Motivation: How to Harness it for Good

Have you ever needed to do something but just could NOT bring yourself to do it? Maybe you’re sitting on your couch binge watching your favourite Netflix series while that pile of laundry in the corner grows and grows. We’ve all been there. It can seem nearly impossible to leave the comfort of your couch and do what needs to be done, especially during long winter months. Canadian problems, eh?
What does motivation even mean? The dictionary provides one of those very unhelpful definitions that seems to be cyclical and leaves you even more confused. According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, motivation is the act or process of getting motivated. So, what does it mean to be motivated? According to the same dictionary, motivated means to provide with a motive. Great. The term motive is something that causes a person to act. After that merry-go-round I think it is fair to come to the conclusion that motivation, deriving from the terms motivate and motive, means that something causes a person to act and do something.

Several months ago I took a 3-day course on the Foundations of Motivational Interviewing hosted by the Paul Burke Training Group. In this course we talked about what motivation means. The instructor spoke on how frequently we as caregivers, siblings, mothers, neighbours, and community members are quick to call someone ‘unmotivated.’ We come up with ideas of what another person should be doing or how they should behave, and when they do not complete OUR ideas of what THEY should be doing, we assume that they are lazy or unmotivated. Reflecting back on the dictionary definition, let’s remember that motivation is something that drives an act. This something and the following act are not set in stone by definition. So, what about what THEY want to do? The key point here is that they ARE in fact motivated, but instead of what we are wanting for them, they are motivated for what they want. *gasp* This means that when you are putting off your laundry it is not that you are unmotivated; you are simply more motivated to watch Netflix. As Paul Burke highlighted; “People are not unmotivated. They are just motivated for something else.”
Alright, so what’s next? How do I get motivated for what ‘should’ be done?

You have a choice to make. Do you want to do laundry, or do you want to sit on the couch and binge watch TV? Both have pros and cons; start by identifying these. “If I tackle the laundry I’ll have a tidier home. I’ll have clean clothes for work tomorrow (important)…but at the same time laundry is tedious and time consuming. This Netlflix show is exciting and entertaining! TV is self-care for me. On the other hand, I get enough screen time throughout the day, and I’m not really doing anything productive with my time when I’m plopped on the couch.” What sounds more convincing? If you really want to motivate yourself to make a choice, you can then highlight the pros of that particular choice and the cons of the other options. “I mean, I really do want a tidier house, and I want to look nice in public in clean clothes. If I watch TV I’ll be wasting my time; but if I get the laundry done it’ll be out of the way.” You may have to have this conversation with yourself for a while before you finally decide. The point here is that you need to make a choice. The only person that should be making a choice for yourself is YOU. Don’t worry what others think about you. Make a choice that makes YOU happy, but make sure that you weigh the pros and cons first!
Finally, because the world is not black and white and not everything works out like a Cinderella story: compromise with yourself. Negotiate even! If you have already laid out all pros and cons that you can possibly think of, yet you still have not been able to make a decision that you are content with; find a happy medium. Maybe this means doing laundry during commercial breaks (or when Netflix judgingly asks you if you’re still watching), or maybe folding laundry in front of the TV. At the end of the day, just be kind to yourself and find what works for YOU.
What motivation techniques work for you? How do you keep motivated when doing mundane tasks?
Please Note: While many thoughts from this post reflect Motivational Interviewing approaches, it is important to be aware that there is much more to the actual Motivational Interviewing technique that is not represented by this discussion. I highly recommend the training on this topic instructed by Paul Burke. For more information on this training follow the link below:

-Thoughts from Michelle Cronkhite, the Service Enhancement Coordinator at MPCSSN

Secondary Trauma

Real talk: working in the helping field is hard. I absolutely love my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it is hard.

People come into the helping field for many different reasons. Some people enter the field because their family worked in the field. Your mom was a social worker, so you become one too. Others enter the field because they have some sort of engrained passion for helping people in difficult situations. A third group is those that join the field as what we like to call the ‘wounded healer.’ These people have been hurt by something similar to what they deal with in the helping field and have used this hurt to drive them forward to help others dealing with similar struggles. For example, a kid in foster care may grow up to want to become a foster parent or work in the foster care system. Despite the reason for becoming a helper, it is important to ensure that we are protected from something called secondary trauma.

By the nature of my work, I am exposed nearly every day to extremely heart wrenching stories of kids that have gone through such horrible things. I find myself wanting to scoop up all these hurt kiddos and squeeze them until the pain just disappears. If only it was that easy! Instead, I do my best to become the person they can count on to be there unconditionally. I lend a listening ear, and when (or if) they are ready, they pour their hearts out. As they share their story, my heart breaks a little more for them. I hear the pain in their voice as they talk about their long history of heartbreak, trauma, and loss. This happens time and again; my heart breaks more with each person I work with. Unfortunately, there came a point for me in which I began feeling myself spiraling downward. I became angry at the world as I started to believe there was no justice for these hurt kids. How is it fair that such small people experience such big pain? And why does it keep happening??? I started to lose my faith in society, believing there was no good in the world. I became wary of strangers and started to see the bad in everyone. I started to get so sad that I became angry. I began losing sleep over the situations these kids were in. My social life dwindled as I began losing the will to get out of my bed – because why should I? Why should I stand up and fight when there is just no justice? This. This is secondary trauma. This is the point nobody wants to reach in their line of work, but unfortunately, it is all too common.

The scary part is that secondary trauma is not just about ‘feeling down’ or feeling sad about someone else’s situation. Secondary trauma, when untreated, can very quickly turn into something much more serious. It can cause you to become depressed and unable to function normally in your life. You may start feeling sick, irritable, angry, sad, and achy. You may even have troubles focusing or participating in regular everyday tasks that you normally perform amazingly in. Secondary trauma is hard, and it can be very scary. As caregivers, family members, friends, social workers, psychologists, community support workers, health care aides, and emergency personnel, it is important that we stay in tune with our mental and physical health. We need to know when we are starting to feel the burn of secondary trauma, and then we need to learn to reach out in the early stages instead of when it is in the late stages where it begins to impact your ability to function normally.

I am grateful to report that following my journey with secondary trauma, I was successful in getting the help I needed and am in a much healthier spot today. I now reach out and get help when I need it instead of letting it build up to wreak havoc on my soul. Help can look different for everyone. Some people benefit from formal or group therapy, while others benefit from regular nights out with friends. Some benefit from yoga or a walk, while others benefit from heavy exercise. The point is that you need to stay in tune with yourself. Know your warning signs. Know when your mental (or physical!) health is starting to decline and deal with it right away. No more excuses. We both know that when we say ‘I will do it tomorrow,’ it’s not going to happen. Do it, and do it now. Your health is important. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup!

-Thoughts from Michelle Cronkhite, the Service Enhancement Coordinator at MPCSSN

Have you experienced secondary trauma? How do you recognize the signs and take care of yourself?