How to Overcome a Lack of Motivation Part 8 - Addressing Biological Obstacles
Sometimes motivation fluctuations aren't "all in your head."
There can be very legitimate, biological reasons why staying motivated is hard.
So far in this series almost everything we've discussed has been about addressing mindset and expectation-management challenges as they relate to motivation.
That was intentional.
If you're thinking about a situation the wrong way, you'll never achieve the outcome you're looking for.
So, before I address the biological aspect of motivation, let me first recount...
A QUICK BACKSTORY
A few years ago when Nina and I built our health coaching program, we ran it live for eight weeks to a group of about two-dozen committed people.
After the program was over, we wanted to capture the participant's feedback.
As we recorded their stories, what surprised me and Nina was that the main piece of feedback we received spoke to how much people changed their thinking.
Despite the participants experiencing a few hundred pounds of combined weight loss and seeing major improvements in various health conditions, the #1 thing they ALL told us was how their mindset had changed.
In a curious moment, I asked them if they would have signed up for a healthy-living, mindset academy.
They all laughed.
Mindset shifts were not what they came for, weight loss was.
Yet, every single one of them identified upgrades to their thinking as the single-biggest, impactful takeaway from our time together.
The health improvements (and loss of weight) were almost a side benefit.
Why am I telling you this?
My point is, your mindset has EVERYTHING to do with whether or not you are able to stay motivated and successful for life in general, and health in particular.
That's why mindset has been the main focus of this series.
Hopefully by now you understand that your frame of reference for what's possible, will determine what you believe can happen, and thus it dictate what you strive for.
When it comes to accomplishing goals (and specifically health goals) we've found that in almost every instance, the path to success is FIRST a process of refining your thinking, and second, it's a process of refining your body.
I tell you that because as I discuss below some very real, biological roadblocks to staying motivated, I don't want you to get so fixated on these potential thieves of motivation, and jettison your efforts to know yourself better.
Never stop questioning your thinking--that's almost always where your breakthrough is waiting.
With that said, sometimes mindset isn't the biggest obstacle or thief of motivation.
So let's turn our attention to where biology is playing a role.
Five Major, Biological Thieves of Motivation
#1 NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES
A major biological impediment to staying motivated is nutrient deficiencies.
Let me give you two easy examples--seasonal depression, and postpartum depression.
To oversimplify a bit, they are indicative of a Vitamin D and Zinc deficiency respectively.
Seasonal Depression: Most people are familiar with the concept that our bodies produce Vitamin D in response to sunlight.
Go through a long-enough winter without adequate intake of Vitamin D, and it's hard not to feel depressed.
During winter you can buffer this with better nutrition, supplementation, a vacation, or even some light panels that mimic sunlight.
Postpartum Depression: During labor, women use up a huge amount of zinc, which is a raw material needed for many functions of the body, including regulating mood.
If a woman's nutritional reserves of zinc were low to begin with, after she gives birth she can mysteriously fall into depression, not because anything was externally wrong, but simply because a nutrient depletion.
These two situations are easy examples of how mood is connected to your nutrition.
Similar to your microbial balance: Try as hard as you may to stay positive, if your body doesn't have the raw materials to build your mood-regulating hormones, you're going to feel unmotivated--maybe even depressed.
#2: POOR DIGESTION
If you read my article on digestion, you may remember that I discussed how an unhealthy gut can lead to just about any health challenge.
But, did you know that gut problems can also be tied to your mood and motivation?
It turns out, the majority of your neurotransmitters (the little chemical messengers that impact your mood and motivation) are not made exclusively in your brain.
In fact, they are mostly made in your gut.
But, it's not your cells that are making them.
Fascinatingly, it's the microbes living inside you that are making your neurotransmitters.
Perhaps even more fascinating is you have a 50/50 chance of falling into depression if you take two courses of antibiotics in one year.
Decimate the microflora that is helping regulate your mood, and not surprisingly, you'll have a hard time regulating your emotions.
Try as you may be "be positive," that's a really tall order for your body when it does not have the right microbial balance in your gut.
Sometimes a lack of motivation really is a biological challenge.
While it's beyond the scope of what I can get into here, know that...
There is virtually no part of your mind and body that won't benefit from a concerted effort to improve your digestion.
If you've had a history of overusing antibiotics, especially during childhood, it may be worth doing a deep dive into gut health.
Also, know that antibiotics aren't the only thing that creates imbalances in your gut flora.
Food additives, alcohol, household cleaners, personal care products and almost every category of medications (including, ironically, psychiatric medications), can all be detrimental to your microbiome/motivation.
If you've had a less-than-stellar diet, been around a lot of chemicals, or taken a lot of meds, you might find that improving your digestion can be a windfall for your mood and motivation.
With that said let's turn to the next major biological impediment to staying motivated.
#3: UNSTABLE BLOOD SUGAR
By now we're all probably familiar with the term "hangry."
Hangry is a clever term meant to describe feeling hungry and angry at the same time.
Trying to stay even-keeled emotionally when you're ravenous, can be difficult.
If you've been prone to mood fluctuations related to your blood sugar (or ladies, around your cycle), there's a great chance you're not doing a great job managing how you fuel your body.
Often, people who are experiencing inexplicable motivation fluctuations are simply riding a blood-sugar rollercoaster.
More often than not, when we help clients fix their blood-sugar management issues (the what and when of eating), we naturally help them even out their mood, and that goes a long way to naturally boosting motivation.
Side note: For a real client story about how powerful fixing one's blood sugar can be, check out this video...
The point is, when your mood is not left to the whims of your hunger pangs, it's much easier to feel more present and less anxious.
