Eating Disorder recovery is a journey through which someone not only recovers his or her physical and mental health, but through which tremendous personal growth is derived. But like all great journeys, it is not an easy one. I often tell people that I would never wish an Eating Disorder upon my worst enemy, but I wish that everyone would have the opportunity to go through a process such as Eating Disorder recovery, as I believe it would make us all stronger, fuller people. Since Eating Disorder recovery is such a challenging process, it’s important to have and maintain a sense of motivation, to keep you going when times are tough.
Motivation exists on a spectrum. It is never accurate to say that someone has zero motivation, but there maybe times at which motivation is lower than others. During times of lower motivation, you may feel like you are just “going through the motions”. That’s OK, those recovery-oriented emotions still have value even when your enthusiasm towards them is not particularly high. Motivation is like pixie dust, you only need a little bit of it (and some faith) to fly. It is unrealistic to expect that you will be gung ho about your recovery all the time. Even if your motivation seems nonexistent, continue to focus on it and that seed of motivation will grow.
So where do I get this magical pixie dust called motivation?
Motivation can come from a variety of sources, from within you and from without. Both types of motivation have value, and they both serve an important role in recovery. Motivation that comes from someone or something outside yourself is called extrinsic motivation. Sometimes extrinsic motivation is more readily available, and that’s understandable, because you have many different people, places and things in your life to provide this kind of motivation. You, however are just one person, and if you are struggling with an Eating Disorder, it’s really hard to be your own best cheerleader. If you struggle with low self-esteem, sometimes it’s hard to believe that you are cause worth fighting for. During these times allow others to share their motivation with you. Seek inspiration in others who are going through the recovery process, or simply think of those who want you to recover, and think of how your recovery will positively impact them. Extrinsic motivation can be very helpful in recovery. In fact, it is the reason why most people first begin the recovery process.
The next type of motivation is called intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is often described as doing something for yourself, because you want it, not because someone is telling you to do it. It is the difference between simply showing up to work because you have to, versus jumping out of bed with excitement because you love what to do. Intrinsic motivation is preferable for Eating Disorder recovery for one simple reason, because it’s YOUR recovery. Intrinsic motivation is necessary to make your recovery last, but it’s not necessary to have at every stage. Sometimes relying on others will do, but if you would like to work on developing intrinsic motivation, try the following brief exercise.
Time Travel Exercise to Enhance Motivation:
To enhance your intrinsic motivation in the present, you may need to think about the past and the future. During times of low motivation, think back to the past, and think of some things your Eating Disorder prevented you from. Think about the social invitations you declined because there would have been food involved, think about the time spent disengaged from others due to obsessing about food, weight, or appearance. Think about the physical discomfort directly caused from the Eating Disorder. I know this is unpleasant, but sometimes it is necessary to shake the idea that the Eating Disorder is something that you want to keep in your life. Try and recall specific, vivid moments that you can look back on and get in touch with the unpleasantness of the Eating Disorder. Realize that if you were to have continued with the Eating Disorder, there was only one direction you would have gone.
Then, fire up the time machine and shift your focus to the future, a future without the Eating Disorder. If you didn’t have your Eating Disorder, what could you do? All the hours per day spent invested in the Eating Disorder, what would you do with those? Would you complete your degree, spend more time with your family, would you develop an improved practice of self-care? Allow your mind to wander briefly towards this future without an Eating Disorder. Use your imagination to try and create vivid images of the experiences you could possibly have if your Eating Disorder were not there to deprive you of them. You can do great things, because you will also be armed with the internal resources that you will have cultivated through the process of your recovery. You might as well run for president!
Still Need More Motivation? Here are some practical tips to enhance your recovery motivation.
Do what you can – Doing what you can is certainly better than doing nothing at all. Maybe you can’t commit to doing everything that it takes for your recovery right now, but make a commitment to do something, anything for your recovery. Many times we sabotage ourselves because we think, “oh I already messed up today, so why bother” and we throw in the towel. If you didn’t have the picture perfect day of recovery, that’s ok, just do what you can and you will eventually be able to build upon what you did.
Can what you do- Something went well for you in recovery? Excellent! Look back and think about what it was that helped you do it. Take that formula which helped you in your recovery, put it in a can and you’ve got something more precious than the secret recipe for Coca-Cola. Write it down somewhere so that on days of low motivation you can refer back to it and remind yourself of what worked for you.
Don’t go it alone – You don’t have to recover from an eating disorder on your own. We are social beings and we interdepend on others, yet sometimes we think we cannot involve others in our recovery, because then it wouldn’t be as significant. But no matter how many people you involve in your recovery, whether it is treatment professionals actively working with you, or people in your life cheering you on from the sidelines, it is still YOUR recovery, and at the end of the day you will be the one who reaps all the benefit from it. Of course, your cheerleaders and supporters will also be really pumped as well. And finally…
Strike while the iron is hot- Periods of strong motivation can be fleeting, and if you feel the spark of motivation within you at all, act upon it right away. Seek treatment immediately, even if it you are not fully ready to do whatever it takes to recover. It’s OK to dip your toe in the pool of recovery, and through treatment you will have a supportive team who may be able to help you cultivate your fledgling motivation. Don’t wait for things to get worse, because they can and they will. Start the process of recovery now, even if you aren’t fully certain about what the endpoint of your recovery will look like. That vision will become clear throughout the process. But the most important thing is to take the first step, and take it now.
Whether you are bursting with motivation or still on the fence, you can still recover. Motivation is important, but it is often misunderstood. Hopefully, this helped clarify a bit more about the different kinds of motivation and how you can enhance the motivation you currently have.