Help me get motivated again
April 6, 2012 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I have been unmotivated to do pretty much anything outside of work for a several months now. Help me get back on the horse.

I’m not sure if I’ve burned myself out or if I’m depressed or if I have OCD.

Since the summertime, I was working a full time job, as well as doing contract work for one client, on the side. The contract work wasn’t much more than 10 hours/week, in the busier weeks. I love what I do. The full time job became kind of stressful around September; there was just too much work for one person, coupled with the fact that I was still learning how to do the job. There was a risk that I was going to lose my job. So I spent a lot of time teaching myself stuff outside of work (besides not wanting to lose the job, I also wanted to learn to advance my career). It was stressful, but I didn’t mind too much because I really loved what I was doing, I knew it was temporary, I had the drive, and I’m young and single. Also, the contract work that I do essentially allows me to work as much or as little as I want, so as my main job became more stressful, I did less contract work. During this period of time, I still made a point to go out with friends a couple times a week, and I was getting light daily exercise.

A few months ago, we hired another person so I would have help, and he’s been great.

BUT, since we’ve hired him, and the pressure is off, I’ve had no motivation to do anything outside of work.

I go to work, and I’m happy and motivated. I go out a couple times a week with friends, and I’m fine there too. But when I come home, I just don’t want to do anything.

I let myself relax for a few weeks. But the lack of motivation has continued, and not just in terms of work. I don’t want to cook or clean or shop for things I need or respond to email from my parents.

I guess for a while, I was kind of depressed…I was frustrated with my lack of love life and the fact that I had strong feelings for someone who wasn’t single (he did not know this). I would come home and procrastinate on facebook and online. I eventually shut down my accounts to try to motivate myself to do something, but I’ve since replaced that with really long showers, picking at scabs, and staring into space, trying to convince myself to do something. I don’t LIKE doing any of these things. I would rather read, watch TV, cook something, see friends…in some twisted way, I feel guity doing things I enjoy when I have a hundred other things that I should be doing. I’m getting overwhelmed just with little things…tidying my apartment, writing a page for contract work, paying my Visa online….I feel so guilty and overwhelmed, I’ve been responding by not doing anything at all.

My life is really good. I have everything I want… I love my job (both the tasks and the people). I have good friends, loving family, I’ve been seeing a wonderful guy, and I have a social, active hobby. All I really want is to further develop my career, relationships, and hobby; further develop myself, and drive things for my contract client.

Part of the issue is that I’ve had a really hard time getting to bed at a decent hour. I will typically get 5 hours of sleep each night. I know that more sleep will help with motivation. But at this point I stay up, procrastinating, and if I end up doing anything at all, I’ll start at 11:30, 12:00…I have some sort of obsession with staying up late. In part because I feel guilty that I haven’t accomplished anything. Essentially, I’m having a hard time convincing myself to go to bed.

I’m wondering also…maybe this was depression, but now it’s passed and I’ve just gotten myself into a routine of staying up and not doing anything. I have a pretty regular routine of boring time-wasters. Does anyone have any ideas for breaking this routine?

I need to get myself out of this rut. Any suggestions for getting back on the horse?

Also, regarding lack of sleep - getting to bed at a decent hour is something I've struggled with since I was a kid. I'll be able to force myself to keep a bedtime, and then I'll regress back into the late nights. Tips for managing this are appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried napping right after you get home from work? Eat dinner, then just lay down on the couch with an audiobook playing or something similarly non-attention grabbing. I do this all the time, wake up a couple hours later, and then stay up late doing stuff-- then I sleep for another 4-5 hours later on.

On the doing stuff after work thing -- I went through the same thing last year when I moved to a new city. I'm getting out and doing stuff again now, but I don't know what triggered the change. Ever since Christmas, I've just been out and about constantly and getting stuff done. It was like a light switch turned on. I was so bad that I ended up letting my drivers license expire for over a year because I couldn't get enough motivation to go the DMV-- just as a start of all the stuff I let fall apart. Now, I'm making some serious headway towards going backpacking in south america in a couple months. I wish I knew why I have all this motivation now when I was basically a dead husk a year ago. I was just overwhelmed with all the stuff I needed to do, and just shut down. Even just like cleaning my bathroom seemed like scaling Mount Everest to me. Basically after Christmas, I just started doing one thing at a time, and every thing I did just made the next thing easier.

