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Why can’t I get motivated?

We’ve all been there - you have the best of intentions to do something positive or productive (go to the gym, make healthy dietary changes, start working on a new project around the house, finish a work assignment, study for an upcoming test) - but you end up spending hours procrastinating, making excuses to yourself and not doing the thing you need to get done. Why is it so hard to get motivated sometimes?

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, lack of motivation may stem from multiple different types of energetic imbalances in the body - and how to overcome that lack of motivation depends on what type of imbalance is holding you back.

You are stuck.

In TCM theory, the liver energy system is in charge of the “smooth flow” of Qi, or energy, throughout the whole body. When liver Qi flows smoothly, we are physically and mentally healthy, vibrant and on top of our game. But when liver Qi gets stuck, a whole lot of problems can ensue, such as neck and shoulder tension, headaches, irritability, impatience and lack of motivation.

This type of lack of motivation is the kind where it is hard to get something started...but once you start, you feel so much better and have no problem continuing. A perfect example is wanting to exercise, but having a really hard time motivating yourself to get out the door because you feel tired and angsty. However, if you overcome that feeling and push yourself to exercise, you will notice your problem with motivation decreases drastically, and you’ll feel like a different person when you come back home. This is because the original problem was that your Qi was stuck - and exercise got it going again.

The liver energy is also related to our ability to plan, create a vision for the future and set goals. When the liver energy is stuck, it is harder for us to see how our daily tasks relate to the future we want for ourselves.

Physical movement helps motivation problems connected to Qi stagnation. Push yourself in your workouts to clear your head and overcome the stagnation, or take a break at work and go for a walk to regain your motivation and focus.

You are damp.

Dampness is a concept somewhat unique to TCM. It refers to an abnormal processing of fluids in the body. These fluids coalesce in various places – for instance, when dampness accumulates in the joints, there may be joint pain that is worse in rainy weather. When dampness accumulates in the mind, it can lead to a lack of motivation.

This type of problem with motivation is associated with a lack of mental clarity, foggy-headedness, a general feeling of sluggishness and an inability to keep focused on any given task. Dampness is slow and cloudy, and creates a haze over our mental functioning. This extends into our ability to start tasks, as well.

To overcome a lack of motivation associated with dampness, it is important to look at environmental factors that may be making you damp. Are you living in a damp house? Are there things you can do to clean up that aspect of your living area? For instance, consider using a dehumidifier if you live in a basement apartment, or adding houseplants and natural sources of light to your space.

It is also very important to look at your diet. If you are struggling with dampness, avoid dairy, sugar, and fatty or greasy foods. Also eat warm, cooked foods as much as possible, and limit your intake of raw or cold foods, which tax the digestive system and can lead to dampness.

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