As a personal trainer, I never liked the whole concept of “motivation.”
I felt like people completely misunderstood and abused it, saying things like “I just have no motivation” as a way of shaming or excusing their behavior, and asking “how do you get motivated?” as if motivation was some magic potion I drank every morning in order to take action on my goals.
When it came to exercise back then, I never had to “get motivated” because:
Lifting weights was in perfect alignment with my values. It was, in fact, one of my highest priorities. I followed a program, I wanted to get stronger, and I arranged my life so that the space, time, and energy for lifting was always there.
I fucking loved it. A person doesn’t need to “get motivated” to do things they love, and I loved lifting weights. (This is a big reason I suggest only doing exercise you love, instead of trying to do the kind you think you “should” do.)
That was back when I had a private gym at my disposal of course. I was there all day training clients, and I was surrounded by other fitness nerds who pushed me to get better and better. I didn’t need motivation because my entire life was centered around fitness.
Nowadays it’s different. None of those things are true anymore, and I broke my workout habit over a year ago. The momentum is long gone, and to be honest sometimes I struggle on my afternoon break to choose between “go to the gym” and “lay in bed browsing buzzfeed.”
Lately when I feel unproductive and unfit, I’ve been wondering about this:
how DO people get motivated?
Is there something I should be doing to rally harder?
Then I had a major realization about motivation… thanks to the magic of Xanax.
First of all, yes I recently started taking Xanax during a certain part of my menstrual cycle to help me feel human, and no, there’s nothing shameful about that.
Second of all, I’ve been taking low doses, so I don’t really notice anything other than feeling a little more “me” again about half an hour after taking it.
The interesting thing is that on the days I experience crushing anxiety and depersonalization/derealization, I often feel physical symptoms too– typically intense fatigue, extreme emotional sensitivity, and a full-body sensation I can only identify as a “desperate desire to crawl into a hole and never come out.”
This is why the days I take Xanax also happen to be the days when I feel the most unproductive and sluggish, and most wish I could “get motivated.” These are the days I am incapable of working, exercising, leaving the apartment, or sometimes even getting out of bed. These days suck.
I was feeling all of those things on a particularly bad day recently, and realized around 10am that this day was going to be a wash. I had resigned myself to skipping everything and just laying in bed all day when I took the Xanax, and decided to just answer a few emails before I gave up entirely.
Then something funny happened. I finished the emails, and moved on to edit and record a webinar, get some challenging schoolwork done, make myself a nice lunch, hit the gym, and then write out the syllabus and packet notes for an upcoming workshop.
By the end of the day, I was completely baffled– WTF had happened?? How had I been able to get all that done?? Why hadn’t I crawled back into bed to lay in the fetal position for 8 hours?
I was explaining the day to my partner that night, about how “the darkness had fallen” but somehow I stayed focused and motivated and had a really productive day anyway. I mentioned that I had taken Xanax, but quickly followed it up with “but Xanax doesn’t motivate you or focus you or anything– it’s not like taking Adderall!”
His response was: “Xanax might not be inherently motivating, but the kind of anxiety you experience is inherently debilitating.”
And there it was.
It’s not that I had been extra motivated that day– it’s just that I had removed a (debilitating) block to my energy and focus. In my unblocked state, I am naturally “motivated” to do work I care about, exercise, and take good care of myself. The Xanax has simply returned a bit of that unblocked state to me.
I thought about this a lot over the next few days, and realized that this is the key to motivation.
Motivation isn’t about adding the magic potion, it’s about removing the burdens and blocks to natural energy flow.
For me that day, the burden getting in my way was a hormonally-created, debilitating sense that everything was broken and bad and fake and scary. With that kind of garbage weighing down on me, even simple tasks were so burdensome and painful that I could hardly imagine handling anything more challenging than getting out of bed.
But when that block was removed, I was able to calmly (even enjoyably!) accomplish everything on my to-do list. Not with great pleasure or gusto, since I still felt pretty shitty, but with a steady sense of purpose.
Too often, we blame ourselves for “not being motivated enough” to take action on our goals, and think we need to fight against our natural state of “laziness” or “lack of willpower” in order to see any kind of success.
But what if we have it backwards?
What if your unblocked self actually naturally takes pleasure in moving the body, eating nourishing food, resting, playing, being sensual and sexual, and doing fulfilling work? What if the only reason you feel too tired or lazy to get shit done is because you’re constantly weighed down by your own (debilitating) energy blocks?
This would be like wearing a backpack filled with rocks, blaming yourself for walking so slow and being so tired all the time, and then also believing the solution was to “get motivated” to wear the backpack better.