No motivation leads to feelings of overwhelm and guilt. And those feelings can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating, drinking, or overspending. Identify the reasons for your lack of motivation and you can overcome the struggle.
I once had a job that can be best described as soul-sucking. I dreaded going to work. Every morning I’d sit in my car in the company parking lot giving myself a pep talk. I’d mentally repeat mantras to try to lower my blood pressure and muster the motivation to walk into the building.
That job depleted my energy so much, I had no motivation to do anything else in the evenings or even on the weekends. I tried tying my work goals to my personal goals, but in the end, I just needed a change: I found a new job.
Having no motivation leads to feelings of overwhelm and guilt. Those feelings are paralyzing and won’t help motivation. But if you can uncover the reasons for your lack of motivation, you can break this cycle.
Below are 11 reasons you might have no motivation and what to do about them.
1. Lack of energy
Not having sufficient physical energy can lead to no motivation. Investigate the cause and experiment with solutions.
- Are too many processed carbs and sugar causing insulin spikes and dips? Try eating protein + vegetables for lunch and see if afternoon and evening energy levels improve.
- Are you getting enough sleep? Establish a regular bedtime and sleep routine. Turn off screens an hour before bed and clear your mind of all your to-do items by writing them down or capturing them in a to-do list app.
- If you think your lack of energy may be due to a medical condition, such as hormones or depression, schedule a visit with your doctor.
2. Too many things responsibilities and/or commitments
Getting tasks out of your head and onto paper or into an app frees up mental space.
Go through your list, and for each task, ask yourself, can I:
- Ask someone to help me with it? Or delegate it completely?
- Outsource or pay someone else to do it?
- Eliminate it completely? Will anyone notice if you don’t do this task? If it’s an important work assignment, can you ask to bow out and have someone else do it?
- Postpone it?
Now, look at the remaining tasks that can’t be delegated, outsourced, or postponed. Choose three tasks that are both important and urgent. If you have more than three tasks that fall into this category, pick the ones that will have the most positive impact on other to-do items or that will create the most mental peace.
- If any of three tasks can be done in 20 minutes or less, do them now.
- For more complicated tasks, break them into smaller tasks. Continue to break them down until you’re left with tasks that take no more than 20 minutes each.
- Pick the top two important and most urgent 20-minute tasks and complete them right now.
- After one hour, you will have completed THREE tasks and can celebrate your accomplishment!
- Use that energy to identify the top three tasks you’ll tackle next, either now or tomorrow
Say no to any new commitments until you can clear your plate of the current ones. For work commitments, if a boss makes additional requests, you can show your manager your to-do list and ask for guidance about which important and urgent tasks should be prioritized lower or delegated to someone else.
3. To-do list tasks aren’t tied to a personal goal and strong intrinsic motivator
Some people refer to this as their “why.”
Reframe the Reason
Everything on your to-do list should be there for a solid reason (if not, see #2 above). If you have things you must do but the reason for doing them isn’t motivating to you, try reframing the task so that the task’s purpose is tied to a positive, personal reason.
- Filling out this report for work, while unexciting, means your boss will be satisfied and you continue to get a paycheck, which helps provide for your family and fund your lifestyle.
- Changing the linens helps my family stay healthy, and I’ll enjoy crawling into a clean bed tonight.
- Going to the grocery stores means I can eat whatever I want for dinner tonight and we’ll have plenty of food for lunches and snacks tomorrow.
Remember Your Future Self
You can think of your future self to help motivate yourself to take action now. This is especially helpful if you are used to having accountability partners to motivate you to complete tasks. What you do today will directly impact your future itself, negatively if you delay action or positively if you get the task done now.
Make it a Game
Whenever you’re facing a mundane task, try to make a game out of completing it in a certain amount of time. You can set a timer and try to beat the clock or put on a playlist and try to finish before the music ends.
Remove Goals that are no Longer Important
If the self-imposed things on your to-do list are no longer important to you, perhaps it’s time to let them go. There’s no shame in deciding you’re no longer committed to—or don’t want to spend the time—pursuing a project or goal.
