I noticed an uptick in my motivation this morning. My zip contrasted with the nagging zapped feeling several of my clients reported.
My energy was also right on the heels of a client’s sense of victory over the issue that drove him to therapy: his lack of motivation. It is sort of a mystery why some of us change and others struggle. I sometimes feel like I am surfing the tempest more than channeling the stream, myself.
Why are we unmotivated?
So, I started a little research project on motivation. I was intrigued (OK, appalled) by one of the first articles Google supplied (there are hundreds). It was from a website called Medical News Today, which looks like it is based in Great Britain (it uses an “s” for organize) but exists mainly on the internet. It is led by fortysomethings (apparently) who may be interested in making hay on the web. They boast 85,000 readers.
I want to improve upon their teaching on motivation. But first let me complain about it: What makes people lose motivation?
Like most articles for professionals now, this one starts with a summary so you can decide whether you want to read for another 5 minutes. Here is theirs:
A person may experience a temporary lack of motivation when they are overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out. However, a sense of apathy, or lack of interest in doing anything, can be a symptom of something more severe.
Lost motivation could indicate a mental health disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia. It may also occur in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
I can only hope my more tenderhearted/anxious/traumatized clients do not read this article and worry, “Oh no, I have Parkinson’s!” Apart from scaring people, the only thing the writers have to suggest is the common idea that lack of motivation comes from being “overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out.”
But, of course, people may be overwhelmed, stressed, or burned out because they are unmotivated. I think there are medically trained people who do not just look in their textbook for symptoms but also have some sense of deeper places: light and dark, known and unknown, obsessed about and shunned – all the things that motivate people!
I think “overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out” is usually applied to the workplace. There, people need to stay motivated to do all sorts of semi-interesting things in semi-conflictive relationships. I think the article is probably looking there for readers, since that is where the money is — one has to keep the workforce working, somehow! Being burned out is a real condition, especially in the workplace. But I have usually thought the designation feels superficial. Identifying burnout rarely resonates with anything beyond a certain track in the frontal lobe.
What fuels lack of motivation?
Instead of plowing through Google I decided to bring to mind my clients who are concerned about or afraid of their lack of motivation. I jotted down about thirty reasons that seem to cause it or fuel it in them.
While I think they might just be going through what humans always go through, I also think they might be like canaries in the coal mine for humanity as it barrels unconsciously into the next era of troubles. They might be the ones who can’t respond to superficial diagnoses by doctors handing out ill-attended-to medications. They might be the people who can’t cope because what they experience should not exist in the first place. They might be honestly shutting down in the face of something that can’t be conquered by indomitable will or a positive view of human potential.
For the sake of dialogue, I boiled my brainstorm down to four big elements that de-motivate people I know or leave them listless and looking for wind in their sails. By listing these things, I think you might see your own condition. Even more, I hope you will take heart in my conclusions.
Why are some people unmotivated?
They are addicted.
Addiction colonizes motivation (“colonises” for Brits).
These are my acquaintances’ addictions: Marijuana/alcohol/street drugs/nicotine, their “meds” (some of which are crucial, of course, but some probably aren’t), TikTok (and anyplace there is a “reel”), online games and gambling, porn, food or trying to control food.
Long before they met me, most of them knew they were medicating their lack of motivation with substances, prescribed or not. Many suspected they were vainly searching for how to avoid that lack, or get around it, by using the predatory offerings advertised in online markets.
They are trapped
They feel like they can’t change.
Their living situation is or feels unchangeable. The leaders of the nation, workplace, or association are terrible, and they don’t know where to turn. They are married and parents (or one or the other) and it does not feel good. The weather is frightening. They are aging and their bodies feels more like a cage than an ally.
Feeling trapped and thinking one has to be responsible to survive or escape leads many people to shut down. It is too much.
They have been or are being abused
The terrible past is present.
They were bullied, neglected, stunted, injured, especially in their childhood, and every similar circumstance triggers their deeply-installed reactivity. They were betrayed loved ones and it challenged their sense of worth. They are in or on the other side of power struggles that sapped their energy. Society has no morals so they live in fear. Huge corporations and bureaucracies demand a lot of energy to get basic necessities or to avoid jail.
I am amazed at the courage people demonstrate as they come up against forces that threaten to destroy them. They face truly overwhelming things; I often feel overwhelmed vicariously.
They are immature
They missed a developmental onramp.
Their parents did not or could not provide the love they needed as a young child or help them through the crucial teens and twenties. They are run around by negative, often secret, self-talk: “You are a loser. You are damaged. You are unlovable. You are stupid. You are unwanted. You are a bother. You must not let them know you or you will be abused or cast off.” They believe the myth which says it is all up to them. They just need to believe in themselves. Never give up. Do it right or don’t do it at all, etc. They are alone.
In the U.S. The “invisible hand” generally does not value adult development or wisdom. I am surprised at how much knowledge people have but how unable they are to feel it or do something with it. Instead of growing into who they know they are and doing what it takes to embody their true selves, they shrink back. They give in to their resistance. They blame or criticize others and perfect many other defensive behaviors.
Any one of these realities will undermine one’s motivation. You probably saw what you were up against as your were reading them and maybe even did that thing you do when you are faced with what needs to change and grow. One client had to say “No porn.” Another had to resist “blanking out.” Another had to tell themselves, “Turn away from that damning voice!” Another had to resist dismissing all I said because they could not trust it, or me. The deeper things that undermine our motivation are not simple or easy. I rather resent the article I read for implying, “If you aren’t handling this you might be schizophrenic.”
The basic motivation
I love and hate that heading. I love it because I know life surges from a basic, common fountain and we can all drink it. I hate it because it implies that something is basic in the sense that you’re a dummy if you haven’t achieved it yet or it is basic equipment and you are missing the part. Motivation is not a one-size-fits-all dialogue. It is about the deeper, mysterious parts of us that are not easily measured.
For instance, several clients lately have expressed beautiful looks at their inner life and felt enthused about what they could do and intended to do. They even felt some joy. But they immediately, almost automatically, followed up their joy with a set of observations about themselves and why they would not or should not change: “That’s not me.” Or “I remember when my ex-wife told me she never loved me.” Or “How will I ever find time for this?” Or “I’m not very good at self care; I’ve failed before many times.” Or “I never truly stop my addictions.” Or “It will all work until my husband comes home.” They often don’t know they are contradicting that other “sunshiny” self! Their inner dialogue is just rolling along.
I have told a couple of people who have introduced faith into their development that they may need something more than just their own capacity. The love of God, the truth of God, the Spirit of God, the prayers of Jesus may be what they find when they stop trying to avoid hitting bottom. Beyond the parameters of their top and bottom, that uncontrollable control system, is the kingdom of God.
I think surrendering to the reality that God is with me is highly motivating. I experience it every day and throughout most of the day, even when I deal with Comcast (like I did last week, AGAIN). Refusing the grace of God, not being beloved, contradicting the Lord when she sees you worthy of his relationship is the sin that keeps us pushing a rock up a hill and seeing it flatten us every day.
Better to feel it like the Psalmist:
What if God really is on your side? What if you are created beautifully? What if you are loved? What if the future holds possibilities? When such questions take root and hope starts building a narrative, a new story tends to overwhelm the other one that tells the old, enervating tales of being alone, in charge, or impossible.