamine.


Unfortunately there are artificial stimulators of dopamine production. Alcohol, and drugs, most addictions come down to dopamine addiction.

Social media, texting, awaiting emails or responses, number of likes on face book all of the above stimulate dopamine production.

DOPAMINE IS ADDICTIVE BECAUSE IT REINFORCES BEHAVIOUR LINKED TO SOMETHING THAT WAS IMPORTANT TO OUR BIOLOGICAL GROWTH. Sedentary lifestyle (physical and psychological) will lead to low production of dopamine. There is no biological incentive to do nothing!

Dopamine creates  incentive and is what we need to get things done.


Endorphins and Dopamine are essential for human survival. But, we need other incentives to be social and to work collaboratively with others, another key to the success of our species.

These are social chemicals, without which we would not form groups or emotional attachments to others, or be able to be cooperative with others.

Without these social chemicals we cannot trust, we have no team spirit, stress increases we isolate ourselves and leadership qualities cannot grow. We have no motivation or desire to help others.



Serotonin gives us the feeling of pride, that feel good factor, when we appreciate that someone else likes us, we crave that approval from the tribe because it makes us feel good and is essential for our well being.

Serotonin is what we feel when we graduate.

People who produce a lot of serotonin due to bonding and interaction from others do not crave the effect of dopamine (the feel good chemical from alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviour).

It is why a live performance is always better than a streamed production on screen, why a letter is better than an email, why a phone call is better than a text.

How would you feel if after a job well done your boss sent an email saying well done? You would think ok that’s good.

If your boss came to speak directly to you or called you how would you feel? Wow!! That’s serotonin. It bonds us to others. Allows us to work for and with others it’s why we want to impress our bosses, family peers. It binds the family together when we selflessly want to make another happy for no other reason at all.

Serotonin is a prerequisite for leadership. They help create a culture of trust and security where in adverse conditions individuals will work together selflessly to achieve a goal, just for that end point.

Endorphins and dopamine would not induce this response.



The chemical of love. It’s what we feel when we relax in the company of trusted friends, safe secure and relaxed. It is produced when someone does something nice for or to us and also when we do something nice for or to someone else.

Essential for survival. Without it there would be no acts of generosity, benevolence, kindness, empathy no bonds of friendship or trust. We would not form social groups or bond with family.

Oxytocin makes us social.

Dopamine gives us instant short term gratification, oxytocin is long lasting.

Oxytocin makes us need social interaction. It reduces stress, makes us feel good and helps us accomplish more as a team in that environment.

It bonds mothers to babies.



Anxiety and stress.

Essential for our survival it helps us recognise immediate danger. The feeling that something is wrong is down to cortisol, without which we would not recognise danger until it was upon us.

Cortisol is meant to peak and ebb within 24 hour phases. It rises in the presence of danger and should fall.

However in the modern work place it can be responsible for feelings of anxiety and stress.

As humans we try to understand why we feel anxiety and stress, and release of cortisol in stressful situations at work maintain your body in that high alert phase (which in cave man times was needed for the stamina to fight or flee).

A cortisol induced state of anxiety causes other systems to reduce efficacy. Our immune system being one. If sustained or if you are in an unhelpful unfriendly environment where cortisol levels will be inducing anxiety almost constantly your risk of developing disease states like Diabetes, high blood pressure heart disease is increased.

Cortisol stops sleep. Stops you being able to relax.

If you are in environments at home or at work where you are anxious and stressed your cortisol levels will be high, this reduces your ability to trust, increases paranoia, reduces levels of serotonin and oxytocine and makes you feel less secure, less loved and less likely to work collaboratively or feel empathy for others.



Taken from the book and presentation by Simon Sinek. July 2016