I think that's really all there is to it, really. Just make a list, and put one foot in front of the other, and you start going places.
posted by empath at 8:18 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

this guilty/overwhelmed problem, and the sleep issues, are 100% related to anxiety for me. i've made great strides with 1) a GOOD cognitive behavioral therapist (yeah, i know, i know...but memail me if you're in nyc) and 2) working with a personal trainer so i FORCE myself to get exercise at least once or twice a week. maybe committing to meeting a friend to work out would accomplish the same thing if a trainer isn't financially feasible for you. i know from experience that it's difficult to drag yourself to the gym after a long, stressful day, so maybe start with scheduling it on weekends and working from there. but believe me, this will help with both the guilt that you're not accomplishing anything and the difficulty getting to bed.

with regard to the difficulty getting to sleep - just plant yourself in bed 8.5 hours before you have to wake up. you can bring some light reading (nothing gripping that will keep you up) or a podcast to listen to, and a cup of camomile tea if you like it, and then just turn out the lights as soon as you feel any fatigue. try not to get too much tv or computer screen time within an hour or so of that bedtime, as it's stimulating. if you tend to lie in bed rolling around/staring at the ceiling, a white noise machine might help lull you to sleep.

anyway, it sounds like you're stressed and overwhelmed, so rather than beating yourself up about all the things you could/should be doing, try to commit to taking care of your mind and body so that you can recharge enough to want to do all those other things. the motivation will follow naturally after that.
posted by dynamiiiite at 8:24 AM on April 6, 2012 [4 favorites] deals with exactly this. It's kind of dorky but if you just do what she says to do you will get past this. Seriously, just do it. One tiny step at a time.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:24 AM on April 6, 2012

Oops, sorry, should have linked to flylady
posted by selfmedicating at 8:25 AM on April 6, 2012

This flies in the face of all the modern sleep advice, but it works for me - find a pleasant but not overly exciting TV show, get in bed, and watch it on your iphone. As you start to drift off set the phone aside and keep your headphones in and the dialogue will do the rest.

Also, the Fresh Air podcast is great for falling asleep. Terry Gross has the most soothing voice *ever*.

There's a lot of no electronics in the bedroom!!!! advice, which probably makes sense, but if I don't do this I lie awake thinking and worrying - a little plot and narrative helps distract me from my thoughts and allows me to sleep.

As for the motivation - I wish I knew. This is something that I struggle with too. What does work for me is hacking my lack of motivation with something that is more powerful for me - peer pressure. Signing up for running classes, for example. All I have to worry about is suiting up and getting there, and then exercise happens without me thinking or stressing too much about it, and then I feel better.

As far as accomplishing personal tasks - when I've been really low I've either taken things into my therapists office (bills I am afraid to open and look at, for example), or asked a friend to come over and hang out with me while I go through a closet or whatever. Having a calming presence there is really helpful. And once you get something sorted out, you feel better and more hopeful.

The other thing that's great is the pomodoro technique.
posted by bunderful at 8:45 AM on April 6, 2012

These are the exact symptoms I have when I get depressed. Getting evaluated by your doctor or by a mental health professional couldn't hurt, especially if you try some of the "get up and go" ideas suggested above and don't have success with them.
posted by decathecting at 9:54 AM on April 6, 2012

First I'd get yourself checked out for depression.

In the meantime, lack of sleep is a motivation killer. I have tremendous problems getting myself to bed, but I managed to set myself one single goal for a month, and that was to get to bed at least seven hours before it was time to get up. If you're tired you'll sleep. If not you can have the TV on till you drop off, or read. Every time I got into bed, just into bed, on time I got a good behaviour sticker on my calendar, the goal being to get one whole month of stickers filled in.

Basically it's about setting the bar really low and demanding very little of yourself. Others like FlyLady and Unfuck Your Habitat, I like the Pomodoro technique. You can go from "Blargh I don't wanna" to "oh, okay, just this, but then I'm going back to being a couch potato." You are allowed.
posted by tel3path at 4:28 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

"My life is really good. I have everything I want… I love my job (both the tasks and the people). I have good friends, loving family, I’ve been seeing a wonderful guy, and I have a social, active hobby."

Sounds pretty good to me! Of course, that doesn't mean anything if it doesn't feel that way to you.

In addition to depression, you might also want to look into the possibility of ADD/ADHD. Hallowell describes that "itch" at the core of ADDers that can't ever be scratched. ADDers also tend to thrive in fast-paced environments (e.g. Emergency Rooms) or in more structured environments, but have a hard time knowing what to do with themselves when they have to self-regulate. Procrastination, difficulty sleeping, feeling overwhelmed with doing those little things are also classic symptoms.

Even if you don't "have" ADD, the tips for managing it are very useful for everyone.
posted by Russell123 at 8:57 AM on June 4, 2012

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