Several of the people that I saw this week have been struggling with a loss of motivation.
A lack of motivation can be one of the most prominent symptoms of a major depression, but there were other aspects of their loss of motivation that I found fascinating.
I asked one of these patients, a man in his 40s who is a very successful artist, what his experience of motivation was these days. As we talked about the flashes of creativity and excitement that he still experienced from time to time, it became clear that he was actually suppressing his innate motivation and excitement. Why would that be I wondered?
Some more discussion revealed that his loss of motivation centered on a very disappointing show of his art work. He had gotten unusual negative comments from critics, and this had led him to begin to doubt his abilities. This anxiety then led to an unconscious suppression of motivation. When an idea came along and he started to get interested in it he would tell himself that what he was experiencing wasn’t real enthusiasm, he was fooling himself into thinking he was interested.
However, the more we explored what was happening, the clearer it seemed that the way he was fooling himself was by discounting his interest and enthusiasm.
The same theme played itself out in several other conversations.
Each of these people complained of a lack of normal interest and motivation, and for all of them, what seemed to be happening was rather that when they experienced feelings of motivation and excitement they would discount or suppress them – often because of fear or doubt about their abilities to follow through with the ideas.
I often find it helpful to think about the human psyche as though it was composed of three different personalities, an internal child, a competent adult, and an internal parent.
Motivation primarily comes from the child. Its root is in the excitement that we had as children creating ideas and stories. You can see it in the lively play of pre-school age children.
Like a child, enthusiasm can be easily squelched. In fact, sometimes you need to nurture motivation, to create a welcoming environment for it to blossom (a playground!).
It may be hard to generate more enthusiasm, but it is easy to suppress it. Just imagine going onto the playground and sternly making fun of the enthusiastic and boisterous play of those children.