BLOG: Harnessing Intrinsic Motivation Part I

For much of the first several decades of our lives, we are able to push hard without repercussion. We do what we're supposed to do and take it all on with gusto.



We get outside confirmation that we are rock stars and carry the stress with pride. Or we get immense satisfaction from knowing that we are doing as we should


Even amidst the pressure and chaos, we are able to charge ahead and keep it all going.


And then bit by undetectable bit, it begins to unravel until one day we wake up and we just can't do it anymore.


Or we really, really...really...don't want to.  



Our first reaction may be: What is wrong with me?


So easily, we conclude that it is a moral failing: I'm a bad ________/lazy/unambitious.


Or worse, we blame.


We figure if we could just work harder or if others would do the same, we'd be able to get back in the groove.


But we have neither the energy nor the desire.





In those first several decades, we were running on the energy of youth and of equilibrium.


Often, we were running on adrenaline.  Adrenaline created by the fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of letting others down....


Or we were running on the external motivating pressure created by all those shoulds and keeping up with the Joneses.


Or we were running, because that's what we'd always done.


The reward was external validation, real or perceived, and that was just fine.


And we were able to consume enough sugar and caffeine to stay motivated and keep it all going.



Somewhere in our mid-30's and 40's we begin to feel as if there isn't enough sugar or caffeine to generate the energy and motivation to get it all done.   


Part of the picture lies in what's happening in the body. In our middle years, we see a natural decrease in estrogen and progesterone. We often see a further decrease from elevated cortisol caused by stress and the very caffeine we were consuming to stay motivated.


This has some very real effects, because estrogen is our accommodating and nurturing hormone. It's the one that drives us to be everything to everyone. Need that report in an hour? No problem. Kids need this, that or the other? Will do, even if it means less sleep. As estrogen wanes, we are less likely to accommodate indiscriminately. 


In addition, progesterone is the beauty that has a calming effect on the nervous system. As it decreases we are more likely to become anxious and irritable, and generally feel less resilient.  


These facts were a balm to my soul, when I first learned them, and I offer them to you. The lack of energy and motivation wasn't a moral failing. There were some things going on in the body that necessitated a different approach from the work harder catch-all I had used so successfully for my entire life. 



Once we begin to feel the shift, we need to become much, much, much more discerning in our commitments, while honoring the fact that we will more easily be knocked off our equilibrium.


At this point, we can no longer live on stress, fear, and everyone else's idea of the good life. We can no longer simply work harder, to the detriment of self-care and expect to have energy and equilibrium on a sustained basis. 


Bit by bit we must begin to live our own life in our own way.


And once we do, we will be able to generate our own energy from the inside out.


(Next time, I'll provide some practical tips on just how to do this).




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