The good news is this challenge is often one of the easiest things to fix with less sugar, better quality fat intake, and not skipping meals.
Relatively simple right?
Here is how we rank the first three biological obstacles when it comes to helping clients get well.
Nutritious food is a foundation of good health. Miss this and the rest doesn't improve.
Efficient digestion is required to extract all that goodness that you eat.
It is the "what" and "when" of eating that stabilizes your blood sugar.
Address all three of those sequentially, and you destress your endocrine system...and your hormones naturally start to sort themselves out.
Reverse the process and focus on hormones first, and you'll be playing and endless game of symptom whack-a-mole.
#4: NATURAL WEIGHT FLUCTUATIONS
This biological thief of motivation is a sneaky one because you can think you're "doing all the right things" and yet the scale "isn't cooperating."
In reality, there's a good chance the scale isn't fighting you.
Here's one reason that may be true.
Every year (sometimes twice a year) a healthy body will have fluctuate by about 5-10 pounds.
Admittedly, the idea of natural, seasonal weight fluctuations kind of seemed like a gimmick, or cop out when I first heard the idea.
Then, in doing a deep dive to study for our fasting program (The Healing Intensive) I found out seasonal weight fluctuations are a "real thing."
Perhaps not surprisingly, during the colder months we tend to pack on more weight and when it's warmer, we tend to weigh less.
That's a normal, healthy, natural rhythm.
And it's especially helpful to understand this rhythm as normal if you're trying to stay motivated for a weight-loss journey.
If you're on a quest to lose weight, it is important to know that weight loss will come in spurts. It's not something you can methodically predict on an Excel sheet.
We'd all love it if we could create a spreadsheet of "calories in, calories out," stick to the plan, and lose a predictable 1/2 to 2 lbs each week for however long we need to.
In reality, it NEVER works that way.
At particular times of the year, you will naturally gain a little weight.
If you're in the middle of trying to lose weight, that reality can be seriously demotivating.
My point here is that you will plateau and/or fluctuate up a few pounds every so often.
When that happens, know that your body isn't fighting you.
It's actually doing you a service and conserving resources.
It knows what it's doing.
If (ahem, when) you hit that plateau, double down on your good habits and trust the process.
Here's the important point:
To win at weight loss, you have to play the long game.
When you realize that for MOST people, real, sustainable weight loss is a 1-2 year project, it's liberating.
Digesting that perspective can require a some emotional recalibration.
But here's the paradigm shift:
The "game" of weight loss is no longer: How fast can I lose the weight? Instead, it's: How can I build good habits that I'll keep doing?
The secret to weight loss is building health, and letting weight loss be the side effect.
To summarize this point, there's a seasonal, lifestyle (and for women of childbearing age--a monthly) component to weight loss.
Instead of getting frustrated, that simple understanding of biology frees you to focus on the habits and behaviors that build health, and keeps you from getting too fixated on the scale.
Your job isn't to worry about the weight.
Your job is to:
Stay the course with the habits you know are good for you.
Auto-pilot them until you do them without thinking.
Find another habit to optimize.
That's how you lose weight for good.
Hopefully now you see the point about my earlier comment about mindset.
With that said, let's turn our attention to the last biological thief of motivation.
#5: PHYSICAL PAIN
Ever noticed how hard it is to stay positive when your body hurts?
None of us are above being on edge or feeling unmotivated when our physical bodies hurt.
Who wants to exercise when you know you're going to ache?
Who wants to practice being patient when your head is pounding?
Who is excited about cooking when standing in the kitchen makes your bones hurt?
In any situation where pain persists, it's really hard to stay motivated.
I don't point this out because there are necessarily easy solutions to getting out of pain.
Sometimes there are, but often (usually) there's a convergence of lifestyle factors that need to be addressed in order for the body to accelerate a lasting healing process.
My point in bringing up the topic of pain is to (hopefully) allow you to:
Give yourself a bit more grace if you're frustrated by your ability to stay motivated due to physical pain--you're not weak, your emotional bandwidth is taxed.
Muster the courage to practice what we talked about in previous posts--look for areas where you can create small-but-meaningful wins that will, in this instance, start moving the needle when it comes to your physical pain.
I've helped a lot of people get out of pain and get moving, and I can tell you that it's not likely going to be massive action that gets you feeling better.
What will get you feeling better is developing a willingness (an eagerness even) to practice much of what this series has been about--namely:
Finding and remembering your purpose
Addressing the major mindset obstacles
Setting up your environment for success
Learning to care for your physical body
If you can (sequentially) crack the code on those four areas, your motivation is going to be darn-near unstoppable.
It took me eight posts to get through those four points, but hopefully by now you're starting to see the puzzle of human motivation in a much clearer light.
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
Which of those four areas above do you suspect is your weakest link?
What would it look like (i.e. what could you picture yourself doing) to take action on that one area?
How would you make that practice stick?
If any of the biological obstacles to motivation sounds like part of your story, how will you address it?
Life is going to throw you curveballs.
None of us (no not even me) stays highly motivated all the time.
It has actually been a slough writing this series.
Admittedly (perhaps ironically), I didn't feel motivated to write it at times.
But, the series forced me to face the questions I've been asking you, and I think I can say I'm better for it.
So dear reader, I'd love to hear. Which post stood out to you the most and what will you do about your new self awareness.
Do share. I always love hearing your stories.
Here's to riding those priceless waves of motivation, having the stamina to paddle to the next one, and getting really good riding the waves of life instead of letting them beat you down.
Stay well good people.
Until next time,
PS. If you're curious about the process we use to help people reach their health and fitness goals, check this out. Care to chat and see if what I do can help you too, book a call.