Finding the motivation to carry on

Watch young animals play. There is a natural curiosity in youth, which we can rediscover. Photo by T.R Photography on Unsplash

Depression has many causes, and it’s understood that many people have strong beliefs about what causes theirs.  There are certainly genetic, physical and social causes of depression that are less within our control, including loss, abuse and trauma.  But, while we maintain our ability to choose and act, there is always something we can be doing to try to help ourselves and others.


Those experiencing depression will often express dissatisfaction with life.  It’s part and parcel of the condition that it’s difficult to appreciate anything.  In fact, sometimes it goes beyond dissatisfaction, and becomes a general ‘non-reaction’ to pretty much everything.  Whatever stimulus the world throws to the mind, the mind finds a way of diminishing it, or interpreting it negatively.

Here are four questions which may not help, but they might.


What is it that brings out the curiosity and energy in children?  Why do young animals rush around, wide-eyed and fascinated?  Is there something in the life cycle that starts us off with great interest?  If so, is it possible to rediscover childish curiosity?  Have we become stale and bored?  What would wake us up?


What is ultimately more gratifying, being selfish or being kind?  Much of modern commercial life is designed to make us gather things to ourselves.  Advertisements appeal to us to dress ourselves up, to acquire better possessions, to view ourselves as on a ladder that we are supposed to climb.  But what if the selfish accumulation of resources is a dead end?


Without realising it, we can end up criticising ourselves for not achieving what we think we should.  It takes a bit of subtle thought to realise how we judge ourselves.  What am I secretly punishing myself for?  Is there something I hold against myself, a self-assessment which keeps my self-esteem down?


One cause of depression is being kept from what we like.  Grief is a reaction to loss, the loss of something we liked.  Despair is the feeling that what we like will never return.  We can get so used to trying to be fair with life, that we forget our own likes and dislikes.  It’s worth asking ourselves, again, ‘What do I like?’


Depression makes us old before our time, selfish, judgemental and unable to benefit from sense-enjoyment.  The above questions are related to four types of motivation which may be available to tap  into as a counteracting force.  We can open ourselves to childlike motivation, selfless motivation, non-judgemental motivation and enjoyment motivation


Chemically, children are organised to be curious about the world.  Many children wake up early, and are already investigating and playing well before their parents want to get up.  A child does not walk across a room in a straight line (unless there are biscuits on the other side!) – it gets distracted every few seconds.  Watch a puppy sniffing around, and you will see what I mean.

Most antidepressants are, (though very useful), unfortunately designed to dampen down our enthusiasm, not to encourage it.  They tend to cancel out the negative, making us not mind so much.  This can leave us with less motivation than we had before.

In addition, as we get older, we surround ourselves with a rather static set of surroundings and habits.  This means we get trapped into protecting routines, rather than breaking them.  It’s worth creating special times where we allow ourselves to wander with curiosity, and let our attention lead.  If necessary, we can take a camera with us, so that we can look ‘socially right’ as we explore!


The problem with selfish actions, is that they feed a sense of self that is illusory.  We all know we are going to die in the end, yet we insist on building up hordes of possessions that can’t go with us.  Better, surely, to spend time looking outwards, than to accumulate baggage.

Anger, for instance, is born of selfish motivation.  Something irritates us, gets in the way of what we want.  We react negatively, snapping at a person.  They sense our anger, and retreat.  We become more lonely.  That makes us more angry.  We may even deny our own anger (most people like to be saints).  So we are trapped being angry, but not allowing ourselves to admit it!

Rather than flogging the dead horse of selfishness, we can see what we can do to bring a better day to others.


Non-judgement is really the removal of a motivational block.

We carry with us a huge number of unwritten assumptions about how we should live.  We can end up scolding ourselves because we have too little money (assumption: we should be rich), are too fat (assumption: we should be thin), have achieved too little (assumption: we are lesser beings if we do not have achievements to our name).

These judgements are exhausting.  Imagine a friend constantly scolding us for having too little money, being too fat, and not achieving enough.  They wouldn’t be our friends for long.  And yet we treat ourselves like that.

When we play in a non-judgemental way, we escape this tedious self-scolding.  We get interested in things, we flow better.  (You can read a nice article by Melli O’Brien on the benefits of being non-judgemental here.)


Particularly if we have had a puritanical upbringing, we can grow up with a sense that enjoyment of certain kinds is not for us.  We can end up feeling undeserving in some way, as though we have to have a serious face to earn respect.  This is a shame.  We were born with an ability to laugh, experience ecstasy and joy, and to see, hear, smell, taste and touch beauty.

Enjoyment motivation can be misused and twisted.  We can become addicted to certain purified forms of enjoyment (drink, drugs, etc), until they lead us down some dark roads.  Healthy enjoyment, though, is one of the lights of being alive.

We can take time to find out what, at present, we find beautiful.  What paintings, music, aromas, food and textures do we like?  Are we experiencing a variety of cultural influences?  Are we exposing ourselves to exhibitions, concerts, gardens, restaurants and markets?  It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but we may want to travel beyond our front door.  Even if we can’t do that, we have technology whereby we can experience sensory culture at home.

If we are extravert, we may wish to delve with both feet into travel and social engagements.  If introvert, we may be gentler and more reserved in how we explore.  Both are fine.


In summary, here are four things we can do to rediscover our inner motivation:

  1. Be like a child. Rediscover your curiosity in the new and unfamiliar.
  2. Give.  Set aside time and space to look after others and reduce their suffering.
  3. Drop your judgements.  Stop giving yourself a hard time about money, looks and achievement.
  4. Accept healthy enjoyments.  In healthy moderation, welcome beautiful sights, sounds, aromas, tastes and textures.