A Motivational Trick for the Severely “Motivationally Impaired.”

Russell Irvin Johnston
3 min readJun 10, 2019

by Russell Johnston, June 10 2019

“Motivational Impairments” can be physical, medical problems and yes, that phrase is a proper medical term. If these motivational impairments stem from low dopamine levels in the body, they can be as severe as they are in Parkinson’s disease. But whether your problems with getting motivated are part of a medical condition such as inflammation or a result of exhaustion, or something else; if you really, really have trouble tackling a certain job, the experience of Parkinson’s patients suggests a way forward.

We think of Parkinson’s as a disease in which it’s impossible for patients to initiate actions due to a lack of dopamine. For example, someone with Parkinson’s may find it all but impossible (or impossible) to will themselves to get up out of a chair and start walking. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. Surprisingly, walking for many hours at a time without somehow being able to stop walking is also a symptom of Parkinson’s. In other words, it’s also quite hard for people without much dopamine to terminate whatever they’re doing because that is also something that we have to will into happening. So dopamine needs to take a hand there, too.

A severe lack of motivation to get started on a job also suggests the possibility that once you begin, you may find it rather hard to stop, too. So if you have a lot of trouble getting necessary things done, or you have a big job you’ve been putting off, it’s important to set aside a long period of time for that task before you begin, to have food prepared and nearby, and to visit the washroom before beginning. Maybe hide the phone, too. Anything to limit interruptions, and let the job get finished. Once you quit for any length of time, your lack of motivation may fall back into place, and it could be months (or years) before you resume.

Now, please note — this is advice for those who have real problems getting things done, starting the activities they really need to do. For example, those with medical conditions such as Chronic Inflammation, which appears to cause low dopamine levels in the brain, which can sap motivation severely, as I discussed in my previous article. If you don’t have big problems getting started (for physical reasons or other reasons) you’ll probably be more productive working in short bursts, using the Pomodoro method, say. This involves taking very short breaks every 45–90 minutes. You may find you can slip some short breaks into a lengthy task without losing steam.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you do have a physical condition, such as MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome — a non-IgE allergy Syndrome) that kills motivation/increases fatigue; then reducing that condition or avoiding the triggers for it is much more useful than squeezing out every last effort from yourself while you’re ill, of course. To the extent that you can find those triggers.

Luckily, with many modern diseases of inflammation, such as MCAS, there’s little downside to substituting physical or mental work for reducing more inflammation, since the inflammation is not helping you, anyway. It’s just the result of a false alarm. You might as well get something done, IF you can motivate yourself and begin, of course. Why spend all your energy on inflammation?

I have MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome) and hEDS (hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.) This makes physical effort painful because people with hEDS suffer athletic injury from even the slightest activities. But it’s also true that MCAS, — which can be looked at as a (non-IgE) allergic condition so severe it causes bone deformities (as in hEDS) — saps one’s motivation bigtime. So the issue of when to push myself is a complex one, for me. I want to overcome some of my fatigue rather than have MCAS inflammation claim all my energy; but I also have to be very careful of doing too much and causing severe injuries that either take months to heal, or never heal.

Your situation may also be complex, there are usually trade-offs in this life. Still, setting aside long periods is one more technique to try.

If physical disability or fatigue is a problem, you may also want to look at this article of mine:
Arms Day / Legs Day / Rest Day

You may also want to look into Jerry Seinfeld’s way of getting things done: “Don’t Break the Chain.” I’ll let you DuckDuckGo that one, on your own.

Previous health article in this series:
How Inflammation Sucks the Motivation From You: it’s all in the dopamine

Full list of my health articles:



Russell Irvin Johnston

I've read at least the abstracts of (far) more than 250,000 peer-reviewed medical articles, I studied the history and philosophy of science at University.