Motivation and Bipolar Disorder

Motivation and Bipolar Disorder

The way I see it, bipolar disorder presents a problem with motivation (you know, among all the other bipolar problems). Many people in acute bipolar moods suffer from too much, unrestrained motivation or no motivation at all. Either way you slice it, it’s a bitch.

I’m Bipolar, I’m Motivated

Motivation is a funny thing. It’s guided by pleasure and/or lack of pain. Not surprisingly, we’re motivated to do the things that bring as pleasure or the things that help us avoid pain. We’re motivated to eat ice cream – pleasure; we’re motivated to work so we can pay rent – avoidance of pain.

And when you’re manic, or hypomanic, boy do things often feel good. Everything seems like a brilliant idea. Why would you pain all the walls in your house purple? Well, obviously, it’s genius. And expressing genius is awesomely pleasurable. Sex feels great so grab lots of it. Seek pleasure out with all might and at all expense.

I’m Bipolar, I Have No Motivation

Unfortunately, the flip side of the mood also represents the flip side of motivation – I have no motivation. Depression equals a lack of motivation. That’s a standard symptom and something I have experienced many times. When depressed, one has the motivation to sleep – often because that’s the only thing that doesn’t feel quite so painful.

Handling the Challenges of Bipolar and Motivation

So the question is, how does one deal with bipolar and motivation, or particularly, lack thereof?

One thing that I find helpful is lists. It’s hard to be motivated when just thinking of an overwhelming mountain of do-to items, but if they’re organized on a list, somehow they’re more manageable, and you have the reward of crossing an item off the list when you complete it. If you make your list carefully, this can even work when you’re manic as you might be able to convince yourself to keep really crazy things off the list when writing them down forces you to take an extra moment to think about them.

Bipolar and Lack of MotivationWhen suffering from no motivation, I like to time-box things. Basically this means that I promise myself that I will spend a certain amount of time on a task, whether that completes the task or not. So, for example, I will spend 15 minutes writing an article. That might not finish the article, but it makes progress and progress, even a small amount, beats back the bipolar-lack-of-motivation phenomenon. And at the end of 15 minutes, I might find it wasn’t so bad and I might be able to talk myself into another 15.

I also use rewards to try to motivate myself. Like, if I finish an article I will be allowed ice cream, that sort of thing. Sure, it makes me feel a little like a five-year-old, but it works.

I think the important thing to remember with motivation is that even a little progress matters and that every win should be celebrated. It takes an extraordinary amount of work to find the motivation sometimes to get off the couch to take a shower – so that shower is a big deal and a cause for celebration. It’s important not to measure our motivation and our productivity against others. A win for us might not be a win for someone else, but that’s okay. Only we know how much work it took to scrounge together the motivation we did to wash the dishes.

I think it’s important to recognize that motivation is a problem, lack of it is a symptom, acknowledge it, and then use tools to defeat it as best we can – just like we do with every symptom of bipolar disorder.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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