God gave us fingers–Ma says, “Use your fork.”
God gave us voices–Ma says, “Don’t scream.”
Ma says eat broccoli, cereal and carrots.
But God gave us tasteys for maple ice cream.

One of the main ‘chief complaints’ I hear from patients isn’t depression or anxiety or mood swings, it is low motivation. People remonstrate they have no motivation to do something they know they should or want to do. Related to low motivation is the complain of ‘lacking willpower’. This means they have a modicum of motivation to do something but aren’t doing it. This usually is about being more virtuous: eating better; exercising; quitting a bad habit like smoking or eating nasty chips. The lack of motivation is often felt to be from depression while the lack of willpower is supposedly coming from a ‘failure of character’.

When low motivation is happening, the first task is to find any context: is it part of a depression or a hormonal problem or a physical matter?. If so, treat the condition and hopefully the low motivation improves.

The ‘lack of willpower’ requires more education than treatment. Patients often hope I will give them some sort of ‘pep pill’ to create motivation to clean that closet or do their taxes or assist them to stop eating late at night or buying things they don’t really need. Alas, medications don’t work for this, much to everyone’s disappointment.

These patients don’t like insight – they know eating right or exercise and paying bills are ‘good’. They sometimes joke their intellect is at war (and losing) to something else – and they aren’t wrong. We are animals; all (?) living entities have evolved to avoid pain and go for the goodies like high-caloric foods. Humans developed higher functions like reason and insight and the ability to accessorize but Mother Nature forgot to erase the more primitive drives still programmed in the lower parts of the brain.*

I educate their avoidance of a messy house or taxes is understandable. We are wired to avoid doing things dreary, tedious and painful (like my men). On the flip side, we are wired to for the high-calorie crunchies. It’s not our fault we no longer are out in the wilderness eating as much as we can when something substantive comes our way. There were no bags of nasty chips or barrels of ice cream on the African savannah. I thought of this the other day when I foolishly looked into the candy dish in the home office. Patience above! Therein were some gummi bears. A minute ago I wasn’t thinking of such nor was I peckish. Seeing these lovelies set off several autonomic nerve systems that all sang out hallelujah! and zip the sweeties were gone, eaten with relish – even as my upper brain shouted out should statements of shame. Oh the horror.

So, what to do about the conflict between the upper and lower parts of our noggins? Being a Jungian I like to use archetypal images. “Shadow” energy should not be denied or exorcised; to do the former bites you in the butt and to try the later is not going to work. You are both St. Gallus and The Bear. The bear in you always goes for the sweets and runs away (or hibernates) to avoid work or pain. It is up to your saintly part to put up impediments so the bear in your doesn’t have easy access to the sweets. For example, the candy bowl in my office was ‘right there” and had no barriers for me getting at them. About a month ago, they were in the freezer, underneath brown parcels of frozen meat. If I had a hankering for candy I would have to get up and go to the freezer, remove the parcels, take out the candy, and let them thaw. These steps are enough for Gallus to win and the bear (who is lazy) not to. It was foolish of me to have moved them.**

Another impediment is NOT TO HAVE IT IN THE HOUSE IN THE FIRST PLACE. If I buy bags of nasty chips or boxes of crackers, dammit they are going to get eaten, St. Gallus can go jump in the lake. At Uncle Albertsons he, not the bear, makes the grocery list. Time sucking apps are eliminated from the phone, or put into files in the back with extra passwords making them hard to get to and open – or eliminated from the phone all together. Vanity sometimes is useful to get things done. I told Someone I want to weigh myself every Wednesday and please ask me each week did I do so. If I had a spending problem I would ask him to hold onto the credit cards and give me so much money per week (or day) and no more. I also have an app “Way of Life” that lights up a cheerful green for each day record I do my stretches, floss, and read something. It puts up a bloody red light and a nasty sound when I don’t. While this isn’t 100%, these goals are sure better than when I wasn’t recording them.

Those are about thwarting immediate pleasures; what about attending to tasks tedious or painful? I have mentioned these before. First we acknowledge people avoid doing something because it’s boring or painful or of no immediate consequence. Don’t look at the forest but at the first tree before you. The goal of ‘do my taxes’ or ‘clean out the office” should be broken down into a small, short step done daily (preferably at the same time) for 5 minutes. If you find ‘the ball is rolling’ keep going. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Get someone to assist or hold you accountable. We are more likely to do something if there is a direct quickly associated consequence. Not cleaning the room means only the room remains so and you feel bad. Not cleaning the room -and having your spouse post it on Facebook or donates a dollar to the Ron DeSantis for president fundraiser is something else.

I point out Bear Tamer/Bear dichotomy feels like Bear is in charge and unbeatable but he is not. St. Gallus wins in the end when we give him assistance. Motivation and so-called will power – or lack there of – are out of the equation irrelevant to doing the task at hand.

*Mostly in the brain stem, near the parts that keep us breathing and the heart beating, to show you how ingrained longing for food is.

**I don’t remember doing this. I must have unconsciously acted out or put them in the bowl to thaw and happily forgot I did so.