How to Make Lifestyle Changes When You’re Struggling to Feel Motivated

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week and World Mental Health Day (October 10th), I’d like to cover a super important and relevant topic.

It seems every week when I call a friend to catch up and chat, I find yet another person in my social circle who is really struggling with their mental health this year.

Feelings of depression have skyrocketed, while motivation to do the most basic of tasks and re-discover healthy lifestyle habits have plummeted.

The feelings are amplified by unhealthy technology use, not enough meaningful human contact, and feeling overall lost or purposeless due to job uncertainty or dissatisfaction.

Day in and day out in a remote work environment, there is not enough incentive or sense of accountability to stick to healthy life habits (i.e. dressing up, keeping up with personal hygiene, healthy eating habits and exercise, a regular bedtime etc.).

As a result, mental health deteriorates fast, and the effects can leave individuals feeling paralyzed–unable to partake in healthy lifestyle behaviors and activities that they once did.

That paralysis makes it increasingly hard to make lifestyle changes that help us feel better, yet it is those very changes that give hope to a better mental state.

So…How to Make Lifestyle Changes When You’re Struggling to Feel Motivated in any area of your life — professional, personal, or otherwise?

Have you heard of the foot-in-the-door technique? In Psychology, it is regarded as a persuasive strategy used to get people to agree to a particular action, based on the idea that if a respondent will comply with a small initial request then they will be more likely to agree to a later, more significant, request, which they would not have agreed to had they been asked it outright.

Why am I referencing a persuasion technique for influencing other people in a blog about mental health?

Because I believe the same principle can be applied to “negotiating” better habits for yourself when you’re struggling to comply with a larger habit you’re “requesting” of yourself.

Let’s take an example

Let’s take a fictional person named Maila. Maila has been feeling low. She’s lost interest in her work, spending hours in bed or on the couch binging shows. Late at night, instead of going to sleep at a reasonable hour, she surfs the web for hours, scrolling through all sorts of content, playing games, and otherwise occupying her time. During the day, she puts off feeding herself, keeping up with washing dishes and showering regularly.

The more disinterested she feels, the harder it is for her to break free from her habits. Watching her shows feels safe, it’s entertaining, it requires little energy.

She knows her lifestyle habits aren’t helping her feel better, and that she needs to make some adjustments. Maila sets two goals for herself — 1) meet up with a friend once a week for a walk, and 2) go running every morning before work.

While she’s able to accomplish meeting up with a friend, three weeks later she has gone on exactly one run. The human contact helps, but it hasn’t been enough for her to make significant lifestyle changes on her own.

Where Foot-In-The-Door-Habits Come In

While Maila thought she was setting small and attainable goals for lifestyle changes (starting with just 2 simple goals), she wasn’t successful in making any impactful improvements in her mental health.

She started small, but not nearly small enough given her mental state.

When we feel paralyzed by depression or anxiety, we need to start MUCH smaller than what we think is necessary or what may have worked in the past.

I’m talking goals the size of

  • Each day, I will jot down one bullet point of something that makes me happy or inspires me.
  • I will drink one glass of water every morning when I wake up.
  • I will meditate for 2 minutes a day.

Goals that take little effort but get your foot in the door towards setting larger and larger habit goals for yourself. The idea is that the goal is so small it seems silly, but the momentum it can build allows you to build up to bigger and more impactful habit changes.

Maila thought she had to set a bold and impactful goal straight away (running every day before work will definitely help me feel better — I just need to force myself to do it). But something a little more realistic for her level of motivation (i.e., I will stretch for 2 minutes each morning when I wake up) could have helped her get her foot in the door for her goal of a morning run every day.

When all else fails

When you know you need to make lifestyle changes to get out of the cycle of feeling lousy, taking part in bad habits, only to feel lousier and more stuck in the cycle, you’ve tried foot-in-the-door-habits yet still haven’t been motivated enough…

It’s time to lean on a a loved one for support and accountability.

Still start very very small in terms of setting yourself a habit goal, but this time, ask a friend or family member to help you follow through.

Ask your partner to stretch with you for two minutes in the morning.

Call a sporty friend and ask them to run with you occasionally in the mornings.

It may feel tough to ask for help–especially if you are introverted and don’t want to approach that conversation–so try phrasing it as a way for you to spend time together rather than asking for help. You can emphasize that it will help you with accountability, without having to turn it into a conversation about mental health (if you feel too vulnerable to share or talk about that at this time).

When we lack motivation, we often know the types of behaviors that we need to force ourselves to do in order to feel better. But actually doing them is a whole other problem. If you’re currently struggling with feeling motivated, try finding a foot-in-the-door-habit and having a loved one support you in getting started.

How do you approach making lifestyle changes when you struggle to feel motivated in life?

You might also like: 50 Things to Try When You’re Having a Bad Day

6 responses to “How to Make Lifestyle Changes When You’re Struggling to Feel Motivated”

  1. This is very true as I have experienced for myself how the persuasion strategy (although I wasn’t aware I was doing that) helps to relax the reigns on you to make lifestyle habits. In particular, this has been true for me when wanting to put in place a new tool or practice someone has recommended, whether by someone online or my therapist. For instance, I have realised I think in terms of all or nothing (I.e. either I do the tool or practice fully or I don’t do it all and if I don’t do all I feel rubbish). And I’ve realised it’s so important to catch yourself when you’re thinking these thoughts so you can let go of them and think what part of this can I do? or what else can I do instead to achieve what I want? But I feel it’s also all a case of experimentation and listening to yourself when trying to implement a new lifestyle habit and assessing whether it is the right one for you and if it’s not to let it go and find something else that will help you achieve that new lifestyle habit. There’s a book called, Feel better in 5 by Dr Chatterjee, which reinforces this idea. I’ve not read it myself but I saw ‘Marie Forleo’ (a coach) interview the author and I thought it was inspirational.

    • Thank you for your well thought out comment. I absolutely agree with you that it’s easy to think in an all or nothing mindset, but that ultimately it takes time and experimentation. And being kind and patient with ourselves. Thank you for the book recommendation! I will have to check it out 🙂

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