Motivation is a funny thing to discuss because it’s not something we can see or measure. We don’t walk around with ‘motivation levels’ above our heads like we’re characters in a computer game. And where does motivation come from? Why does it seem others are filled with it where we have none? Are we born with a certain amount of motivation like we’re born with a certain colour eyes?
To understand why women with PCOS can often lack motivation we must first understand what motivation actually is.
Motivation is the experience of desire or aversion - this simply means that motivation is the feeling of wanting something or wanting to avoid something. For example, someone training for the olympics may be up at 4AM to swim 100 laps in the pool. To me and you, that may sound crazy but, their desire to win a gold medal gives them the feeling of motivation. This is an example of feeling motivated towards something.
In the opposite fashion, one of my favourite PT clients ever was a lady in her 50’s who started training with me after her doctor told her that if she didn’t lose weight she was weeks away from having a heart attack. Her motivation to lose weight came from wanting to avoid something.
So, motivation is the feeling of wanting something (moving towards) or, wanting to avoid something (moving away). This is the reason many women can stick to eating well and exercising before their wedding or before a summer holiday.
It’s also why so many women start exercising after their wedding or their summer holiday because their source of motivation is now gone. Their motivation was like a campfire, as the date came closer they were getting closer and closer to the fire, fueling their motivation.
But, once the event is over, they are now walking away from the fire and what happens? The further away from the fire you get the less you can feel the heat - this is your motivation dying. I can guarantee while you’re reading this you can think of a time or two in your life where this perfectly explains your situation.
Motivation is the feeling of wanting something (moving towards) or, wanting to avoid something (moving away).
Now, if being motivated was that simple than every woman with PCOS would be filled with it. The motivation to get rid of acne, stop your hair from falling out, stop the hair on your chin from growing so quickly, regulate your cycle, improve your fertility chances etc. These are incredibly motivating! Don’t you agree?
Motivation is far more complex than just wanting something. So, let’s investigate how PCOS specifically impacts your motivation.
Firstly, we need to look into the physical nature of PCOS and how it can diminish your motivation levels. Two brain chemicals that are especially important are dopamine and serotonin. Have a look at what these two neurotransmitters are responsible for;
Dopamine: Mood, motivation, attention, learning, emotional responses.
Serotonin: Stabilizes mood, feeling of well-being, happiness, sleeping, digestion.
Look at all of those feelings that these two brain chemicals are responsible for, they are the feelings you need to be feeling to be motivated but, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone play a role in regulating these two brain chemicals. In females, the main source of your estrogen and progesterone come from your menstrual cycle.
So, for women with PCOS who are not having a regular cycle, your levels of these two key brain chemicals are reduced, leaving you unmotivated, mooidy, unable to best deal with your emotions, unhappy at time, suffering from poor sleep and possible poor digestion.
Most of my PCOS clients who I work with have no idea of this aspect of PCOS but, it’s extremely important to know. I made a Facebook video last night about a client of mine who had a work colleague tell her how lucky she was for not having a period - what an uneducated thing to say to someone.
Then there’s PCOS ability to destroy your sleep. Women with PCOS have far higher rates of insomnia and sleep apnea compared to women without PCOS. If you’ve ever had just one bad sleep you know that the next day you’re a walking zombie who doesn’t feel like doing anything but getting back into bed.
Can you imagine not getting a good night sleep for weeks, months, or years at a time? Because this is exactly what some women with PCOS are going through. Poor sleep, poor brain chemistry, and insulin resistance can all add together to drain your energy levels like taking the plug out of a bathtub.
So, as you can see, PCOS creates a physical state within your body and brain that leaves you without the energy you need to get up and kick butt.
The emotional side of having PCOS
But, there’s also the emotional side of having PCOS. I’ve made many posts about women with PCOS having higher risks of having mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. PCOS symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles and hair loss are associated with increased anxiety while weight gain and hirsutism (hair growth) are associated with depression.
I think a lot of “experts” are guilty of underestimating just how much of an emotional toll can have on a woman. PCOS can cut to the core of who she is a female, a human being.
I mentioned before how mood can impact your motivation and everything I’ve just mentioned about the emotional side of having PCOS shows that it can be hard to constantly get yourself into that positive mindset to take the actions needed.
Feeling anxious, depressed, upset, or hopeless about your PCOS is not a motivating mindset or mood to be in and, you definitely cannot blame women for feeling like this. They didn’t choose this, this isn’t something of their own doing and, there’s no cure for PCOS so, it’s not as if there’s ever a finish line.
So, if it’s easier to get motivated for an upcoming date, such as a wedding, then what are you supposed to do with PCOS when there is no end date?
You can think of motivation as the engine of a car, even if the engine is on, you still need to drive that car to your destination. The journey is still ahead of you. Even when you’re motivated to take control of your PCOS, you still must take action to take control, and often, those actions are not enjoyable.
Taking control of your PCOS means taking a healthy approach to your diet, getting in regular exercise, reducing your stress levels, getting quality sleep, and being really smart with your choice of supplements. For many women, all of this feels like a chore, or at least they don’t really enjoy them.
Many of my PCOS clients really don’t love working out, it’s a bit of a chore for them, it’s a hassle they would rather do without. In our modern world, food companies spend 100’s of millions of dollars each year ensuring their food products taste amazing to our taste buds.
This has created our current taste and convenience first, nutrition last food system. They load their foods up with sugar and fat to taste amazing and stay on the shelves but, it can ruin our health. This is why so many people struggle sticking to a healthy diet, because temptation is everywhere, and it tastes amazing!
So even if you truly want to take control of your PCOS, the journey to do so can feel like walking across a field of thorns, you could have the best motivation starting out but, take a couple steps in, the journey gets painful, and you lose motivation, focus, and eventually quit. That’s because the journey is painful, and what did we learn at the start of this article about motivation?
We're motivated to avoid pain.
Can you see now why you may have easily lost motivation in the past? Or, struggled to find motivation in the first place? It’s because for you, the journey was seen to be painful, even if you really want to achieve your goals.
So then, how are you supposed to change all of this? How can you create motivation for your goals?
1) Write down your goals, get really specific about what you want to create/achieve for yourself but, get emotional with your goals. “I want to feel better about myself” is a crap goal - it’s not motivating anyone. “I want to feel feminine, I want to have the confidence to show my partner my body. I want to hold my baby in my hands and tell her/him how much I will always love it” - that’s motivating. We’re motivated by feelings, not goals.
2) Write down all the things you need to do each day or week to achieve your goals. Do you need to eat well, what does that look like? Do you need to exercise? How? This is where you write your actions, this is where you plan your journey but, ensure that you will enjoy your journey. Do not create yourself a field of thorns.
3) Start with one step, don’t keep thinking of the big picture, break your journey down into small steps so you don’t get overwhelmed by it all. It’s much easier to keep motivated thinking about the next step compared to the entire marathon.
4) Enjoy the journey. Learn about yourself. Be happy to make mistakes because that’s where you learn and grow. Be kind to yourself. And realise that even though you never chose this journey, from now on you can start to steer it.
Other important points about motivation:
- Nobody is motivated 100% of the time
- Other important points about motivation:
- Nobody is motivated 100% of the time
About Drew Baird:
Drew Baird is a qualified Personal Trainer, PCOS expert, who also has qualifications in sports nutrition and psychology. Drew takes a scientific approach to PCOS by combining the latest clinical research with empirical evidence from working with his PCOS clients. He is the owner of Drew Baird Fitness and Healthy PCOS.
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