Have you ever had the experience of really wanting to do something but have been hampered by “lack of motivation” or “not feeling in the mood”?
These kinds of feelings and thoughts are pernicious. They lead to us not taking good care of ourselves, which negatively affects our wellbeing and causes a lack of motivation.
To be a healthy, successful nurse, it’s vital you engage in regular self-care behaviours such as exercise and eating a balanced diet.
In this article, I am going to outline why we fail to achieve some of our goals and present a fun method for getting better at following through with things.
Morning struggles when there is lack of motivation.
I’m lying in bed. It’s 5.55 am. The alarm has just ripped me from my unconscious state.
I’m staring at the ceiling, noticing the warmth circulate gently around my body in my little cocoon; it’s how I imagine a sausage feels when it is laid into a bread roll and sealed in with a hot blanket of fried onions.
Last night I told myself I would get up and do a workout first thing in the morning, as I do every morning. At night, I remind myself the goal of exercising in the morning and I go to bed happy with my intention: “No problem, I’ve got this!” I think to myself.
The reality is that once I wake, my mind begins doing what minds do best: It starts up its engine and begins to whir away with thoughts.
Before I can lift my body out of bed my mind catches me, and I get sucked away into a torrent of thoughts that go something like this:
“It’s warm in here, just another 5 minutes.”
“You can always work out this evening”.
“It won’t matter if you skip one day.”
What happens when we buy into what our mind says? 5 minutes turns into 20 minutes more in bed, which turns into not having enough time for breakfast, let alone exercise, meditation or other life-enhancing behaviours.
The “evening workout” turns into an “I’m too tired now” and plenty more reasons your mind justifies and tries to make you feel okay about avoiding doing the thing that deep-down matters to you.
Skipping one day leads to skipping several days, which ultimately leads to you not developing a habit, which is a robust pattern of behaviour that leads to the long-term results you are after.
It’s always there, wherever you go.
I have been doing regular, almost daily exercise for several years now. My mind still continues to produce those same thoughts in the morning, every morning.
When we say that we have a lack of motivation to do something, what we really mean is that the alternative to the activity in question is producing a greater desire than this thing, which almost certainly takes some sort of effort.
Getting out of bed immediately to go and put your body through exercise = effortful, uncomfortable.
Sitting down to meditate for 10 minutes = seems like a lot of effort, not that fun, maybe even unpleasant if you tend to have a busy mind.
Cooking with the ingredients you have in your fridge rather than Mcdonald’s = effort, not as much pleasure as the fatty goodness of a Big Mac and fries.
Our behaviour is being guided by short-term payoffs in all of these scenarios.
In every single example, you can possibly think of where you avoid doing something that is life-enhancing for you, it is being motivated by the short-term desire to do something else which seems more rewarding or may in fact be physiologically more rewarding.
The problem is this: As long as we allow our thoughts and feelings to govern all of our behaviour, we can get very stuck in life and not grow in important areas.
Life is a marathon, requiring daily choices to avoid one immediate pay-off in the service of building longer-term, but ultimately much more powerful rewards.
Dwight, the annoying motivation troll.
Imagine for a moment that a small, annoying troll has started following you around almost all day every day. He’s green and short, wears orange trousers, has pointy ears and a weird shaped nose, and has a generally irritating look on his face all the time. Let’s call him Dwight.
Now, Dwight has some magic powers. For one, he knows exactly what is important to you in your life and he knows all about your goals. He knows that you’ve got a secret aim of losing 10lbs by going to the gym. He knows that you are trying to cut down on that half bottle of wine a night. He knows that you’re trying to make your own breakfast in the morning rather than grabbing a McMuffin.
Unfortunately for you, Dwight has been employed specifically to follow you around and tell you to do things that will sabotage your efforts to work towards these important goals. It is completely unknown why this has happened, and you sometimes even think to yourself, “where the hell did you come from?!”
Not only does Dwight pop up out of the blue and say things like “just leave it until tomorrow” or “missing the gym one day isn’t going to matter”. Oh no, it doesn’t stop there.
Dwight also has another magical ability: He is able to control the way you feel.
He has a magic red little button he presses, which once activated, zaps your energy, making you feel lethargic, sleepy or tired.
He presses it at predictable times like first thing in the morning, but he also purposely does it at random other times seemingly just to piss you off. You know, like, once you’ve procrastinated your way through tons of other things and you think you’re finally ready and “in the mood” to go for a run.
Unfortunately, Dwight is there waiting for you; he zaps you with his button and inexplicably, you have lack of motivation.
So, there he is, annoying little Dwight. He’s there in the morning when you wake up at the end of your bed; he’s already pressed his little button before you realise, and then he’s nattering away in your ear with his well-rehearsed reasons for not getting up and exercising.
You see, Dwight has had all night whilst you were sleeping to prepare his reasons and excuses for you. He absolutely thrives off convincing you to not do things.
He’ll even convince you to do something later on that day, but to your dismay, you find that the little critter has zapped away your motivation again when you gett in from work.
Sometimes, however, you realise that Dwight isn’t there. “Yippee!” you think to yourself.
You check in with your body and realise that “I’ve got some motivation” or “I’m in the mood”.
Annoyingly, it’s now 2pm on a Tuesday and clearly not appropriate to go to the gym as you are sitting at your desk in the office.
There are other times you notice he’s not there too: On the occasional evening after work, it’s like Dwight has gone on holiday and again, you think “wow, Dwight has vanished and I actually now have motivation!”
So you go to the gym. Once. Then Dwight returns the next day after work.
It’s impossible to set up a habit this way with Dwight’s unpredictability.
You become absolutely convinced that in order to do those things that are important, you’ve got to wait until Dwight is on sick leave or just off bothering someone else.
You spend your life waiting around for him not to be there creating this “lack of motivation” and usual excuses.
Annoyingly, you look at other people who seem to be doing the things that you want to: Bill from your team at work proudly flaunts the fact he’s started meditating every day; your mate Dave talks to you about how him and his girlfriend have stopped drinking booze entirely; your best mate Sally reflects on her last month of attending yoga classes three times per week. “I HATE YOU ALL!” you silently think to yourself.
You begin to ask, “why won’t Dwight just go and bother them!” or “why am I the only sucker who has a Dwight in my life?”
The thing is, Dwight sits at the end of everyone’s bed.
He sits on the edge of everyone’s desk.
He sits in everyone’s home waiting for them to return each day.
His little “motivation button” is being used on all of us.
He’s the most malicious of creatures; he convinces us all into inaction and then leaves you to your own misery when you realise you’ve been hoodwinked by him yet again.
He perpetually gives reasons, excuses and sucks us into the “I’m not motivated enough” story and then once his work is done, leaves us to beat ourselves up with an old slipper.
He does his job so well in fact that we often decide to abandon our goals because it’s not worth the pain of the feeling of failure the next day.
As you have probably realised, Dwight is simply our mind.
We were born with him already in place. Whilst we all experience him, some people have developed a different relationship with him to you.