Episode 17: Why Am I Unmotivated?

Why Am I Unmotivated?

What To Do When You Don’t WANT To Do What It Takes To Manage Your Fibromyalgia

You can’t take a vacation from fibromyalgia, which also means you can’t take a vacation from doing all of the things necessary to manage your fibromyalgia. Healing is a full-time job, and it takes a lot of work to keep feeling our best! Sometimes we hate making choices that feel like eating broccoli when we are really craving ice cream, and we give in, even when that lack of discipline leads to more pain, fog, and fatigue. What can you do when your inner child wants to stomp her foot and say, “No! I don’t want to!”?

Key Points

  • Why can’t I do what I know I need to do? Do I just need more willpower?
  • Why forcing yourself to do something never works in the long run.
  • How creating simple habits can help you develop automatic muscle memory — and how to determine which simple habits are right for you.
  • The one BIG THING many coaches are missing when it comes to motivation.
  • Being unmotivated is totally okay and totally normal. Sometimes the answer isn’t white-knuckling action — it’s rest.

Links & Resources

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You’re listening to the Fibromyalgia Podcast, Episode 17.

Welcome to the Fibromyalgia Podcast!

I’m your Coach, Tami Stackelhouse.

Today we’re going to be talking about a subject that is actually affecting me personally at the moment. I always have the thought that if it’s affecting one person, it’s probably affecting more. If this is something that I’m dealing with at the moment, then, most likely, someone out there is also dealing with this, as well — and that is MOTIVATION.

[01:18]  Sometimes, it can be so hard to keep doing all of the things that we have to do to stay feeling our best. You may not have noticed, but you can’t take a vacation from fibromyalgia — which also means you can’t really take a vacation from doing all of the things to manage your fibromyalgia. I alluded to this a little bit on our last episode, when I was talking with Dr. Congdon about all of the things that I do to manage my fibromyalgia, to keep myself pain free, and to have the energy to do all of the things that are on my plate to do.

[01:59]  It’s a lot of stuff! I take lots of supplements. I get acupuncture. I get massage. I go to the chiropractor. I make all of these decisions. I go to bed early… Well… anybody who knows me knows that’s not actually true! I try to go to bed at a reasonable hour, would be more accurate. I am trying to get enough sleep, and all of these things, to make sure that I feel my best.

[02:31]  There are some times where I just don’t. I am human, like all of you out there, and I still have that inner two-year-old that just wants to stomp her foot and say, “No! I don’t want to!” I thought it might be helpful to talk a little about that and just be open and honest with you guys about the things that I do in my own life. Pull back the curtains on this idea of motivation a little bit, and help you with some ideas, if you are struggling in this area at all.

[03:10]  When it comes to motivation, many of the theories out there are all about just “white knuckling” it. You know, holding on for dear life and forcing your way through it. Doing things by sheer willpower.

The reality is, that just doesn’t work long term. You can force yourself to do something for a short time. Anybody who has ever been on any diet ever, knows what I’m talking about with this. Right? You can eat right, whether you’re trying to lose weight or just “I’m going to stop eating sugar because it’s not good for me”, kind of a thing. Right? You do really well for a little while and then you get to that point where just “doing it to do it” is not enough of a reason. You get a point where you just can’t force yourself to do it anymore.

[04:13]  Even if you’re a mom with kids, there’s a certain point where you can make your kids do things, and then there’s a certain point where you just can’t anymore. It’s the same thing with ourselves. This idea of just having more willpower is actually a total myth.

I think that willpower is a little bit like a muscle — you can develop it so you have more willpower. But, I also think that it is like a muscle in that if you are having a day where you have just had to force yourself to do too many things, at a certain point that muscle says “No”. Right? Like if you’re lifting weights, you could lift a certain amount of weight for a while, but at a certain point your muscles are just not going to be able to lift that amount anymore.

[05:11]  Willpower is the same thing. You might do really great following your no sugar diet until you have reached the end of the day, and you’ve just got no more strength left to do that, and you eat a pint of ice cream. Right? That’s where we have to build other things into our life to support us with those things — when our willpower muscle is used up.

