The only thing standing in the way.. is myself.
June 15, 2014 6:25 PM   Subscribe

How do I get motivated to change and make life better for myself?

I've been going to therapy for a couple of months now. It's been somewhat helpful and it's opened my eyes to a lot of things I've not been aware of. I struggle with loneliness and social anxiety. At this point it's clear that I have to take the initiative and put myself out there. Whether it be finding new friends, potential romance or a new career path. My therapist and I have been dancing around the same issues we're both well aware of. I need to get results and move forward with this new insight. I want to be able to make positive changes in my life.. but somehow I'm not motivated enough to do it.

I have a lot riding on my shoulders. I'm unhappy with my job, my social circle and I've become completely bored/uninspired with my daily routine (going to a job that I hate and still living with my parents). I'm a creative/artistic soul and I want to somehow find a fulfilling career but I have no idea where to start. The problem is that I have an irrational fear of social rejection and I get really anxious whenever I meet new people. I feel these problems are holding me back. I have been trying to somewhat get myself out there. I've tried online dating which resulted in me going out with people who I don't click with. I've considered meetup and taking classes to learn a new skill, but I never follow through. I always find some excuse to not join. I also know that I should find an apartment and see if I can move out - but I'm just dragging my feet. I understand how irrational I can get and how I'm just avoiding rejection or assuming the worst outcome, but still -- I feel like I can't break out of this comfort zone. It's just fear. With therapy, I feel we've tried everything. It's gotten to the point where I'm considering trying out anti-depressants to give me a boost - and then weaning off them once I get everything together. But I don't want to rely on medication. I've been trying real hard to exercise more, get more sleep - and it does work. I feel more confident and more healthy. But I don't know why I resort to staying at home and avoid any chance to meet new people or go to new places. It's as if I somehow talk myself into not doing anything.

My therapist did say that because of psychological traumas I've experienced growing up, I've developed a bad habit of looking at things in a distorted sense. And how I need to re-wire my thinking. I agree with this though I'm unsure if it's possible.

The question is: How do I make myself do this? How do I push aside the anxiety and laziness to take chances and go out there and be somewhere else and be happier?

I'm not sure if this question is written out clearly and I apologize if I seem like I'm going all over the place. But it'd be great to hear some advice.
posted by MeaninglessMisfortune to Human Relations (7 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I've tried online dating which resulted in me going out with people who I don't click with.

and? was that so terrible? i also have social anxiety and agoraphobia and a general fear of people not liking me/judging me/etc. stems from a childhood full of bulling and an adulthood full of it too. i was in therapy and doing a lot of self-examination and somehow that got me to join meetup. i joined a couple groups. and then i actually went to a couple meetups. they weren't great, but at least i got out, had a dinner, and then had a story to tell.

not every date/meetup/event is going to be AMAZING or even fun. but doing it gets you in the habit of doing it and then maybe even liking it.

you need to continue discussing this with your therapist. and really work on your distorted thinking (i know, it seems so fucking lame and stupid. i totally agree with you, but once you do it it gets easier). so you go to an event by yourself and don't like it. what's the worst that could happen? you turn around and go home.

i know it is hard. it takes a lot of self evaluation and strength to put yourself out there.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:00 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in to suggest some things that you are already trying. Exercise and otherwise taking care of yourself physically are excellent steps.

I was also going to suggest doing meetup type stuff, which you've tried. A variation on this might be to try meetups or groups not to learn new skills, but to do things that you are already passionate about or knowledgeable about. I've mitigated a lot of my own social anxiety by putting myself in social situations that give me something to do with myself, so I'm not just sitting around feeling awkward. Having those meetups be about things that you are already familiar with might help boost your confidence a little.

Something else to try might be meditation, or even just studying some of the eastern philosophies that have more meditation "in" them. Training yourself to be simply aware and observing, letting your anxieties pass, observing when they arise and how they arise and such, will help.

With laziness, I've learned two things. 1 - there is a time and a place for it. Don't beat yourself up if you just want to veg out sometimes. 2 - there is no magic bullet. If I really want to do something, I'll do it. If I don't, I just have to push through. Much of the time this means that things don't get done. It's just the way life is. Get the really important stuff taken care of, then try to get the less important stuff. Keep trying.

Good luck.
posted by natteringnabob at 7:06 PM on June 15, 2014

Have you considered EMDR training? I've seen some amazing results in family members. I was skeptical when I first heard about it, but the results have completely convinced me. It's being used effectively for soldiers returning from the battlefield, I'm told.
posted by summerstorm at 7:32 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

You say you don't want to rely on medication.

If you need it, you need it. It's not a failure of your willpower to need medication.

I need glasses/contacts. I need birth control to help control my horrible period symptoms like heavy bleeding and ridiculous cramp pain.

I need medication for social anxiety so I can go thru the goddamn day and not live in this sort of fear every day. I've been there. I spent years in therapy. Sometimes you just need medication because it's a medical condition when your neurons don't work right.

Not your fault.

Try some medication and keep with therapy.

Feel free to memail.

Take care. You can do this. You're on a good path of taking care of yourself if you've come this far.
posted by sio42 at 7:41 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember being in that same boat.

What worked for me:

-Prioritizing my dreams/goals according to feasibility so I wasn't too overwhelmed with the changes I wanted to make. Once I figured out my top priority, I came up with concrete baby steps to achieve that goal until I was satisfied with my progress in that aspect of my life.

-As to maintaining momentum, having a reliable "mantra" or personal affirmation or inspiring quote I can use when I was about to succumb to feelings of futility helped. It was either 'Roll with the punches' or 'Just keep swimming' or my favorite, Vonnegut's 'Keep your hat on, we might wind up miles from here.'

