The slump is that time when you know you should move, but you just don't friggin' want to. Perhaps you have brain fog as you're changing into your running shoes, and you're second-guessing whether you can even make it out the front door. Perhaps you bend down to pick up the barbell and you'd rather walk away and go sit in your car. Perhaps you finish up the day and want to go for a walk, but you have a deep urge to instead curl up on the couch and pass out drooling. If you've studied exercise even a little bit, you probably would think that this lack of motivation is simply a touch of overreaching, a bout of overtraining, or perhaps too many hard workouts the week before. And sure-that's often the case. But sometimes a distinct drop in motivation has nothing to do with pooped-out muscles, but instead specific nutrient deficiencies or neurotransmitter issues that leave you mentally incapable of pulling off a tough effort, no matter how prepared your muscles are. Of course, the solution to this is simple: Take Modaf1nil or Adderall, gulp your tomato jalapeno salad, suck down three cups of coffee and kick that fatigue in the butt. I jest. Actually, the solution is to address the nutrient, neurotransmitter and stress issues that can cause a lack of motivation. I call these motivational mind hacks for paleo diet ( don't you just love the word "hacks"?), and you're about to get seven that I personally use or implement with my clients when the brain seems to break.
Taper Off or Avoid Antidepressants.I'm kinda shocked at the number of "healthy" athletes and clients who come to Greenfield Fitness Systems for coaching-"healthy" athletes who are on antidepressants such as Prozac, Sarafem, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Effexor, Cymbalta or Pristiq. Most of these chemicals increase brain levels of serotonin or block reuptake of serotonin, but the problem is that this can cause a short-term flooding of the brain with neurotransmitters, followed by the fast degrading of those neurotransmitters. This results in low levels of naturally available neurotransmitters, a need for a constantly increased dosage, a depletion of 40 to 60 percent of the serotonin receptors in the brain, and damaged receptors in the liver, kidneys and colon. And frankly, most of these antidepressants really aren't that effective, anyway. (Just visit Chris Kresser's website and read his "Dark Side of Antidepressants" article.) By following some of the other advice below, you'll probably find antidepressants are far less necessary.
Avoid StimulantsCaffeine, ephedrine, ephedra, guarana, Ritalin and other stimulants and energy drinks can all create neurotransmitter resistance or longterm receptor damage. Like antidepressants, they require constantly higher levels to be effective. Not only do I recommend introducing 10 days of "no caffeine" every two months (if you close your eyes, decaf tastes a lot like regular), but I also recommend judicious use of stimulants such as only for your hardest workout of the week, before a big race or competition, or in emergencies, like when you need to stay up all night with a sick kid. Most workouts are not an emergency, and if you're relying on
a cup of butter-filled coffee pre-workout, green tea-infused kombucha post-workout and some kind of special pick-me-up pill in the mid-afternoon, then you're not really avoiding stimulants at all.
Avoid Toxins.Before you skip this one because you don't have an endocrine-disrupting air freshener hanging in your car, you should know that a lot of things you're probably exposing yourself to contain toxins that can affect production of or sensitivity to neurotransmitters including whatever they cleaned the treadmill with at your gym, the carpet in the house you bought, your deodorant, the water you shower in, and that dentist visit two months ago. Think twice about those glutenfree
GMO corn tortillas, use natural cleaning chemicals (lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, etc.), use natural personal care products (avoid parabens, dyes, fragrances, etc.), use home air filters and home water filters, get a holistic dentist you get the idea. Choosing toxins goes way beyond getting organic apples. Ever think that maybe the reason you walk into a gym and feel like crap is because you just got flooded with neurotransmitterdisrupting perfumes and cleaners?
Fix HPA Axis Dysfunction.Issues with the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (yep, there's a Wikipedia page for this one, too, so go read up on it) are a bit more hormonal than neurotransmitter based. But you have to take into account this axis, since high levels of cortisol can cause neurodegeneration, brain fog and low active thyroid hormone status, and low levels of cortisol can leave you unable to mobilize stored carbohydrates for energy or properly stimulate your adrenal glands. I'll keep this simple: The top three issues I see causing HPA axis dysfunction in the folks I work with are emotional, exercise and relationship stress; poor sleep quality; and gut problems (more often caused by stress than by diet in Paleo folks and clean eaters). The magic bullet is always a tough one to swallow: Fix your relationships, sleep more and stress less.
Okay okay perhaps you thought "hacks" would involve binaural beats, glasses that emit special light flashes, an infrared mat, and some little-known, overpriced herbal magic elixir. In truth, when I sat down to write this article, I was actually thinking about going that route, and delving into phone apps, bio-hacking gear and advanced supplementation strategies. But let's face it: When it comes to motivation (and avoiding decision fatigue), most folks just need to simplify, not complicate. Scan up and read through my list again. Most of those seven things are pretty simple
to grasp and/or free, huh?
Yes, in advanced cases of neurotransmitter depletion, you may need more advanced tactics, such as urinary neuroendocrine testing, neurotransmitter repletion with the use of supplements such as tyrosine and 5-HTP, and work with a good practitioner who can dig into these issues even more deeply. (Somebody certified in the Kalish Method is usually a good place to start.) But honestly, most folks just need to quit drinking so much damn coffee, clean up their personal environment, fix their relationships, eat a wider variety of nourishing foods and quit soaking up loud movies, loud music and a fast-paced lifestyle.