[05:45]  There are a lot of things that I personally do with this. A big one that I use a lot, is simply habits. For instance, brushing your teeth every night before bed. It feels weird if you go to bed and you haven’t brushed your teeth. Right? Or if you’re one of those people who always turns off the light when you walk out of a room, you might notice that you hit the light switch even when the light wasn’t on because it’s just an automatic thing that you do — reaching out to turn off that light switch.

[06:21]  If you can develop healthy habits — habits that support your health and support the goals that you have — then you have that automatic muscle memory, so to speak, to do those things that help you feel your best. One of the things that I’m in a routine about is when I’m getting ready for bed at night: I wash my face. I fill my pill bottle for the next day with the supplements I need to take for the next day, and I take my supplements that night. I will say that I will never forget and go to bed without taking my supplements that I take at bedtime, because it’s part of my nightly routine. Now, there might be times where I choose to go to bed without following my nightly routine, but that’s different than just, “Oh my gosh, I totally forgot to take that.”

[07:22]  Developing those kinds of routines can be particularly helpful. In future episodes, when we talk about brain fog and ways you can combat brain fog, you’ll hear that habits and routines are one of the big ways that I combat brain fog. Things like putting your keys in the same place every time. Building in those habits and routines are going to be helpful to not wear out your willpower muscle, by having those healthy habits.

[07:57]  Now, how do you know what habits you need to create to have this be helpful? The answer to that lies in what your goals are and what it is that you are trying to create. You’ll notice that I’m talking about this in a positive way. What are you trying to create, rather than what are you trying to avoid?

[08:23]  You’ll also notice that I did this as part of our Joy List exercise in the episode about the Joy List, Episode 13. If you go listen to that, you’ll notice that I have you start by thinking about what you want, rather than thinking about what you want to fix. It’s the same thing when we’re talking about health goals as well. There is actually a Gentle Goal Setting Workshop that I often do, and it all comes from this standpoint of: What is it that you are trying to create? When you think about your fibromyalgia, don’t think about “How do I not be in pain?” because that just uses your willpower muscle.

[09:13]  Running away from something can get you so far, but at a certain point you’re going to stop running because you’re not in fear of the thing behind you anymore. It’s far enough back there that it’s not motivating. If you’re running towards something that you want, then you are less likely to only run so far and stop, because you’re not there yet. You want to keep going.

[09:41]  We look at goals the same way. What is it that you want to create in your life? Just think about one small thing. It might be something as simple as: I just want to have more energy during the day. How do I feel alert so that I can do my work and actually do good work? How do I have enough energy to chase after my two-year-old? Or, I want to be able to babysit my grandkids and get down on the floor and play with them and enjoy it. Think about what it is that you want to create.

[10:29]  Once you think about what that life looks like that you are wanting to create, then you can start thinking about: How is my life different than that picture? 

Do you guys remember we used to have these “find the differences” pictures in the back of magazines? There would be two pictures and it would read “spot the differences”. That’s how I look at goal setting. First we think: What is the picture of the life I want to have? Then, we look at the picture of where our life is right now, and we spot the differences. If I am someone who has a lot of energy and can chase after my two-year-old, what does that person do that you’re not doing? How is that life different?

[11:19]  Maybe you’re getting more sleep. Maybe you are eating differently. Maybe you have a different exercise routine. I’m just talking about generalities here. Of course, you want to get more specific for your own life. I’m not saying that you know, this is the answer to all of your fibromyalgia problems. I’m just trying to illustrate with something that everyone can understand. You want to look at the life of the person who would have those things that you are wanting and think about where your life is different.

[11:56]  That’s how you can spot those routines, right? Maybe part of your routine is making sure that you take those supplements you’re supposed to take every night before bed, or taking your medication on a certain schedule, or following through on a gluten-free diet like maybe your doctor has suggested that you do, or whatever those things are. Just start thinking about how you can almost automate those in your brain by having them be a routine. That’s a big one for me, because then I don’t have to continually make that decision of: Do I want to do this or not?

[12:36]  Now, there are some things that doesn’t work for, right? Like going to bed on time. I might have a bedtime routine, but the time on the clock might not be the same. I do the same thing whether I’m going to bed at 10 or I’m going to bed at 2:00 AM, but obviously there’s a big difference in the amount of sleep I get, right? Routines, obviously, aren’t the answer to everything. So then what?

