ME/CFS and No Motivation? Start Small, Value Small, Be Kind!

My low functioning, following my move and the autumn season change is dragging on now and along with poor functioning my motivation is still pretty low.

I’ve always recognised that low motivation accompanies a dip in functioning or a crash, and having done a lot of internal work I’ve been able to make sure that my thoughts are not contributing to that, so I’ve come to recognise that it must be a brain chemistry thing. This week I saw an article that backed that up. Basically, when the immune system is triggered the cytokines (the inflammatory response) trigger reduced dopamine in our brains. This lowers our motivation so that we spend less energy ‘doing’ to make sure that more energy is available to the immune system which needs lots of it. With the kind of chronic inflammatory response that can be found in ME/CFS it’s little wonder that low motivation can drag on.

Usually, I just go with the flow when my motivation is affected, allowing myself to cut back on everything, even a lot of my self-help. I’ve found that if I just trust my motivation to come back as I heal, my body does move past the crisis and soon enough my motivation picks itself up.

Sometimes though, it doesn’t. Right now, it feels as though all the letting go I’ve done, still hasn’t released enough energy for my immune system to get passed the crisis. Another way to look at it, is that this level of functioning has become chronic, rather than an acute response to the things that triggered it. It’s become my new baseline.

When motivation is low at baseline, it may be that ‘not doing’ isn’t quite enough to help you heal. It may even be counterproductive. For example, when I’m not doing my meditation regularly, I don’t sleep so well, and that’s definitely not helping my immune system. The last thing I need though, is to push myself, beat myself up or worry about it. All of that uses lots of energy with no positive outcome at all. But how do you get started with things that could make a difference when you have no motivation whatsoever?

Start Small and Value the Small

When I think of all the ways I can help support my well-being it can feel a little overwhelming when my motivation is so low. But If there’s one thing that 16 years of this illness has taught me it’s that you can get a very long way with one tiny step at a time. The key to moving forward without motivation is to make your first step so small it’s easy even if you don’t feel like doing it.

I restarted my meditation with just a 5-minute alternate nostril breathing practise. Even when I didn’t feel like meditating, I could gently cajole myself with the suggestion that it’s only 5 minutes. It wasn’t long before I was adding another 5 minutes of healing visualisation, and then another 3 minutes gratitude practice. But now it’s up to 13+ minutes, when I have a bad day and my motivation is hit again that can seem too much, so instead I have an easy back up. At the moment that’s 6 minutes of chanting Ohm along with a recording on insight timer.

The other thing that has really helped me get started again is to value myself for what I’m doing even if it seems small compared to when my self-help was so consistently full-on that I was functioning at a much higher level.  Once again, I’m going to use the illustration of the marathon runner and the strong man pulling the truck. Only 100m seems amazing when you’re pulling a truck even if someone else can run 26 miles without it. Well my lack of dopamine is my truck. Getting myself to do even 5 minutes of meditation when I feel so unmotivated has to be valued highly because I’m overcoming huge obstacles.

I also like to remind myself that each step isn’t just valuable in itself, it’s valuable as the foundation for the next step, it’s making all the steps to come possible. So even though it seems small it’s very, very, valuable.

Be KindME/CFS and No Motivation? Start small, value the small, be kind

Getting started with something when you have no motivation does feel like breaking my ‘do only what you feel like doing in any given moment’ rule, but in this situation, when doing nothing may be counterproductive I try instead to ask myself if my body feels up to what I want it to do, and take my motivation out of the picture for a little while. The most important thing is that I’m kind to myself about it. When it’s just a chronic ‘low dopamine’ motivation issue, if I ask myself kindly to try just 5 minutes, I also know that it’s kinder to myself to try than it is not to. The key for breaking this rule is whether my not doing is because of an acute phase (the aftermath of a crash) or whether it’s become my new normal, in which case a little gentle action needs taking.

What’s your first tiny step? Are you valuing your tiny steps highly enough?

Could I ask a favour? Could you rate this article using the stars below the related posts? I’d be really grateful, thanks! 

2 thoughts on “ME/CFS and No Motivation? Start Small, Value Small, Be Kind!”

  1. Thank you. This was helpful. I’ve been trying to figure out why my motivation has been so consistently low. I’m not depressed. I’m able to do things when push comes to shove, but I can’t motivate myself to do things that I enjoy even when I probably have the energy to do them. I do feel like I’m in a bit of a crash but I’m accepting it and am coping well emotionally. Your article helped me to normalize all of this. Thank you x

  2. Hi Angela, acceptance is so powerful isn’t it. It really helps to understand the mechanisms. I hope your dopamine levels right themselves soon and you find it easier to be motivated to do the things you enjoy!


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