What Little I Know About Motivation

November 8, 2009 at 8:50 am | Posted in Dealing with Depression, My Fascinating Mood | Leave a comment

I know very little about motivation. I am, however, deeply intimate with its opposite, acedia, a feeling of jaded exhaustion so destructive that it’s considered a sin.

Acedia. Yes. The jaded sense of exhaustion that comes over me on a Sunday afternoon, and that can easily persist all week — or for two weeks — if I won’t or can’t put in the hard work needed to shake it off. When I’m depressed, which is most of the time, my default mode is physical immobility and a blank stare. It’s a huge effort to move, speak, and, at times, to look up. I get some relief when I’m actually engaged in a task, but as soon as the task ends, I lapse into a sad stillness.

I have dozens of gambits to lash myself into action, and I’ve recounted many of them here: breaking down a task into its smallest possible elements, setting a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and working just for that time, performing the elaborate anti-procrastination rituals found in The Feeling Good Handbook. At work I struggle constantly to stay active, to avoid falling into that silent, dazed stare which normal people probably find creepy. The thing is, when I get home from work, I sometimes resent hugely having to flog myself further to get anything done in my private life. I get tired of essentially tricking myself into action again and again, for all of my waking hours. Sometimes I long to just stare and let misery overwhelm me. The sensation this creates is painful, but it’s also easy, and sometimes I just need to do what’s easiest.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been unable to act much at home. Sometimes I manage to fool myself into some sort of activity, but more often I’ve just been drifting — falling asleep, or just lying in an agonizing daze from which I cannot seem to extricate myself. I did finally manage to shake this mood off on Friday, but I admit that I’m afraid of today. It is Sunday, and I can feel the abyss of inaction right there next to me.

So here’s a brief memo to myself. I hope that I will be able to cling to these words for the next several hours, and that they will buoy me up.

1. There will be times when you feel motivated and excited, but those times will be rare. Treasure them. It might be a good idea to jot down a few notes on what brought the enthusiasm on, and to see if you can reproduce it.

2. It doesn’t really matter all that much what you do, but you do need to do something. A week ago, I wrote on a loose scrap of paper: “Drive to La Encantada.” Then, several lines down, “Why?” Do not ask this question. While your actions shouldn’t be entirely random (in other words, you should have goals and pursue them), you needn’t choose the “right” thing to do. Driving to La Encantada might not be the optimum thing to do on a Sunday afternoon, but it beats staring at the wall. You can agonize all day about which item on your to do list is the thing that you need to do, the thing that will cure your unhappiness. Probably all of them can, or none of them. You can become absorbed in just about anything — even in walking around a pretentious rich-people mall like La Encantada. Human beings are meaning-making creatures, and you will construct meaning and even a smidgen of joy out of anything you do.

3. It doesn’t matter if you do the thing well. Of course, that’s not entirely true — at work they will probably insist upon some basic level of competence — but when you’re on your own time, you can afford to suck, to struggle, and to fail. You need not avoid activities simply because you might not be good at them, or the product might be less than brilliant. In other words, embrace making an ugly necklace.

4. You do not feel yourself into working. You work yourself into feeling. It’s not reasonable to expect to start every task with a rush of enthusiasm. Sure, when you’re hypomanic you’re overcome with excitement over every chance-met chore, but this is not your normal state of being, and if you wait for this state to descend over you, you will waste your life in a weltering pool of inaction. So act!

I feel that I should polish this a bit, but I’m losing momentum as I write. I think I will simply publish it, hoping that it will do some good as it is, and knowing that it’s better than not publishing at all.



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