[13:08]  I have found over the last ten years of being a Coach, that there are times when I find myself not wanting to do things that I know are going to get me something else that I want, right? So thinking about that idea of: If I want to have enough energy to chase around after my two-year-old, that means that I’m the person who gets enough sleep at night. That means that I’m the person who has a good, healthy diet. I’m the person who has a regular exercise routine, so that I have the stamina to chase after my two-year-old. Now, because I want to chase after my two-year-old, I am going to choose to do those other things.

[13:58]  Again, I’m just using this as an example. I know fibromyalgia is complicated when it comes to things like exercise routines, so stay with me here, but we make those secondary choices to do things like go exercise not, usually, because our primary goal is just to go exercise. There are some people out there who just exercise for exercise’s sake. I am not one of them. I choose to do all the things to make my body healthy so that I can go do something else. I go exercise so that I have the energy and stamina to walk around the airport and do all the travel that I do, and be able to pick up my bags easily and things like that.

[14:52]  I choose to go to bed earlier than I would normally want to, if left to my own devices, not because I want to go to bed at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, but because I know I feel better and I can do better work and have more energy and less pain and fewer headaches and all of those other things, and have a life that I enjoy, because I got enough sleep.

[15:26]  Remember that sometimes there are things that you’re going to choose to do, not because you want to do them particularly. Like, I don’t brush my teeth because I love brushing my teeth. I brush my teeth because I want to have healthy teeth. I want my visits at the dentist’s office to be enjoyable. I don’t want to have cavities and have my teeth fall out. I want to have a nice smile. I want to have a healthy mouth, not because I just love the act of brushing my teeth. Remember that.

[16:08]  And then also… I totally lost my train of thought there. I’m just going to be honest. =)

[16:14]  There are things that we choose to do that are sort of against our inner two-year-old, and so we have to be aware of those choices.

[16:28]  The other thing that I really want to mention — Ha! My train of thought is back! — Here’s what I’ve noticed over the last ten years. When I get to a place where I realize that I’m not doing the things that I know I normally would want to do to have the life I want to live… that whole thing of: I don’t love brushing my teeth, like it’s not a super fun activity or anything. It’s something that I do so that I have something else. If I find that I don’t want to brush my teeth, I’m just going to go to bed without brushing my teeth. Or I don’t want to record blog posts or podcast episodes this week. I just don’t want to, even though I actually love doing it, then I know that there is something off.

[17:24]  There is something wrong. That’s somewhere where you have to watch your own thoughts, and watch your own activities, and be able to evaluate when your thoughts and your behavior are unusual — are not your normal. If I feel like, “Ugh, I just don’t want to coach anybody today. Maybe I’ll just stop being a Coach.” That’s not right. That’s not normal. When I have those thoughts, I know that something is off. There is usually something that is off in my self-care. Maybe I haven’t been taking care of myself the way I need to. There is something off in my routine.

[18:21]  Maybe moving totally messed up my routine. For those of you who don’t know, about a year ago, Scott and I moved from Portland to Bellevue, in the suburbs of Seattle, and that just totally threw off my routine. I haven’t had an acupuncture visit in almost a year because my routine of going to the acupuncturist every other week was totally thrown off by moving three hours away.

[18:50]  So… I look for what could possibly be off in my life. Is my self-care routine off? Is my routine in general off because of traveling or whatever it might be? I also consider — and this is a piece that is often overlooked by most coaches that I follow — is that yes, your thoughts might be off, your routine might be off, but guys, your biochemistry could also be off. I think this is really important, especially with fibromyalgia because it is so common for us to have nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, disruptions in our neurochemicals, so that our brain chemistry is off.

[19:53]  If you are struggling with motivation, a big thing to consider is this biochemistry piece and whether or not you should talk to your doctor. I’m not necessarily saying you might need medication, although that could be the case, right? There may be blood tests to run. There may be supplements to try taking. There could be something off in your biology, and so you may need to have this conversation with your doctor.

[20:27]  One of the big things that happens with me, again, is it’s almost always my self-care routine. I always look at that — which I’m not going to talk a lot about it in this episode, because I’ve talked a lot about self-care in this podcast. I always go back and look at: am I taking good care of myself? Am I doing all the things that I know I need to do to take care of my body and to have my body feel as good as she possibly can?

