Q: I’m struggling with discipline across many facets of my life. Lack of discipline in healthy eating, being active, completing my work or tasks at my job, and keeping any sense of routine. Are there activities or methods I can use to stop waiting for motivation and to start building habits or getting myself into some type of routine? I believe I’m suffering from depression, so I go through lows and sometimes struggle to stay present with feelings of being overwhelmed and sad or defeated. Honestly, sometimes just exhausted from it all. I need to work through that and find small ways to show up for myself, but I’m really struggling with getting started.
A: This is an excellent question. First off, I must tell you that I think you’re probably being a bit too hard on yourself. What you’re describing as a “lack of discipline” could also be interpreted as difficulties with prioritization while struggling with Clinical Depression. Without having more details, it’s difficult for me to say this definitively, but in my experience often people who are in “survival mode” for one reason or another will be spending a lot of time, energy, and resources at getting through the day, which gets in the way of actualizing in other areas of functioning in life.
For example, you describe that you’re experiencing symptoms of Clinical Depression, including sadness, defeat, and exhaustion. Could it be possible that in order to cope with these symptoms you’re prioritizing activities that provide you with comfort as a way of coping? If so, you’ll need to find an alternative way to cope that also provides comfort, and that may not include healthy eating, being active, and being productive at your job. If this is the case, you may want to consider trying to map out the connection and pattern between your thoughts, emotions/feelings, physical sensations, and your behaviors/actions to identify what your current patterns are and how these factors feed into each other. You shouldn’t attempt to take away a coping skill, maladaptive or not, without a plan for how you’ll replace the helpfulness that the behavior provided with something else.
Counseling can definitely help, so I would encourage you to be open and honest with your Counselor about your symptoms, along with other important areas of your life, such as your relationships, and family background. Behavior always makes sense so if you’re able to determine some alternative coping strategies to replace the ones that you’re not liking the outcome of, you may find yourself better able to get on track.
In addition to this, it sounds like you have a belief that you need to wait to feel motivated in order to get started on your plan to work on yourself. What I can tell you with absolute confidence is that needing to feel motivated in order to start a difficult task is absolutely not necessary. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me that they’re waiting to find the motivation for something, for that time to never come. I’ve also known many successful people who are totally methodical with their goals and action steps and simply choose to execute their plans with a complete lack of emotion involved.
With this said, you should consider putting your mental energy towards the goal of working to accept the fact that there will likely never be a point in your life where you will suddenly and magically feel ready to tackle all of your problems and therefore you should instead recognize that change is possible when you simply make the decision to push yourself past your fears and get started.
You may want to consider that the only difference between a dream and a goal is the written word, so get writing! Next, break down your goals into small realistic steps. Then, tell someone. Whether it’s your counselor, a coach, a trusted friend, or a supportive family member, seek support in areas that you think you could benefit from accountability. Life is hard and you don’t have to go it, alone. By leaning on your support system to talk through the steps you’re taking to get started and to support you as you overcome the obstacles you face, you’re more likely to continue. Keep in mind that as long as you don’t give up, it’s all part of your journey. Learn from your mistakes and missteps.
Ultimately, if you make a commitment to yourself that you’ll never give up, then every day is a new day for you to take some small steps towards your goals. I wish you happiness and success along the journey!
Heidi Faust, LCSW