4. Inaction is habit
Inaction breeds inaction. Or for the science nerds like me, remember Newton’s first law of motion: a
body at rest tends to remain at rest…and a body in motion will stay in motion.
The less you get done, the less you feel like getting things done. You need to take only a small step to create momentum. Promise yourself that if you work on a task for 20 minutes, you’ll allow yourself a 20-minute break to recharge. Then, pick the to-do list item that will yield the biggest result and work as diligently as possible for just 20 minutes.
At the 20-minute mark, reassess: you can either take a break or continue working if you feel like it.
5. Not enough “me” time
Are you burned out or don’t get enough time to yourself?
Take a few minutes to consider what energizes you—spending time with friends, reading alone, daydreaming—and make time to recharge. Don’t think of this time as optional. If lack of recharge time is causing you to neglect important responsibilities and is the reason you’re not motivated, getting some time to yourself is critical to your well-being and the people you care for.
If childcare responsibilities are the main reason you don’t get me time, here are three ideas for virtually free childcare ideas.
6. Mentally focused only on yourself
I know when I’ve “been inside my own head” for too long, I can become moody and glum and find myself with no motivation.
Doing something small to help someone else can turn me around 180 degrees: Hold the door for someone, pay for the order for the car behind you in the drive-thru line, send a “thinking of you” card to a relative or friend who may need a pick-me-up.
Make a gratitude list or do a gratitude meditation. If you’re reading this on a screen, you have a lot to be grateful for: your eyesight, your ability to read and process information, the device you’re looking at, internet access, you’re probably not starving, freezing to death, or dying of heat exhaustion…you get the idea.
Getting the focus off yourself and helping someone else or practicing gratitude can clear your head and provide energy.
7. Lack of patience
If you’re working on a big goal and find yourself no longer motivated to take action, perhaps you need to be more patient. Big goals have many steps and take time to achieve.
If a lack of results is causing you to feel unmotivated, do a reality check: are you truly not seeing typical results, or are you being impatient? Sometimes not seeing expected results is valuable feedback, telling us we need to tweak our plan because it’s not leading us to our goal. On the other hand, if we’re simply being impatient, we need to stay the course and try to enjoy the process.
8. Too-high expectations
Perfectionism is a productivity and motivation killer. Give yourself permission to lower your expectations.
Being satisfied with “good enough” allows us to move on to the next thing, rather than getting stuck in an endless loop of making minor tweaks and improvements.
9. Change is needed
Is there something in your life that is dragging you down and zapping your motivation? For example, if your job is the main source of overwhelm and is contributing to your lack of motivation, maybe it’s time for a new job. Or if caring for such a large home is a burden, maybe it’s time to downsize.
Or maybe you need a big, exciting goal to go after. Feeling enthusiastic about a personal goal or activity can energize you and motivate you to complete the more mundane tasks life requires.
10. Lack of physical movement
Our bodies are meant to move throughout the day. I know when I sit for long periods, my energy declines.
Taking a leisurely stroll every day, especially a quiet, reflective one—no audiobooks, music, or podcasts—can increase mental clarity, energy, and motivation.
11. Fear of failure
Big goals should take us outside of our comfort zone. And being outside of our comfort zone can be scary. Acknowledge the fear and find a way to move forward:
- Focus on your “why” so you’re motivated to push past your fear. Write down your “why” and post it prominently.
- Consider these questions: What is the absolute worst thing that can happen if this doesn’t work out right the first time? Beyond some embarrassment, lost money or time, or lessons learned, the consequences probably aren’t as devastating as you’re making them out to be.
If you can determine the reasons why you’re not motivated, you can remove the obstacles and find motivation again. You just need to find a bit of energy to ask yourself some questions, examine your to-do list, and investigate possible causes.
When you have motivation, the sky’s the limit!
You can accomplish anything, make as much money as you want, have whatever new experiences you wish, and live the life of your dreams.