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June 18, 2013
Do you struggle with poor motivation? A common terminology for poor motivation in psychotherapy is lethargy. Lethargy occurs when people present with such an absence of motivation that even their personal hygiene becomes negatively affected. They come to see even the most simple of tasks as heavily tasking, that they rather choose to do nothing, even when they become sick and tired of doing very little to nothing.
The process of transitioning from lethargy to being motivated is a simple one to explain and challenging to practice. It involves a mental transition from relying on positive feelings as a source of motivation to relying on beliefs, goals and commitments. Ideally people who present with healthy motivation rely on both positive feelings (based on their accomplishments) and personal commitments as fuel for motivation, however when it comes to someone who already suffers from lethargy, they have accomplished very little in a long time to feel good about.

Take a fictional character and name him John. Let’s say that John is twenty-five years of age and residing in his mother’s home. John doesn’t have any source of income and he has come in to see a counselor because he struggles with poor motivation. Perhaps if John came in to see me he would say something to the effect about his struggle in getting out of bed in the morning.

You see what John is struggling with is a chronic case of lethargy, and the reason his experiences with lethargy is chronic is because John relies on feeling good to get him through the day. The problem for John is that he has not accomplished anything in his adult years to feel good about and as a result he has become caught up in a vicious cycle where he relies on the currency of feeling good to get by, but there is nothing in the bank.

However, there’s good news. In spite of the fact that John has very little to feel good and accomplished about, he can learn to get past his feelings of lethargy by relying on a different type of currency to get him by. That currency is the currency of beliefs and commitments. For example, let’s say John became inspired to become a school teacher because he believes there is a more fundamental way to teach math to school children, this then becomes his driving force.
He enrolls in a community college and attends classes, later on he transfers to a University and about four to six years later he becomes a certified math teacher. So how did he get past his lethargy? He initially relied on his commitments to accomplish what he believed to be a noble goal, and with every class he attended, every test he passed, every course he completed he slowly built on his currency of feeling good about himself and his accomplishments.
So John’s cure for his chronic experiences with lethargy was to initially rely on  his commitments to exercise his beliefs and accomplish his set goals, followed by his feelings of increased esteem based on his small and measurable accomplishments. You may wonder, if a person already feels low about themselves, where are they going to get the idea to recognize that they are able to contribute something of value to their immediate community and beyond. I will address this in a follow post to this.
As stated earlier, it’s a simple plan, but challenging and very doable to put into practice and succeed.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions, a professional counseling and life coaching practice.
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