What is Motivation?

The definition of motivation is the act or process of motivating.

Not very helpful unless you know what a motive is, which is “something that causes a person to act.”

I found a more precise meaning of motivation in a review article. The authors state: “In neurophysiology as well as psychology, the terms ‘motivation’ and ‘drive’ have been used alternately in describing the direction, intensity, and persistence of behavior (Berridge, 2004; Vallerand, 2012).”

Most people have an idea of what motivation is; however, many of my clients express that they often lack it when it comes to making major decisions, changing everyday habits, or incorporating lifestyle shifts that would benefit them.

As a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor, it is my job to decode if my clients’ mindset and/or biology are inhibiting them from feeling up to taking on a task. After all, my form of medicine is related to making nourishing behaviors a priority, so one most feel moved to do them to achieve their desired results.

Although inspiration and motivational speaking is wonderful to ignite good feelings, I have not found it will necessarily create transformation. It is action, along with the correct mindset, that encourages and pushes someone to move ahead. The problem is, many cannot achieve this mental state when they are feeling rundown and depleted. Can you relate?

In this post, I will discuss why someone may stay stuck and how the brain is impacted by stress and mental fatigue, which all link to the lack of motivation. In a follow up post, I will provide more resources and natural tips to boost energy, focus, and motivation so that one can achieve their highest potential and not feel held back.

Why Your Brain and Emotional State is Stuck: The Importance of Acceptance

You cannot move forward or feel passionate about the next step in your life if you feel stuck in an unwanted place and keep repeating old, defeating behavioral and thought patterns. Any action from a place of trying to manipulate or control another person or situation will likely lead to a feeling of futility, burnout, and/or continued drama. This form of “motivation” is not one that is nurturing to you or others.

This is why I spent a few weeks on the topic of acceptance. When one acknowledges the reality of a situation, and that the only thing that one can truly control is their own self, they become empowered to make the choices that are best for them. So, if you feel like you are at sticking point, living a real-life version of the movie Groundhog Day, or running on a hamster wheel, you may want to pause for a minute.

Take a breath.

Then, take a peek at my post on how to achieve acceptance so that you can finally begin to move forward, rather than in circles.

Stress, Overwhelm, and Lack of Focus = Lack of Drive

Stress causes physical and mental health manifestations that can further block one’s ability to feel powerful and ready to take positive actions. Stress signals affect the way the brain functions and keeps one in a state of emotional reaction in order to survive. Rather than helping one thrive, chronic overwhelm literally rewires the brain leading to cognition, memory, and focus issues.

My previous post highlighted these effects and discussed how stress, along with other factors, can impact attention, keeping one from feeling motivated. These aspects include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • ADHD/ADD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder/ Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Digestive Distress
  • Depletion of brain nourishment
  • Lack of priorities
  • Medication effects
  • Technology addiction (digital distraction)

By addressing these issues with naturopathic and functional medicine methods, goals can be more easily attained.

Mental Fatigue & Motivation

When one has been involved in mentally demanding cognitive tasks, motivation naturally declines, and tasks are perceived as more difficult and less rewarding. This is a biological response.

According to a recent research article entitled “Drive in Sports: How Mental Fatigue Affects Endurance Performance,

Neurophysiological theories confirm this dual nature of mental fatigue. It is suggested that mental fatigue can activate the inhibition centers of the brain, increasing perceived effort for a given task, hence decreasing drive and willingness to act. On the other hand, it may also deactivate facilitative brain centers (normally responsible for motivated behavior and increased drive toward a reward), also resulting in decreased drive.”

Even though the article explored how mental fatigue impacts motivation to exercise in athletes, it provided a biochemical explanation of what occurs in the brain when one is cognitively worn out. (All of us in 2020, right?)

Although it is not necessary to understand the nitty gritty details, an overview may provide a sense of relief to someone who is feeling shameful or down on themselves because they cannot muster up the energy to make changes. It may also make doctors a bit more accepting and dig a little deeper into why their patients or clients may need a bit more compassion before being labeled as “noncompliant.”

