The Myth of Motivation
Updated: Feb 12
This month at my centres, we are focusing on mood disorders – looking at mental health issues such as depression, bi-polar disorder, post-natal depression and those specific to children and adolescents. When it comes to depression, the gold standard treatment approach is known as behavioural activation – which in a nutshell basically means – doing stuff.
Depression is a thief. It robs you of your mood, confidence, interests and motivation. When working with clients suffering depression it is so common I hear them say “I just don’t have the motivation”, “I don’t feel like doing that”, “I will do it when my depression lifts” – the problem is, too often clients are waiting and waiting and due to the lack of meaningful activity are spiralling further and further down into the clutches of the illness.
So I wanted to take the opportunity inform you of something that may be considered a little controversial – you don’t need motivation to do anything.... "What's that!?" you say "Of course I need motivation to do things - why else would I do something unless I felt motivated to do it?"....
I hear you....but listen....nobody ever needs to actually feel like they WANT to do a particular activity or action to successfully complete it. Think about it – how many times have you engaged in an action or activity, even though you really didn’t want to.
I know when I was feeding my babies as newborns and I would have to get up multiple times a night, I didn’t feel like doing it and I wasn’t motivated to do it. What I wanted to do was to stay asleep, snug and warm in my bed. I challenge you to identify a time when you have done a “thing” even though you didn’t want to, even though you had no motivation and in fact didn’t feel like doing it at all. Go on, it won’t be hard to recognise some examples in your life.
Do you know why it is you did that thing? – even though you didn’t feel like it? Even though you had not motivation to do it? The reason why you did it was because underlying the action was an understanding of the importance it held in your life. That action would have been fundamentally tied to values at the core of who you are, and so, in spite of the discomfort it would have brought you, you did it anyway.
So how do we break this down to a skill level? – Well what I am talking about here is value driven action. Action that comes from a place of profound importance to you. The care of my children as infants (and of course now) was so deeply important to me that I was able to make room for the discomfort that getting up in the middle of the night to tend to them would bring. And this is why motivation is a myth. This is why ever waiting to FEEL like you have the motivation to do something is holding you back from moving forward. If you can identify the “why” in the action, and make room for the discomfort that performing the action can bring, then motivation is not necessary.
So when it comes to “doing stuff” in the context of a mood disorder, it is likely that at the beginning you aren’t going to want to FEEL like doing said “stuff”. But, once you do engage in value driven action, over and over, it creates a positive feedback loop which over time can work towards lifting the heavy emotions that go along with the illness.
For those of you reading this who aren’t experiencing a mood disorder, the same principals can have a profound effect on your life. Engaging in value driven action drives you towards a life full of vitality, deep meaning and satisfaction. So I challenge you – the next time your mind presents you with the excuse “not today, I don’t really feel like it”, or “I’ll do it when I feel motivated”, try identifying the reason WHY it’s important to you to engage in the action, notice the feeling of discomfort that doing it brings, and do it anyway. I bet you’ll prove me right – motivation is a myth. Dig deep – identify your values and act from there.
Yours in Vitality...