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Let's Talk About: Motivation (or lack thereof)

There's always a long list of things we "should" be doing, isn't there? As we think about all the things on our to-do lists, it can easily become overwhelming to try to accomplish any of it. Add in some depression or anxiety, and you're unlikely to do anything. Even without a formal diagnosis, all of us are under enough stress to easily run out of energy to do things. We are all waiting on that elusive motivation to come by and smack us in our faces. The number of times we hear (or say) "I don't have any motivation to do this" in a day is often unmeasurable. So what is this motivation we are always looking for? And what do we do if we never really feel like we have any?

By definition, motivation is the process that gets us started or moving on a task. It's the thing that guides us to act. There can be intrinsic motivation (like, exercising will be good for me and make me feel better, so I'm going to do it), or extrinsic motivation (like, I'll get a bonus if I complete this work). Generally speaking, we use motivation as the "why" behind our actions. Motivation can also be an easy reason for why we aren't doing something. "I'm just so unmotivated" is this vague term that can explain away a number of behaviors. And while there are a bunch of different types of motivations, today's blog is more about what we can do when we don't have motivation.

There are many reasons we can lose or lack motivation. Fatigue (both physical and mental) can play a huge part. Depression, anxiety, or attention problems make it difficult to find that motivation within ourselves to act. Boredom, or dislike of a task is a big reason not to do it. And there's probably not a person out there who hasn't at some point felt like they didn't have the motivation to do something they knew they "should." When our motivation is overly extrinsic, we sometimes get stuck in trying to figure out that "why." We want something tangible for our efforts, and doing something just because it's right or feels right doesn't always work as an appropriate carrot to get us going. If I say I'm going to start working out because I want to lose weight, then don't see myself losing that weight, and don't enjoy the exercise, I'll probably stop and say my motivation is gone. If I've got a lot to do at work, and the boss asks me to do another task, but I don't see a tangible reward for it, I might not be able to get the motivation to finish the task. Even having a goal that you really want to achieve, like running a marathon before you're forty, can be hard to keep up the motivation for if you hit too many obstacles.

So what can we do about it? There are many different theories about why we lose motivation and what it means, or what we can do. One thing that has become very helpful for my own practice is to change my extrinsic goals to intrinsic ones. If I change my motivation to exercise from "I'm hoping to lose weight" to "I enjoy having the energy that comes with a workout and know I'm getting stronger," I'm more likely to stick with it. If I think of a work task (like writing these blogs), as something that adds joy and value to my professional life, I'm more likely to get them done.

Another piece that goes hand in hand with this is changing my goals into values based action. My reasoning for exercise isn't just to reach a goal of doing it a certain amount of times a week. Instead, I find value in moving my body to improve my mental and physical health. So I try to make room and time for that in my day. Some days it may be going for a run, others it may be taking the stairs, and sometimes all I've got is a quick walk to the mailbox.

A third idea that helps me with motivation is to not count on it. I know that if I set my alarm for 5am to exercise, I'm not going to jump out of bed all motivated for it. Instead, it's a habit that I've committed to; just a normal part of my day. I don't wait for motivation to come along to do the dishes, I just decide that I'll do them every night before bed. Then I don't have to talk myself into or out of an action based on how much energy I'm feeling in the moment. If motivation strikes, I take it! Maybe I'll write ten blogs and put them in draft form, so that next week if I don't want to, I've got some extras. But I also know that if next week comes and there isn't a pre-planned blog, I need to come up with one. Maybe that technically counts as intrinsic motivation? Either way.

These things don't always work. My friends and family have heard me a million times say "I'm not motivated to do this." And if you are in a depressive episode, it's not always as easy as what I said above. However, if you find yourself constantly struggling with the idea of motivation, you might want to try some of the tricks above.

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