The Biochemistry of the Fatigued Brain

According to the above article several things that impact brain functioning occur during mental fatigue. I will include the excerpt then explain it in non-medical jargon below.

Alterations in brain activation and the concurrent changes in brain neurotransmitter concentrations mediate between athletes’ perceptions (for example of mental fatigue) and their drive to exercise (Meeusen et al., 2006; Roelands et al., 2013).”Prolonged neural activity inducing mental fatigue can increase brain adenosine concentrations (Lovatt et al., 2012), which in turn decrease drive (Davis et al., 2003; Martin et al., 2018). Serotonin, another neurotransmitter, is related to increased sensitivity to negative stimuli (such as perceived fatigue or effort), and also increases perceived exertion (Roelands and Meeusen, 2010; Hebart and Gläscher, 2015). Additionally, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin are involved in feelings of motivation or the lack thereof (amotivation) (Meeusen et al., 2006; Roelands et al., 2008). Martin et al. (2018) recently suggested that the accumulation of extracellular cerebral adenosine may serve to explain the relationship between mental fatigue and exercise performance by increasing perception of effort during subsequent effortful tasks, and by impairing motivation (Martin et al., 2018)

To put it simply:

Brain signals and patterns are altered when one is mentally fatigued, which decreases drive and increases the perception of task difficulty.


  1. With prolonged neural stimulation, adenosine concentrations are increased. This causes a decrease in motivation.
  2. Serotonin and dopamine concentrations are altered from adenosine accumulation, perpetuating the altered mood state.

This means that when one expresses that they are mentally fatigued, there seems to be legitimate shifts in brain biochemistry. This should perk up a physician’s ear.

Furthermore, brain functioning patterns are also affected. The article “Prior Acute Mental Exertion in Exercise and Sport” states:

 …studies report that the substrates and physiological responses to mental effort involved brain regions that are involved with mental inhibitory system (insular cortex and posterior cingulate cortex).

The Chicken and Egg of Motivation & the Brian

Interestingly, to make things a bit more complicated, it appears we also have a chicken vs. egg scenario with this topic.  In “The Role of Motivation as a Factor in Mental Fatigue,” the authors state several reasons for mental fatigue including:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Depletion of resources or lack of allocation
  • Reduction in cerebral blood flow
  • Lack of motivation

In other words, mental fatigue causes lack of motivation and feeling unmotivated creates more mental fatigue!

Resources and Reward to Feel More Motivation

Due to the changes in the brain that occur with mental fatigue and resultant lack of motivation, shifting these neurological patterns using lifestyle factors that were reviewed in my article on focus is important. Furthermore, there is also evidence that doing things to enhance the feeling of being rewarded and/or having better access to resources can positively impact mental weariness. (source, source, source)

Thankfully, in my next post I’m up to the challenge to provide you with some resources and tips that enhance feelings of motivation. This means I will be exploring the role that dopamine plays in modulating brain patterns. It also means essential oils and apoptogenic herbs that boost energy and focus will be reviewed.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, what is your experience with motivation and mental fatigue?

Comment below.

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Discover Resources on How to Live a More Serene, Happier, Healthier Life!

If you are looking for natural means to balance your life, free yourself from the negative effects of stress and overwhelm, and reclaim your highest level of health and wellness, I encourage you to join my new Facebook group.

There, you will find a group of individuals dedicated to living life to their fullest potential and empowering their own and others’ emotional and physical health through the use of natural, integrative, and holistic medicine approaches.

Click here to learn more and become part of a group of like-minded individuals.

Mental Health Resources

If you are in need of additional support and professional health, please reach out!

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
  • Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org


Other Uplifting Resources

The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.

Stress management tips and resources


Are Mood, Hormonal, and/or Digestive Issues Robbing Your Life?

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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)

According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures, vaccination, and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.

This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.

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