[20:58]  I also look, again, like I said, at my routine, which we already talked about. Then, I start thinking about biochemistry. For me, I have been diagnosed with depression. I know that one of the ways that depression manifests for me, personally, is a lack of motivation. I find that things I normally would like to do, don’t really sound very good. The TV show I normally like to watch feels boring. I don’t want to record podcast episodes. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to talk to my clients. I don’t really want to go do things, even reading books sometimes sounds… ugh. Everything is just kind of blah when you have depression. That is one of the hallmarks of it. A lot of people think that depression is being sad, but it’s not necessarily. Yes, it can be sad. That’s part of it. But for a lot of us, it’s actually this sort of thick “snow” that falls over your life and leaves you feeling unmotivated and blah.

[22:20]  Anytime I notice that I don’t want to do things that I normally love to do, I know to start thinking biochemically. To start thinking about my depression and if my neurochemicals are getting imbalanced in a way where maybe my serotonin or norepinephrine are being depleted or whatever it might be. I start thinking at that point about all the supplements that I take to keep those things managed. Have I been good about taking them? Some of the things I take, for those of you who I know would be asking that question right now because you’re curious, I always take 5-HTP, which is a precursor for Serotonin, and Serotonin is what most antidepressants affect in your body. That is something that I’ve got to make sure that I take regularly.

[23:17]  As I mentioned at the beginning, the routine that I have about taking my supplements at night insures that I never miss that. So, my 5-HTP, usually, I think about that. Yes. I’m good. I’ve been taking that. I haven’t missed any days.

Then I start thinking about the other things I take. Like DL-phenylalanine, which is a precursor for epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epinephrine is one of the things that helps give us energy and helps make us feel motivated. If I miss my DLPA, my DL phenylalanine, then a lot of times I will notice I just kind of don’t want to do anything. That’s a big one. Those of you who take some of the fibro meds, Cymbalta is a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. That’s one of the reasons why it is particularly helpful. It and Savella are both SNRIs (serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), so it helps to increase the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain.

[24:26]  These things are all kind of tied together. Serotonin being the happy neurotransmitter and norepinephrine helping with motivation and energy — and even things like long-term memory storage. If you find yourself forgetting things, it could be a norepinephrine issue. 

I also look at: Have I been taking my thyroid medication? Because being depressed, unmotivated and kind of having the blahs — low energy is one of the symptoms of being hypothyroid, which I am. So I have to think, Oh, did I take my thyroid medication? Is there something off there? As I was getting ready in the morning, was I busy and just forgot that? So, think about your neurochemical issues.

[25:19]  Think about your biological components and issues. If you are low in iron, you can have low motivation. If you’re low in B vitamins, you can be unmotivated and fatigued. There are lots and lots of ways. I learned yesterday when I was at the acupuncturist; my vitamin D levels have been really well managed over the last many years. I have a great doctor, she will keep on top of that. It never occurred to me that moving three hours north from Portland to Seattle, that I would need to change my vitamin D levels. My acupuncturist said, “Yes, absolutely.” She said, “We really are the vampire state up here, with way less sun, way more clouds.” She also suggested upping my vitamin D by 1000 or 2000 IUs. All of these biological things can play such a big role in our motivation.

[26:34]  As I talk to you about the things that you can do, there is no amount of willpower that is going to make up for a biochemical issue. It will only take you so far. You know that with fibromyalgia, right? You can push yourself a little bit, but at a certain point you just can’t push anymore, and you just can’t make yourself do it. It’s the same thing when it comes to motivation. So, think about that.

[27:10]  Now, I’d like to give you some action steps, and I’d like to give you a little bit of coaching, just like I would coach my clients. 

If you and I were actually on a phone call together, what I would be telling you at this point is: If you are noticing a lack of motivation in yourself — if you have been going for years trying all of the things, doing all of the things you can think of to try to get better — and you’re feeling like you’re hitting a wall, a wall of motivation, where you’re just like, “Ugh, I’m loving all the things you’re telling me, Tami, on this podcast, but I have no idea how I’m actually going to do this because I just don’t know if I have it in me.” I want you to know that’s totally okay and totally normal.

