This week in DBT Skills for Therapists - Courses.TheCBTDBTCenter.com - one of the
therapists in the group brought up an issue that seems to strike at a core issue in our modern world.
She called it "Can’t Be Bothered Syndrome".
This is a syndrome facing people who may not be struggling with a diagnosable mental health condition. They might struggle with some combination of anxiety, low self-esteem, avoidance, procrastination, etc. The kinds of obstacles that simply hinder daily consistency and productivity without causing any major issues to functionality. Often, people in the category might know what they need to do to get up and get themselves moving and feeling better, they just "can’t be bothered."
While this may not be an officially diagnosable disorder from the DSM-5, it does do an
excellent job describing a widespread issue that impacts people’s ability to motivate themselves to change and grow positively.
The “treatment” for it, though, involves a subtle but powerful perspective shift about
how we think about motivation. It is important to realize that motivation itself is something that doesn't magically come to a person or disappear. It is likely that someone suffering from issues with anxiety, self-esteem, or depressive symptoms will find their motivation suffering as well. In essence, there is an outside factor that is negatively impacting motivation levels. It's not that people aren’t motivated, they simply have a problem building and maintaining higher levels of motivation.
It may help to think about your motivation levels as being similar to your phone battery
levels. Sometimes you will have higher battery percentages, sometimes you will have lower
percentages. Now, imagine your phone somehow downloaded a virus that always kept it at a
A person can, however, boost their “motivation percentages” by simply getting out there
and doing things that will make them feel good. This may be exercising, getting sunshine, completing a difficult task, learning something new, or reaching out to a friend. Instead of thinking, “Why am I not feeling motivated” and getting stuck there, think “I’m not feeling motivated, how can I boost my motivation levels.”
Then, by simply doing motivation-boosting activities, even if you feel less motivated at first, you will often find that your motivation levels will increase.
You may be familiar with this concept presented in a different way, “Mitoch sh’loh
leshma ba leshma." Now, someone with "Can't Be Bothered Syndrome" who may be reading this might think, “that is the problem, I would love to get up and get myself moving, I just can’t get started.”
Firstly, I totally relate.
Secondly, it may help to think of motivation levels as simply one aspect of the process of
change. Any change inherently involves some discomfort and difficulty. Even with all the right plans in place and all the right knowledge, all change involves a certain amount of raw willpower or motivation to get things going. And that is why this syndrome is so tricky. It directly affects the “motivation ingredient” of the recipe for change.
With this mentality, though, you will need a lot less willpower than you might think. A big
part of Can't Be Bothered Syndrome is that you might think you need to generate lots of
willpower to get moving. An exhausting amount really, too much to even be bothered to try, you're probably better off laying down and scrolling through your phone anyway.
Here's the trick: you don’t need to feel enough motivation to complete an entire task.
All you need is enough motivation to get started on a motivation-building activity and trust the process. In fact, you might only need a couple of seconds of sticking with your plans to open the motivation floodgates.
It can also be helpful, to notice and observe that the motivation ingredient is what is
missing and treat it like an obstacle to overcome instead of a dealbreaker. By thinking about motivation not as something that comes and goes, but as something that is well within your ability to control, you can feel empowered to get up, get going, and be your best self!