I was wondering if any of you experienced problems with motivation, and what strategies you use to counteract this deficiency. I am asking this because my adult life has been constantly derailed by my inability to internally motivate myself. Feel free to skip the rest of this thread if you want to avoid my sob story.
I should probably start out by saying that I did very well growing up, exceeding expectations in all of my educational and extracurricular endeavors. During my childhood and adolescence, I had great expectations for my future and myself. I was an overachiever, with big dreams, great self-discipline (or that's what it seemed like), and a strong belief that it was my duty to make the world a better place.
In my youth I was ‘closer’ to my emotions than I am now (thanks hormones), this combined with the more structured environment and schedule, regular praise from my family and teachers, the belief that I was doing something important, a good Special Education program, and other major and minor factors enabled me to thrive there. When I graduated, I was in the Top 5% of one of the most academically competitive schools in the country. At graduation I did not feel happy or proud, but my thought process indicated that I ‘felt’ positive about my future, that I could overcome any challenge (which I have always believed). Like I said earlier, I had big dreams and a strong desire to make the world a better place, but so far those desires have amounted to nothing.
When I got to college less than a week after high school graduation, the problems started almost immediately: I could not summon the near-bottomless drive to succeed that got me through high school (I did not realize how vital the structure, praise, and other factors were to my success until some years later). Even some of the simpler assignments would require all-nighters for me to keep up with my classes. Though I got a little better at it over the next several years, the outcome would almost always be the same: for the first month of the semester, I would be able to keep up with the work, but then my motivation would start to decline (sometimes into complete apathy) for no discernible reason until I had to drop one, two, or sometimes even all of my courses for the semester. Perhaps even worse is that for reasons I can’t explain (despite hundreds of hours of self-analysis to try and understand why), the amount of time I could maintain my motivation after the first month differed radically from class-to-class, and semester-to-semester. I considered multiple possibilities; my interest in the course (then again I don't actually like or dislike any academic subject), setting goals or adhering to a schedule, the class size or curriculum, whether or not I worked with a group, how approachable the professor was, how much help I tried to get, or even the quality of the teaching, I could not find any correlation.
After a few years I realized that I was not 'feeling' positive/wanted emotions like a normal person (it would be several more years before I learned about Alexithymia). My inability to feel them, and thus my inability to draw strength from them, were responsible for my motivational problems. However, since I also could not ‘feel’ them, I was incapable of figuring out what stimuli would give me a positive emotional response (changes to medication, sleep, exercise, etc. have not yet made a noticeable difference). Sometimes, for reasons unknown I can regain my motivation for certain things, and I can sometimes motivate myself to do new things, but the reasons why I was able to do this always escaped me.
I am going to be turning 31 in less than a month. When I graduated high school, I believed that by the age I am now I would have a Master’s or Ph. D in the sciences, would be working for the benefit of humanity and becoming a true cainophile. Instead, I have two Associate’s degrees that both took me twice as long for the average student to get (one of them were for a major I despised). I have dropped out of one university and two colleges for poor performance. I have vacationed on three different continents multiple times while experiencing no sense of wonder or surprise, and only superficial curiosity for anything I saw. I never felt love (whether giving or receiving) despite growing up in a loving and stable family environment. I derive nothing positive from any relationship (family or otherwise), which means despite my above average compassion, I regard every relationship I have as a means-to-an-end, rather than an end-in-itself like I wish they were. Everything I do in my spare time are habits I picked up when I was a child or adolescent, I have developed no new interests since then (and from a certain point of view it could be said I have lost all my other interests as well), and my curiosity died out years ago thanks to personal revelation (which came about accidentally thanks to the major I despised) and I have yet to figure out how to get it back. I have gotten to this point in my life right now only thanks to the patience and charity of my family.
Wow, I have gone quite a bit off topic, but it 'felt' rather cathartic to write, so I'm going to keep it. Like I wrote earlier I will take any advice you can give me. I have never doubted that somewhere out there is a solution to my problem.
P.S.: I know cainophile is not a word, but its opposite, cainophobe, sure is.
Thanks for sharing Motvol. What you are describing is very recognizable to me.
I also found out a few years ago about alexithymia. For the first time, this definition was really fitting what I felt (not being able to grasp what I feel…). I am still trying to figure out what that means for me. For example, what my character traits are, what can improve and what is stuck. And what are the consequences for my long-term projects, what I actually can do and what I cannot, due to this mental complexion. For example, I am unable to set objectives for the future which are truly personal to me. I can start on quite ambitious projects if they make sense in my current situation. But they will be determined by the external situation and if the situation disappear, my drive also disappears as my drive is determined externally instead on internally.
I have also a couple of undergraduate diplomas and currently studying for a master. The diversity of them is mind-boggling (Philosophy, sciences of language, Fine Arts, Management, Human Resources Management). I was curious of everything. Every time, a certain context put me in a situation where I need(ed) to understand a certain field of knowledge. My interest was triggered. My curiosity was limitless. And I could always rely on my intellect (coupled with discipline) to go ahead with a new study. But past a certain stage, I was stuck to go further. I really could not understand why. I think that this is because the emotional part, the self awareness, self reflective part did not follow.
What I found out is that the purpose of a master is to develop self awareness and self reflective learning (within a scientific field of course). This is at least the case for the Human Resources Management Master that I am studying right now. My experience is that alexithymia makes that particularly complicated. But not impossible I think. At least, in my case, I am learning to develop those skills. But it is unnatural to me. I needed and still need to learn how to do that.
I am actually trying to make sense of this topic and would like to know more about your experience or similar experiences. Thanks