Do you have difficulty starting and/or finishing projects? Or initiating a new behavior, such as exercising or working out? Do you become excited thinking of tackling a long postponed task, only to become discouraged and overwhelmed when you try to begin? Or do you find getting started is easy but sticking with it is a problem? You get bored, discouraged, distracted?
You are not alone. It is part of human nature to have mixed feelings about accomplishing goals that feel difficult or challenging. A few of us mortals are blessed with a wonderful combination of energy and motivation. The rest of us have good days and bad; lots of pep and zip some days and lethargy at other times. It is normal to experience periods of low energy when there has been an emotional trauma or drain; also following any illness, whether minor or serious.
When low motivation is a recurring problem, it should be evaluated. Ask yourself a few questions. When you feel energetic and motivated what is different from when you are not? Does lack of sleep or stress usually affect your output? Does your energy come and go in cycles? Is there a correlation between your mood and energy level? When an otherwise accomplished individual suddenly complains of a lack of motivation, a number of questions come to mind. Has there been a recent loss or change in circumstances? Is sleep or appetite affected? Has ability to concentrate or focus decreased? Are thought patterns negative in a person who is usually positive?
If more than two of these are answered in the affirmative, an assessment for depression and/or a physical exam is needed. Depression is one major cause of low motivation, but it can also be rooted in medical problems. Problems with thyroid, blood sugar, heart and blood pressure are among many possible physical causes for low motivation and energy. If changes in energy appear suddenly in someone who is normally highly productive, assessment for a medical or psychological problem is strongly indicated. The first step is to contact the family doctor.
A rather fine line exists between low energy and low motivation. This distinction is important because it can aid in determining the source of the problem. With low energy usually the person tires easily and the thought of doing one more thing is exhausting. However, unless physically unable, the motivation to persevere is a driving force. When depression is the root cause, poor motivation is more likely to prevent a person from pushing through to complete the task or follow through on a desired new behavior.
Poor motivation is best remedied by first finding the cause. In the case of depression or medical problems, motivation normally returns when the source is effectively treated. When lack of confidence is the issue, treatment may be more involved. Counseling can greatly enhance self-esteem, by assessing strengths, establishing goals, and offering positive feedback.
If you lack motivation, try addressing one small area of your life at one time. For example, if you want to be in better shape, begin by walking ten minutes a day. It may seem like a very small effort, but each walk strengthens your will and provides a sense of self-control. In turn you will be motivated to do more. It is said that it takes three weeks to develop a new habit. This principle can be applied when trying to change behaviors. It also helps to find a “buddy” to provide encouragement and share your successes.
If you fear not finding a job, practice interviewing for jobs you know you don’t want. This gives you practice, knowledge of the current market, and your confidence will grow as each interview feels less stressful. One day you will be ready for the real thing. Initially you may have to push, or “stretch” through your fear and resistance, and here is where positive support is needed. Find someone you can call on for encouragement. Motivation is like a muscle; the more it’s used, the stronger it becomes.
Some people are simply placid and not easily upset, so are not driven to great achievements. Their goals and desires tend to be modest. Others however, may lack self-confidence. They are afraid to become excited about a goal or project because they see themselves failing. Their lack of enthusiasm stems from a wish to avoid the pain of disappointment or disapproval. Counseling can greatly enhance confidence and build self-assurance.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has more than 30 years of experience as a therapist, in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Elinor also is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and is certified as an Imago Relationship Therapist. Comments and questions are welcome and may be submitted by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 394-2861. See her website at etseven.net.