Here’s why and what you can do about it
- Work out daily.
- Organize all the closets. And the basement. And the garage.
- Read the stack of novels that’s been collecting dust on the bedside table.
- Take an online course to learn how to draw.
- Write a book.
Sharing my actual to-do list from the early pandemic days almost feels like sharing my list of life goals from when I was a naive high school graduate. Such is the sweetness of innocent youth.
Oh, I had grand plans. Nothing was going to stand in my way.
And then weeks.
Heck – maybe even years at this point. I don’t know, I’ve lost count how long we’ve been sheltering in place.
Wanna know how many I’ve gotten to?
- It’s not because I’ve been sick. Or because I’m an essential worker.
It’s because motivation has been hard to come by lately. Same with creativity.
Guilt and frustration, on the other hand, seem to be in great supply.
So many people I know are struggling to get motivated and they just can’t understand why.
They know they should be ‘making the most of this time’ and ‘becoming their best selves’ like all the social media posts are evangelizing.
After all, the posts remind us: You have all this down time – when has there ever been a better time to get those big goals checked off your to do list?
It’s hard not to get sucked into that messaging – especially for overachievers like us. Any opportunity to take more on, to better ourselves, is almost like a challenge.
But, rather than it becoming the carrot we use to motivate and propel us forward, it becomes the weapon we use to punish ourselves for being ‘lazy’ when we can’t get up the motivation.
Most of my clients tell me they had all these goals for themselves – write a book, get in shape, lose weight, learn French – and they just can’t “get their act together”.
These typically super driven and motivated people (all high and overachievers), feel like they all the sudden don’t even recognize themselves.
If any of this sounds familiar, know this: Nothing is wrong with you.
Let me present to you:
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Aka: the reason you can’t get motivated
Maslow’s theory says that, generally speaking, we can’t move up the pyramid to satisfy higher level needs until the lower level ones have been met.
Many of us are spending our days bouncing around between that red zone of satisfying our need for safety – ensuring we’re physically and emotionally healthy, and financially secure – and the yellow ‘love and belonging’ – which can be very challenging when we’re isolated.
And even if our rational brains can tell us we’re safe, we’re secure and we have love, we’re inundated with news and messages that subconsciously tell our emotional brains to be hyper-vigilant and self-protective.
Turning on the news and even scrolling through social media feels a little like we’re suiting up for battle or getting into defensive stance in case we need to fight or run for our lives.
It is SO easy right now to get caught in a spiral thinking about worst case scenarios – they’re literally the headlines on just about every article you see. And our bodies react not to the reality around us but to the imagery in our heads.
Did you know that your brain can’t tell the difference between what is real and imagined? It reacts the same way and triggers the same responses.
Even if all you’re doing is sitting on your couch binging Netflix and news headlines, if you’re imagining feeling unsafe and thinking about worst case scenarios, your brain and body are in overdrive trying to keep you protected from the danger it thinks is real.
And to get back to a place of feeling safe takes a lot of energy to recover.
All of that makes it really difficult to jump up to the top of the pyramid where all those goals we had to improve our lives and become our best selves exist.
For most of us, our emotional brains are much more focused on survival than on self-actualization.
So, if you’ve been beating yourself up for not being motivated, remember this hierarchy and treat yourself with kindness and grace.
Please don’t use your goals as weapons against yourself; little reminders of what you should be doing or where you’re falling behind.
If you’re feeling stressed, drained, anxious or unmotivated, now is absolutely the time to give yourself a break and focus on self-care rather than self-improvement.
- Ask yourself what you need now to feel better.
- What do you need to give yourself permission to do – even if it feels “unproductive”: Is it a nap? A bath? A walk? A detox from news and social media?
- How can you help yourself feel more safe and secure? More loved and connected?
And, for all you over-achievers, you’ll be delighted to hear that self-care is truly one of the highest forms of self-improvement.
Back to my to-do list, once I remembered dear ole’ Maslow and was able to give myself a break, I recovered a lot faster. This, in turn, actually enabled me to tap into my creativity and motivation a lot more.
I’m delighted to report that the single item on my to-do list that’s actually in progress is my book. Where I struggled early on in this crisis to put 2 words together and was really beating myself up, I’m now feeling great and cranking through the first draft of my memoir.
Your turn! I’d love to hear from you how this article helped – what idea did it spur for you that could help someone else? Share in the comments below.