[28:10]  There are probably ways that you need some extra support to get that motivation back. It could mean that there are areas of your life where you need to give yourself a little more love. You’ve been pushing yourself so hard that you actually need to rest a bit. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. Yes, you may need more rest, like on a couch or a bed, in a chair — but you might also need to give yourself a rest mentally and emotionally, a rest from all of that striving and pushing. Sometimes, you even need a rest from rest. Those of you who have been bedridden, know what I mean. It might actually be a rest for you to get out of that bedroom for a minute. So, give yourself some rest. Think about your self-care.

[29:08]  I also want you to analyze your routines. See if any of your routines need to be adjusted for whatever reason. Maybe routines that you had at one point that worked for you are no longer working because your life has changed. You moved. You got a different job. You had kids. Your kids went back to school. Your kids got off for summer vacation. Your kids went from junior high to high school. There are lots of different things that can cause a break in your routine or cause your routine to no longer work for you. It’s always good to be reevaluating that and seeing: How can I automate this so that I don’t have to continually make the decision to do it?

[29:57]  Lastly, the big thing that I would encourage you to do is to consider is the biological component. Again, this is a piece I see so many coaches missing when they are working with their clients, and that is to consider that biological component. Maybe the reason that you’re struggling with motivation is because your brain doesn’t have enough norepinephrine. Or maybe it’s because your thyroid is under functioning and you don’t have enough thyroid hormones. Or maybe it’s because your adrenals are fatigued and you just don’t have enough cortisol running through your system to give you energy. Or your iron is low. Or you need a few thousand extra vitamin D because you moved three hours north. Or whatever it might be. This biological component is huge and don’t underestimate it. Another thing about this biological piece is that it’s not your fault.

[31:09]  Often when we’re talking about motivation, we are beating ourselves up to get us to a place where we’ll do the thing, right? We will say, “Just do it!” like Nike. Thanks, but no thanks. 

Sometimes, yes, we need to “just do it” as their slogan says. But sometimes there are reasons WHY we don’t want to. Sometimes, our bodies are telling us, “NO, I need rest.” Sometimes our neurochemistry is off through no fault of our own, other than our own genetic makeup. 

You know, it’s not a character flaw if you are lacking motivation. It could be that there is something wrong, something off in your body that needs to be corrected.

[32:05]  I think when it comes to this idea of motivation, we need to give ourselves some grace, and we need to stop beating ourselves up, and we need to consider the possibility that there is something that actually needs to be corrected — not a character defect that needs to be corrected, but a biological component where maybe you need thyroid hormones. Or maybe there’s supplements you need to take. Or maybe you just need to fix your routine. Or maybe you need some self-care.

[32:39]  But, no matter how you look at it, this idea of being unmotivated usually comes from something else, and we need to give ourselves a break. Because guys, if beating yourself up actually worked, you’d be there by now, right? I am sure you have given yourself the lecture many, many times, and you’ve asked yourself many times, “why can’t you just do this?” Consider that there’s a reason why you can’t do this.

[33:18]  All right. So, I am going to wrap this up for today because, again, this is just something that I’ve been dealing with. You know, going through and analyzing my self-care, my routines, and then also thinking about biologically what is off that I might need to correct. That’s exactly why I ended up at the acupuncturist yesterday. As I was doing that analysis I realized, “Hmm, I used to go every other week, but I haven’t been in almost a year. That could be one of the things that has changed and why I’ve been a little unmotivated lately, when normally I would be.”

[34:05]  I would love to have you do that for yourself and look at: What are the things that have changed? Is there something in your routine? Can you give yourself more love? Are you giving yourself enough grace? Are you giving yourself the stick or are you giving yourself the carrot? If there’s some love that you need to help motivate you. Or if you need to, go talk to your doctor. There are so many things that it could be. I’ve obviously mentioned a few in this podcast episode, but there are so many more. And, of course, I don’t know you and your situation, so I can’t tell you on this podcast, but I do suggest that you go talk to a doctor.

