How I Overcame a Chronic Lack of Motivation to Start Things and See Them Through to Completion


What stands out most to me from my childhood is an overwhelming feeling of shame.

And helplessness.

No, I don’t blame my parents for making me feel that way perhaps because I have a more compassionate mindset now that I am older. I understand that they too were victims of a culture that reveres academic stars and where any slant towards creativity is quickly nipped in the bud as it is considered a waste of time.

In other words, it did not promise a stable job, steady income, or decent marriage prospects for that matter.

I belonged to the latter category. I couldn’t care less about grinding hard like my peers in order to land a spot in a premier educational institution which would then be their vehicle to a cushy job, preferably abroad.

Simply because my interests were different and therefore worrisome to some because it went against the norm.

The Crushed Creative

Sometimes I feel most kids work hard to fulfill parental expectations rather than pursue their passions because the disappointment would be very hard to live down. I mean, which kid would willingly choose to be up at 5.30 am, study, go to school, go to after-school tutoring, complete homework, do entrance prep till 10.30 pm, and repeat the whole thing the next day?

Certainly, a great way to keep kids on the straight and narrow, or god forbid they get it into their minds to pursue something like painting or writing or the culinary arts as a full-time gig as opposed to the immensely preferable careers like medicine, engineering, or the law. (Unless, of course, the hobby might help smoothen the way into said premier educational institutions, and only then.)

My father is a doctor. The kids of his friends were eagerly preparing to enter medical school and he decided his daughter should be leading the pack.

Nobody asked me if I wanted to be a doctor. You see, in some cultures, you simply don’t have much choice even though some would have you believe otherwise.

The competition was on and stiff. Contrary to expectations, I scored low grades in Math and Science. And I am terrified by the sight of blood — a less-than-ideal trait for a future doctor. But nothing some extra tutoring and a little toughening up couldn’t fix, according to my parents.

Only it didn’t.

My grades progressively declined and the relentless comparison studies continued.

Did you see John (a boy my age) what did? He made his parents leave the party early so he could get back to his books.”

Well, good for John. I don’t know whether John became a doctor but he sure gave me a lot of heartache as a child because he was such a smarty pant. And I was so average, for lack of a better word.

No wonder, the once precocious child that was me gradually withdrew into a shell — I mean I couldn’t make my parents proud of the one thing they wanted so best to make myself invisible and lose myself in the pages of storybooks. At least those inanimate objects did not differentiate between smarty pants and someone who just wanted to escape reality.

I dropped out of my first year of pre-med because I couldn’t figure out the heads or tails of Chemistry and didn’t want to. That realization came after a year of skipping classes and spending my college allowance on retail therapy while keeping my parents, who were thousands of miles away, in the dark.

The Problem That Took Over My Life

And that pattern would repeat itself— my parents would push me into something and I’d half haphazardly agree just to please them but would not see it through. I guess that marked the beginning of my resistance to initiating something and completing it unless it was something I actually wanted to do.

Which rarely happened.

So why bother with bothering, I thought? A better idea would be to play it safe and stick to something relatively low-risk that would allow me to coast along. That for me was hiding in the shadow of my accomplished husband. I hoped (wrongly) that there would be no pressure in that role and I could remain inconspicuous while I could finally focus on an outlet for my writing.

It didn’t happen because my ex tried to mold me to his expectations with ultimately disastrous results. Meanwhile, my chronic lack of motivation ruled the day and hearing others whisper the word “lazy” behind my back was not uncommon.

It hurt when people consider the fear of failure as laziness.

First I was a disappointment to my parents and then to my ex because of my chronic lack of motivation. Perhaps that was when the depression started to set in for the long haul. I started feeling detached and lost interest in pretty much everything. I stopped talking and balked at social contact because I didn’t want to be viewed with pity or contempt for being a failure.

Because that is what I was perceived as.

4 practices that helped me overcome my chronic lack of motivation and get back to living life again

Perspective shift through prayer and meditation

It is said that the darkest hour comes before dawn. There was a time I felt my future looked so bleak and hopeless that all I wanted to do was go into a deep sleep and never wake up. Fortunately for me, that was when I rediscovered my faith.

I am not exaggerating when I say it helped me see my life and problems in a different light and this gradually transformed into something profound that had been missing in my life — hope. By creating a daily routine with praying, meditating, and self-reflection as a starting point, I was able to work through my feelings of worthlessness and helplessness.

It is not surprising therefore that a study published in JAMA Psychiatry highlights how faith can help people develop resilience to depressive illness.

Building block

In response to why I wanted to join a mental support group, I still recall my answer to the support group coordinator’s question and that was to rebuild my self-esteem from scratch. I am glad that I had cast aside any thoughts about what others would think when I picked up the phone and called the number for the group asking if I could join because that decision proved to be a turning point in my life.

Yes, I would credit my group for not only helping me in my depression recovery journey and for having my back during relapses but also for teaching me the importance of self-compassion and the power of affirmations.

Bringing my sexy back

Have you heard about the domino effect? I began to feel something like that was happening in my life but in a good way. One thing led to another and seeing the positive changes they brought me made me push myself to incorporate daily walks into my routine. Just as the 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine highlights how making small lifestyle changes like walking half a mile can improve motivation, I started noticing the same not only with my mood and energy levels but it also helped me lose weight I had gained while I had been depressed.

The 10-minute gamechanger

In her article, psychotherapist Amy Morin suggests using the 10-minute rule to overcome a lack of motivation to get you started: “Give yourself permission to quit a task after 10 minutes. When you reach the 10-minute mark, ask yourself if you want to keep going or quit. You’ll likely find that you have enough motivation to keep going. So whether you lack the motivation to start working on a boring report, or you can’t seem to get yourself off the couch to start a to-do list, use the 10-minute rule to motivate yourself to take action.

Giving myself permission to start small without judgment or self-criticism has gone a long way in overcoming my crippling fear of failure and the resulting lack of motivation to try anything.

An article titled “5 Ways in Which You Stifle Your Child’s Creativity” describes how parents unwittingly start steering their kids into thinking that they are not capable of deciding things for themselves: “If you’ve ever given your child the opportunity to choose their outfit, chances are that the result wasn’t very stylish. Likely it didn’t even match the season. So, instead, you prefer to choose their outfits for them. And it doesn’t end there. You likely also choose everything else for them and make important life decisions for them, too. That teaches children that their voice and opinion do not matter and others know things better than them.”

As a consequence, kids like me battled with not only depression but lingering self-esteem issues and a chronic lack of motivation. With some help and what I now realize to be a strength of character, I was able to identify, acknowledge and address the elephant in the room.

Fortunately, pursuing your interests is gaining popularity as the graph below demonstrates how the frequency of the phrase “follow your passion” has risen in books from 1970 till 2005.

Source: Google NGram

The life of a writer is what I had always dreamed about and it is what I am meant to be. And guess what, I am finally living the dream and enjoying every bit of it.

How I wish my parents had a little more faith in my creative abilities back then.

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