What Causes People NOT to be Motivated

It’s usually not a question of being motivated to do something. It’s a question of HOW motivated you are.

Sometimes people say, “I have to find my motivation to do such-and-such”. In the therapy session I’ll ask them, “Aren’t you motivated now?” The answer is obvious: YES. Because if you weren’t motivated, you wouldn’t be concerned about NOT getting the thing done.

So then the question becomes: “Why am I not motivated once I leave this conversation?” Or “What distracts me?”

And don’t start in about “ADD”. We’re at a point where everyone “has ADD”. We are all distracted, because in today’s fast-paced, technological world there are millions of distractions every second. There are millions of little choices to make every day, and while there’s a lot of good in having choices, there’s also a lot of distraction.

When someone tells me, for example, “I exercised faithfully for a week. But then I stopped”, my reply is not to say, “You lack motivation”. My reply is: “You were motivated–but only for so long”. Or I’ll say, “You wanted to exercise. You still want to exercise. But only SO much”.

My comment is not always popular. Probably because it’s true.

There’s a word called “commitment”. A lot of people shy away from that word. For that reason, I stopped using it for awhile. But then I realized: If people are shying away from this word, then it possibly means they should be moving toward it.

What does commitment mean, in this context? I’ll tell you. Think of the person who quits smoking. The person who quits — and stays that way — will usually tell you, “I reached a point where I was sick of it. My smoking was annoying and disturbing myself more than anyone else around me”.

This means the person was motivated ENOUGH to stop smoking … and to stay stopped. That’s a commitment. It’s the commitment that distinguishes the permanent non-smoker from the on-again/off-again smoker. Or drinker. Or smart phone addict. Or over-eater. Or name any habit you wish to change or develop. Commitment (or lack thereof) will tell the story.

Books have been written on how it takes a certain number of days or weeks to break a habit. It’s even harder to develop a new habit. We are all programmed (partly by ourselves) to think, feel or act a certain way. It’s hard to change it!

Doctors tell their patients who need to lose weight, control blood pressure, diabetes and the like: “It’s a lifestyle change”. What they’re really saying is: “You have to WANT good health enough to stop permanently”. Or to change a habit — such as eating — permanently.

The deepest issue for any living organism? Survival or death. With regard to motivation, either you want to live — or you don’t. Most cases are not that extreme. But that’s always the underlying issue. Either you want to improve your life, live your life longer, or better — or you don’t.

That’s what a commitment is. “I’m going to do this. For good. I’m going to do it because it’s in my own interest, and because I WANT to act in my own interest”. That’s the real issue. Not the habit itself. It’s the attitude.

When you think about it, it’s more than a lifestyle change. It’s a valuing of self like most of us are never taught to exhibit. We’re told from our earliest years not to be “selfish”, to only think of others and never to think of ourselves. Of course — in a perverse, sadistic kind of way — we’re simultaneously told to be self-responsible, grow up, be strong, be independent and be all we can be.

Now how in the world are we supposed to be all those things when we’re also supposed to be selfless and ONLY think of others, NEVER thinking of ourselves?

On the one hand, we’re told to survive and fend for ourselves. On the other hand, we’re told that taking care of others is the only thing we can do that’s right.

It’s ridiculous, but most of the way that most people think is ridiculous. And that’s one reason the world is in the state that it’s in. And it’s one reason why therapists like myself are always so busy. Walking around with gigantic contradictions in your mind tends to create cognitive dissonance and other forms of mental breakdown and disorder. It’s not mostly in the genes. It’s mostly in the way we think.

So in order to change your habits, and to increase your motivation, it will help a great deal to think about these deeper issues of commitment and self-valuing. Every single day. When you start doing that, then your behavioral change techniques will start to work better. It’s not just the habit. It’s your underlying attitude.



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