[34:51]  If you need help with this particular area of motivation, that is something that we, as Coaches, are trained on. We are trained to ask the right questions to help you uncover if there have been any changes in your routine. We are trained to ask those questions that are going to uncover if there’s something that needs to change in your self-care routine. We can give you suggestions on how to set up those healthy habits. We can help keep you accountable for the things that you are saying that you want to do. If you’re trying to set up a particular habit, we can help you brainstorm and troubleshoot — why you are not doing this? — because in order to create a habit, you have to do the thing long enough, right? We can help keep you accountable so that you get over that speed bump, when it’s hard to get to the point where it’s become a habit and it’s easier.

[35:54]  We can also help you brainstorm on that biological component. As a coach, and the Coaches that I train, I teach some of the signs to look for when it might be a thyroid imbalance or the signs to look for when it might be some neurotransmitter issues. And, of course, we’re not doctors, we’re not diagnosing, we’re not treating you, but we can watch for those signs and clue you in so you can then have that conversation with your doctor. We can also help you know how to have that conversation with your doctor, or even find good doctors if that’s something that you need help with.

[36:39]  If you are struggling in the area of motivation, first look at things yourself, see what you can uncover for yourself. If you get stuck there, totally go talk to your doctor. Maybe even consider talking with a coach because this is one of our biggest areas of expertise. If you would like to have a consultation with a coach to explore this, we do offer free consultations. Just visit FibromyalgiaPodcast.com. You will see the contact menu, and Find a Coach right below that. You can just put right on there that you are interested in talking with a coach about your lack of motivation, and we can give you some ideas — whether it’s new tips on routines and habits you can build, or self-care that you can do, or things that you might need to talk to your doctor about, or tests to potentially order and consider.

[37:36]  All right you guys! I hope this helps you find some motivation to keep on keeping on, as they say, and to keep working on your own health and improving your own fibromyalgia. One of the things that I have said over and over is that healing is a full-time job. There are no vacations, and it’s 24/7. It is something that we’ve got to find ways to stay motivated about, because you don’t get a break. If you need any help at all, by all means reach out. I would love to hear from you.

[38:19]  Stay tuned for our next few episodes. Some of the goodies we’ve got coming up for you in an upcoming episode: We’re going to be talking with fibro researcher, Dr. Jarred Younger. Those of you who have followed his work or follow research on fibromyalgia, you might recognize his name. One of the most recent research studies that he has done has been on the brain and inflammation. He has actually discovered inflammation in the brains of people with fibromyalgia, which is particularly interesting because we look at things like inflammatory response with lots of conditions, like autoimmune, in particular. If you have any kind of autoimmune condition, there’s definitely inflammation going on in the body. We also have inflammation going on in the brain, which is really interesting. He’s also done a lot of research looking at the use of low dose naltrexone in fibromyalgia and a bunch of other things. We will be doing an interview with him in a few podcasts episodes and just talking to him about his research; the things that he’s discovered, what he sees in fibromyalgia, what he thinks we’ve got coming down the road in terms of research, and just the future of fibromyalgia in general.

[39:46]  I’ve also gotten a lot of questions lately… and it’s in the news a lot. You’ll see lots of this all over your Facebook feed and showing up in your email and other things. There have been a lot of questions lately about the use of CBDs, CBD oil, drops, and even capsules. We are going to be having a doctor on an episode that I’m going to interview who happens to have her own line of CBD products. She is very knowledgeable in this particular area and what makes it good for fibromyalgia, what makes a good product, and also all of the research that’s currently being done. We are going to start from the place of: what is the difference between CBD and marijuana, because those two terms do mean different things. At the very least, I hope you’ll tune in just so you can have a good education on what it is and what we mean when we talk about CBD, because it is not equivalent to marijuana. There’s just a whole lot with that. So please tune in for that. We should be having that episode next.

[41:13]  Then, of course, we also have our Ask the Coach, or “Dear Tami” episode coming with Episode 20. If there are questions that I can answer for you, or any on-air coaching I can do for you, I would love to have you send those questions in. Just go to FibromyalgiaPodcast.com and under the contact menu you’ll find Ask the Coach. And as always, we will have the show notes, the transcript for this episode, the video, and all the other goodies out there for you. This is episode 17, so you will find us at FibromyalgiaPodcast.com/17.

[41:55]  All right. That is it for this episode and I look forward to having you back here next time. Bye!

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