When your eyes open in the morning light, what gets you out of bed, and into your day? For some, it is their children calling for their attention, their dog needing to be walked, or their boss expecting them to get to work on time. For others, particularly those who face depression instead of the sunshine, simply pulling back the covers feels like a daunting task.
What drives you to motor on when your “get up and go has got up and went”?
In my therapy practice, I sit with people who question their motivation to do much more than merely survive from one day to the next, rinse and repeat. They express discouragement about the possibility of change for the better. Some is as a result of what they observed adults in their lives modeling. When I ask them what they learned about ‘adulting skills’ such as sustaining a job, creating a budget, managing a home, maintaining a car, and developing thriving relationships, many shake their heads sadly and say that they were lacking in that type of education. Those who find themselves excelling now, did have healthy role models for motivation. Even those who learned those skills may find themselves struggling to stir up the stimulus needed to succeed.
Consider the middle-aged woman who knows she feels better after going to the gym for a workout than she does when contemplating donning her sneakers.
Imagine the college student who knows he has a project due that was assigned weeks before but finds himself in a panic when the deadline looms and he still hasn’t written word one.
Contemplate the overwhelming stacks of books, papers, clothes, dishes, memorabilia, collections of items that clutter the space of a woman who knows her life is chaotic. She has the desire to clear, cleanse, purge and release, but when she thinks about the amount of energy it will take to tackle the piles, she distracts herself with other activities and tells herself that someday she will get around to cleaning it all up.
Ask yourself what motivates you to effect change in your life.
- Expectation of family and friends
- Being tired of ‘the way things have always been’
- Childhood dreams of doing something meaningful
- A life crisis, such as death, job loss, relationship ending
- Health challenges
- The support and encouragement of others
- Seeing a reward at the end
- Impressing and approval seeking
- Wanting to avoid pain and invoke pleasure
- Desire to make a positive difference in the world
- Financial gain
- Hitting rock bottom (this is evident in addiction recovery)
- Being part of a team that sets out to accomplish a shared goal such as winning a game
- Setting a good example as a role model for children
Motivational Interviewing was pioneered by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick with the intention to positively alter behaviors, particularly in change resistant clients. Their book entitled Motivational Interviewing in the Treatment of Psychological Problems highlights tools and techniques to assist in that endeavor. When people feel ‘met where they are’ and listened to, their willingness to shift gears is enhanced.
I have an idea for a litmus/personality test that speaks volumes about the procrastination and lack of motivation to which we can all fall prey. I am calling it the Ice Cream Inquiry. I came up with this in the course of working with clients who fall into all of these categories across the spectrum.
Imagine your favorite flavor of ice cream. You have a craving for it, but when you go to the freezer, you see, to your dismay that it is not there. You have 3 options:
- You can say, “I really, really, really want ice cream. I wish someone would bring it to me. Oh, why won’t the ice cream just show up? What’s wrong with me, these people, the world that the ice cream isn’t there? I never get what I want.”
- You can say, “Oh well, I don’t feel like going to get ice cream. It’s too much work. I just won’t want it. I’ll do without it.”
- You can say, “Yes, I want it and I will go for it, or ask someone if they will get it for me or invite them to get some with me. If they say no, I will just get it myself.”
I am in the third category myself. When there is something I desire, that is within my ability to access, either by myself or with the support of others, I will go for it. There are times when I feel thwarted since the exact experience may not be readily available. If the ‘ice cream’ is not available from one source, I will seek it out from another. I remember applying to various undergrad and graduate school programs, knowing that even if I was turned down by my first-choice college in either case, I would have other options. What helped me to persevere in applying to Masters’ level Social Work programs was taking part in a three-month addiction recovery training. We were asked to set a goal that we would achieve over the period of time. For the first goal, I agreed to research schools. For the second goal, I agreed to apply. For the third goal, I accepted the offer to attend Rutgers University School of Social Work. What kept me motivated was the desire to train and pursue a career in that field. In addition, having the accountability partners of the others in the training was of tremendous assistance if I was to become discouraged.
When I posted this pondering on my Facebook page others’ thoughts were presented, “I feel like I need another option. Just because my favorite flavor isn’t there doesn’t mean there’s no ice cream in the freezer. I would settle for a different flavor until I had a chance to go to the store to restock my favorite again.”
“I wouldn’t even hesitate, I’d just go get it.”
“The third. Although I am not much of one to ask them to get it for me. Mine would be, “I am going for ice cream. Want to come?”
What flavor (more than just ice cream) do you savor?