What signals our (lack of) motivation is giving us?

Ideas Dec 18, 2020

I used to consider that all the tools I have - yoga, meditation, painting, writing - were my go-to self-care activities. I always felt great doing them, so I assumed they were what I needed to do when I was feeling low.

Strangely, when I did feel blue, there were so many times I went to a yoga class and felt worst. I couldn't focus, and it didn't alleviate my hurting. Worst, I would feel bad that it wasn't making me feel better. Wasn't I the yoga lady preaching to everyone why the whole world should get in a downward dog twice a day? Wasn't I the one who flew across the country twice to become a certified yoga teacher?

New York, December 17th. More of my photos here.

It wasn't just yoga. There were times where meditating felt like a chore. Writing felt forced and painful. Painting was set aside. You get the idea.

And I never quite understood why until recently. I did label these as "self-care", so naturally I looked to them to take care of myself. It created this weird questioning in me, because I identified so closely with each of those activities - I was the blogger lady, the yoga lady, the artsy lady. Anytime I would drop off of them, sometimes for months, I felt called out when someone would ask me how one of them was going, and I'd juge myself pretty harshly for it.

As the pandemic settled in, I tried to turn to these old friends. Yoga? It seemed bonkers that I would invest so much energy in getting certified and then not use it. So I tried. A yoga video here and there, a self-lead practice attempt from time to time. A couple of posts. But nothing. I didn't get any joy out of it. No desire to teach. No desire to practice. Nothing to say, nothing to share.

And now, almost a year after my certification, more than a year after I had stopped writing, and a global pandemic later, I see myself flowing back into all these creative activities.

I noticed how after spending a recharging summer in Europe, all I could think about was getting back into writing.

I see how I'm exploring new ways I want to express my creativity through photography.

And how there's a little voice in my head nudging me - hey lady. That camera you're getting. Maybe that could be a cool way to get back into yoga. I'm not there yet. But I can see it coming.


SO. What's the deal here? Well, let's look closer at what has happened:

Feeling out of body: lost in performative writing, forcing yoga but not enjoying it.

Feeling better, start to travel again: excited about yoga training, lots of practice.

Pandemic, feeling lost, feeling grief, feeling depressed: no desire to do anything.

Travel, come back, feeling free-er than ever: clearer on my boundaries and emotional energy, crave all the things.

I realized that I was not doing all these things in order to feel better. I was craving all these expressions of creativity because I was at my best.

I wasn't lacking motivation, I was lacking emotional energy to create.

Sunrise in Williamsburg. More of my photos here.

Now, there's a bit of a catch 22. These activities do fulfill me, which in turn makes me feel great, which in turn makes me crave them more.

But I've realized that when I would feel down (which happens on a regular basis, because... I'm a human), I would turn to those as a clutch, as the silver bullet answer to all my aches, when what I sometimes needed was to be present and notice what was going on at that exact moment.

What cured me from my pandemic funk was traveling, the feeling of freedom, and being around my people. No amount of yoga, especially isolated at home, would have given me that.

Instead, me engaging in writing, painting, creating are a great signal to confirm that I'm doing well. And since I've realized this, I've been practicing to look at my creative urges as a compass for tuning into my energy levels. When I'm on a roll and write three articles at once, I know it's a great signal that I'm high energy. When I procrastinate for a couple of days, it's a good sign that I need to rest, and potentially check in with myself.

Love notes from NYC. More of my photos here.

The reason this was such a big realization for me is that it's taking away the power of the harsh self-judgement I was punishing myself with. Changing the outlook from "You should be more motivated, you should want to do XYZ" to "Pay attention to how these help you understand where you are at better, at any given moment" is empowering, freeing, and paradoxically, has led me to create more than I have in a long time.

Yet another example of the importance of what we tell ourselves, what words we use to describe our state of mind. We always have a choice to elevate ourselves or bring ourselves down, and in this instance, this mindset shift is lifting me and producing a delight that is hard to describe.

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Laila Zouaki

Adopted by New York, I made a few life stops in California, Australia, France and Morocco. I'm curious about product, scuba diving, yoga, psychology, art, writing, and food.