-Making a pact with myself that I will love myself unconditionally, therefore I'll be gentle with myself regardless of the outcomes of whatever course of action I take.

-Remembering that every choice is a leap of faith, and all choices are half-chance anyway. This helped me feel less anxious and be more courageous when it came to making decisions.

-I also consider myself a creative/artistic soul so it helped to have a 'big project' like attempting to write The Great American Play. It gives me deep satisfaction to be committed to a "grand" no-deadline project that is completely my own and allows me to be the "artist" I'd like to believe I am.

I really hope this helped and I wish you the best of luck.
posted by tackypink at 8:38 PM on June 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have you heard about the Transtheoretical Model of Change?

It's nonlinear, like life, and accounts for the human factor and the well-known fact that change is hard!

But, thinking about change counts, too, as the Body Positive website points out.

Start small. You're on the right track.
posted by simulacra at 10:02 PM on June 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Firstly, congratulations on your progress. You're going to therapy regularly, exercising more, sleeping better, and more aware of your own challenges. Your new self-care regime is a good foundation for you to make the changes you want in your life.

I can relate to your question. It describes where I was a few years back rather than where I am now, but I still struggle with some of these things. So from my personal experience, these are the things that worked for me:

(1) Don't frame your laziness as a "motivation" issue, but rather as a habit issue

My sin is sloth and gluttony. If I don't have anything planned for the day, my natural tendency is to be on the internet forever, nap, snack, or play video games. I have surges of "motivation", but yeah, going by my feelings to get things done doesn't work. Instead, I just have things to do/things to look forward to each day, and instead of stopping to think "Am I motivated enough to do them?" I just do them.

There are still days where I fall off the wagon, and it takes me a few days to get back up, but yeah. View it as hacking your habits. What triggers you to waste your time vs. doing something either more fun or more productive? Reduce your exposure to your bad triggers and try to create more positive triggers.

(2) Create momentum by celebrating your victories

I have this dorky little password-protected word document where I acknowledge everything I've each day. From seeing a therapist, to folding the laundry, to making a major career breakthrough, successfully planning an international trip… big and small, it's all on there. It's my small way of patting myself on the back for getting things done. It makes me more eager to accomplish more tasks to add to the "celebration" list instead of run away from them because of avoidant/procrastination/fear of failure tendencies.

(3) Be more process-oriented and less results-oriented

Results are a combination of your own effort coupled with the chaotic forces of the outside world. I.e, you cannot completely control the result. So, it doesn't make sense to only celebrate/acknowledge your work when you had a good result.

You should congratulate yourself for going on those online dates… not everyone is brave enough to try online dating, but you have, and you have some brand new experiences under your belt! You should take the same approach to meet ups, social situations, job searching, apartment searching, etc. Even if nothing came out of it--reward yourself for doing the work anyway.

And even if you felt like a certain meet up didn't go that well (e.g. didn't make new friends or wasn't interesting)… you never know--maybe in the future, you'll encounter a person who attended the same meet up, that becomes your opening conversation, you go for coffee and end up being new friends. A lot of small interactions and events eventually add up over time, so just keep at it.

(4) Create achievable goals, and break them down into manageable bits

It seems like there's a lot you'd like to change in your life. It's probably better to focus on a few at a time, rather than try to make the change all at once. Being focused with your goals will help you see the pay off quicker, and then you can apply any positive morale/motivation from your victories to another set of goals, and so on. So yeah, write them all down and prioritize them, and figure out exact dates as to when you will tackle each task.

I used to have a huge problem with seeing my goals as insurmountable… just big and scary and vague. I also saw them as a never-ending to do list. I switched up my POV when I realized that my life is basically my own Epic Life Quest, and it's not all chores--it's all exploration and learning and adventure too. So each goal is a quest, and there are sub quests, and so on. My quest list includes boring stuff like sorting financial paperwork, exciting stuff like travelling to a new country, and doing grad school research, random bucket list adventures, and so on.

I have my quest list in an easily accessible location, so whenever I have a free evening and I'm tempted to just veg out to a video game, I take a peek at my quest list and see if I have an IRL quest I can tackle instead and have a new "achievement unlocked".

If the "quest" analogy doesn't work for you, you can create another way to view achieving goals in a positive light. You can make it an art project of sorts. I found that being creative with my own life goals, and presenting them in novel ways to myself made my brain get more excited about them. But of course, you still need to break them down in sizeable chunks.

I have this international trip that seemed so distant and overwhelming at first until I broke it down to "book tickets", "research accommodations", "research awesome things to do", "book more tickets", and so on. Being able to accomplish small things makes my brain less anxious, and more confident that it can handle the project and it's going to be so awesome.

(5) Keep track of your inspirations

Inspirations are basically a way for you to return to your intent--why do you want to make these changes? Who do you want to be in the future? What life do you want to experience for yourself? It's easy to lapse back into old bad habits, but sometimes having an inspirational quote, or picture, or whatever makes your brain have that perspective again, and be willing to be uncomfortable and take some risks. It's shifting the focus from short-term comfort vs. discomfort/anxiety to long-term reward. Or sometimes, it's a person that you're inspired by. "I want to be as independent and creative as this person." Then put that person's picture in a place that you will often see, so in moments of weakness, you can ask yourself "Do I want to stay here, or do I want to be more awesome?"

Best of luck with the changes. Adventure awaits!
posted by Hawk V at 6:33 AM on June 16, 2014 [13 favorites]

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