What drives you? What is good motivation and what is bad motivation?
Isn't any motivation good motivation?
Recently, I've made the space to reflect and really think about what drives me. To try to identify internal and external motivation and to think about the difference between the two...
I first realised that I suffered from anxiety disorder when I was 21 years old and I’m now 42. Through my 20s, I learnt a lot from this disorder. I learnt about myself and how stress manifests in my body and I learnt techniques to manage it along with the help of prescribed medication. When my partner and I decided to start trying for babies in my early 30s, I stopped taking medication and for the 10 years following I have used my anxiety as a way to explore and grow. There is nothing like a fucking monster on your back to make you look at how your head works.
I’ve taken the view that mental illness can be a gift as well as a curse. It forces you to look at yourself, your behaviour, your relationships and to deal with stress. Meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, exercise…all of these things have been a part of my life to varying degree over the last decade in some way as a means of coping with anxiety.
In terms of how anxiety has impacted my life…that’s fluctuated. And it’s insidious – its hard to pinpoint what is legit “normal” reaction to the reality of your life, and what is escalated or distorted due to your mental state. I’ve always been very motivated to make shit happen, so haven’t found it “held me back” necessarily. I had a hard time after the birth of my second child. Anxiety, depression and being just flat out fucking exhausted. I stayed off any prescribed meds at first because I was breastfeeding but then later because when I had taken them in my 20s, I gained about 25kg, and I don’t feel confident that they helped me much anyway. My recollection was that anxiety was still a constant monster on my back.
The first time I really started to avoid anything was when I stopped Crossfit about 3 years ago after a series of intense panic attacks. It got so that I was absolutely terrified of an elevated heart rate. It got to the point that I just couldn’t do any of the workouts…I left almost every session feeling like a total failure. I’d always loved lifting though and I found that for me, it didn’t trigger anxiety and for a long time lifting became my “safe place”. I could lose myself in the activity and with the standard powerlifting rest periods upwards of 3 minutes between sets…the elevated heart rate just didn’t happen to the same degree and the activity didn't tap into the same anxiety problems. I actually loved lifting and not doing any cardio! See, gift and curse. But day to day, IRL, anxiety was a constant.
After two decades of anxiety, I have a really good intellectual understanding of what is happening. I know the theories, I know the management techniques, I know the breathing drills…but at the end of the day – it just doesn't help. Knowing what’s happening and having insight into your condition doesn't make anything easier to put up with.
Last year was an entirely hectic year for me. I manifested this idea of The Strength Camp and it was one of the biggest projects I’ve ever been involved in. It consumed 6 months of my life. It was exciting and incredibly rewarding but it also caused me to be less than present with my family most of the time as well as being responsible for a lot of pressure and stress that I felt. But I figured that my family and I could all just suck it up in the short term. I was meditating twice a day – determined to not buckle under the pressure, I kept my diet clean and my training on track and come the end of September it was over, the stress had past and it was an epic success on all fronts.
Slowly, with the pressure off, I expected feelings of anxiety and stress to recede. But ironically in the absence of Camp preparations, the anxiety was more obvious. It was fucking relentlessly front and centre. It also became obvious that it was not being created by life or Camp planning stress. I could be at home with my family, watching a movie, after a beautiful meal, everyone safe and happy and it would take almost everything I had to not totally fall apart. I would have to take myself off to do breathing drills. Every morning I woke up with a tight chest and worries about impending death.
Over this last Christmas, with nothing other than life and holidays on the schedule, there was this one particular day I went with my family to the beach. My sister in law sent me this photo she took of me. Pretty chilled hey? But inside, it literally couldn’t have been more different …
On this day I had meditated for 20 minutes just to feel up to going to the beach.
Let me say that again for you …to feel UP TO going to THE BEACH!!!
That - if you have anxiety - is a fucking THING… When we got there, I had to take a walk by myself and do breathing drills just to keep it together. I spent about 10 minutes in the pool, floating on a lilo -which is actually among my top 5 favourite things to do (of aaaalll time). All I could think about was how I was going to keep it together until I got home. It was fucking NUTS! It had gotten totally out of control and realising this, on this particular day, made me consider and finally decide to give medication another go.
Pretty quickly and for the first time that I can remember, I woke without a crushing feeling in my chest. I was able to be present and feel actual joy in the moment. Overall, I felt the hugest relief and I’ve had almost four months with close to zero anxiety. Its been like a holiday for my brain. I’ve also had four months of almost total contentment. I love my life! I’m not particularly driven to do anything other than enjoy my time. I’m not on a crazy strict diet, I’m not pushing myself super hard in the gym, I don’t look in the mirror and have hateful thoughts, I’m not thinking of ways to stay busy and I'm not trying to make massive changes …What’s so remarkable about any of that? Nothing! But because this is so different from my “normal” it is making me reflect on how I’ve lived my life.
Looking back, I’ve always had some MASSIVE project on the go. I have made a lot of really cool shit happen. But for the first time in my life, I’m really questioning how much of that activity has been driven by my anxiety.
I think that anxiety has been my primary driver for as long as I can remember. And I worry that without anxiety, maybe nothing will drive me. What is a good reason to make shit happen anyway, a good reason to be busy, to move towards change? It’s made me question my impulse to do absolutely everything. I’m a really creative person and I am constantly thinking of cool things to make or do…but I’m learning to ask why? Why? Why?
I have resolved to not be busy for busy’s sake. I will not pile on the activities to quiet the anxious voice in my head or still the tightness in my chest. I refuse to do things to “prove myself”. I do not need to justify myself or my time to myself or to any other person on this earth.
It is actually ok to just live this life I am so lucky to have.
Most importantly though, through this experience, I've learnt that it is super important that we all look at why! What is driving you? Where are you trying to go? What are solid motivations and what are not so great motivations?
Recently, my coach came up with an absolutely brilliant metaphor for the importance of being rock solid in your "why". I'm paraphrasing but this was the gist of it...
"Imagine a really tall ladder leaning against a wall, and you are working hard to climb rung by rung to the top. You need to be very careful that your ladder is actually leaning against the right wall because if its not, you could find after all of your efforts that you do not like the view." - Penny Locaso
In my next post I’m going to share with you a little bit about how I’m finding my why and how you can take steps to find yours too.