What to Do When You Have No Motivation
When you have no motivation to complete a task (or even start one), consider the possible reasons why you’re struggling. Then, develop a plan to help motivate yourself to get going.
Keep in mind that not every strategy works for everyone—or in every situation. Perform some behavioral experiments to see which strategies best help you reach your goals.
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Act as If You Feel Motivated
You may be able to trick yourself into feeling motivated by changing your behavior. Act as if you felt motivated, and your actions may change your emotions.
For example, rather than sit on the couch in your pajamas all day waiting for motivation to strike, get dressed and get moving. You might find that taking action will increase your motivation, which makes it easier to keep going.
So ask yourself, “What would I be doing right now if I felt motivated?” Consider what you’d be wearing, how you’d be thinking, and what actions you’d be taking. Then, do these things, and see if your motivation level increases.
Everything You Need to Know About Motivation
Argue the Opposite
When you’re struggling with motivation, you’ll likely come up with a long list of reasons why you shouldn’t take any action. You might think, “It’ll be too hard,” or, “I’ll never get it done anyway.” These types of thoughts will keep you stuck.
Try arguing the opposite. When you think you’re going to fail, argue all the reasons why you might succeed. Or when you think you can’t finish a job, list all the evidence that shows you’ll be able to complete the task.
Arguing the opposite can help you see both ends of the spectrum. It can also remind you that an overly pessimistic outcome isn’t completely accurate.
There’s a chance that things might work out better than you expect. And you might find that developing a more balanced outlook will help you feel more motivated to try.
You might think being hard on yourself is the key to getting motivated. But harsh self-criticism doesn’t work.
Research shows that self-compassion is actually much more motivating, especially when you are struggling with adversity.
A 2011 study conducted by researchers at the University of California found that self-compassion increases the motivation to recover from failure.1 After failing a test, students spent more time studying when they spoke to themselves kindly. Additionally, they reported greater motivation to change their weaknesses when they practiced self-acceptance (a key component of self-compassion).
Self-compassion may also improve mental health (which can increase motivation). A 2012 study2 published in Clinical Psychology Reviewdiscovered that self-compassion decreases psychological distress, reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduces the harmful effects of stress.
So rather than beat yourself up for mistakes or call yourself names, create a kinder inner dialogue. This doesn’t mean you need to repeat exaggeratedly positive affirmations like, “I’m the best person in the world,” however.
Instead, healthy self-compassion balances self-acceptance with self-improvement. Acknowledge your flaws, mistakes, and failures with honesty. But don’t indulge in a pity party.
Speak to yourself like a trusted friend. Ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend who had this problem?” You’d likely be much kinder to someone else than you are toward yourself. So start treating yourself like a good friend.
Additionally, coach yourself in a helpful manner. Practice using self-talk that encourages you and helps you recover from setbacks.
Use the 10-Minute Rule
When you dread doing something—like walking on the treadmill for three miles—you’ll lack motivation to do it. You can reduce your feelings of dread, however, by proving to yourself that the task isn’t as bad as you think or that you have the strength to tolerate it better than you envision.
The 10-minute rule can help you get started. Give yourself permission to quit a task after 10 minutes. When you reach the 10-minute mark, ask yourself if you want to keep going or quit. You’ll likely find that you have enough motivation to keep going.
So whether you lack motivation to start working on a boring report, or you can’t seem to get yourself off the couch to start a to-do list, use the 10-minute rule to motivate yourself to take action.
Getting started on a task is usually the hardest part. Once you get going, however, it’s much easier to keep going.
Go For a Walk in Nature
Fresh air, a change of scenery, and a little exercise can do wonders for your motivation. Walking in nature—as opposed to a busy urban street—can be especially beneficial.
A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking half a mile through a park reduces brain fatigue.3 Being in nature offers a calming effect that rejuvenates the brain—which can help motivate you to tackle a tough task.
So rather than walk down a crowded street, go to the park or a botanical garden instead. Being surrounded by nature can provide the mental escape you need to return to your project feeling more motivated than before.
Pair a Dreaded Task With Something You Enjoy
Your emotions play a major role in your motivation level. If you’re sad, bored, lonely, or anxious, your desire to tackle a tough challenge or complete a tedious task will suffer.
Boost your mood by adding a little fun to something you’re not motivated to do. You’ll feel happier and you might even look forward to doing the task when it’s regularly paired with something fun.
Here are some examples:
- Listen to music while you run.
- Call a friend, and talk while you’re cleaning the house.
- Light a scented candle while you’re working on your computer.
- Rent a luxury vehicle when you travel for business.
- Invite a friend to run errands with you.
- Turn on your favorite show while you’re folding laundry.
Just make sure that your fun doesn’t impair your performance. For example, watching TV while writing a paper might distract you and slow you down even more. Or talking to a friend while you’re cleaning the house might be so distracting that you can’t pay attention to what you’re doing.
Manage Your To-Do List
It’s tough to feel motivated when your to-do list is overwhelming. If you feel like there’s no hope in getting everything done, you might not try to do anything.
Keep in mind that most people underestimate how long something will take them. And when they don’t get it done on time, they might view themselves as lazy or inefficient. This can backfire by causing them to lose motivation—which makes it even harder to get more things done.
Take a look at your to-do list, and determine if it’s too long. If so, get rid of tasks that aren’t essential.
See if other tasks can be moved to a different day. Prioritize the most important things on the list, and move those to the top.
You might find a slight change in your to-do list—or the way you view your to-do list—will help you to see your tasks as more manageable. As a result, you might feel more motivated to get to work.
Mental Health in the Workplace Webinar
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You’ll struggle with motivation as long as you aren’t caring for yourself. Sleep-deprivation, a poor diet, and lack of leisure time are just a few things that can make trudging through the day more difficult than ever.
Create a healthy self-care plan that allows you to take care of your mind and body:
- Exercise regularly.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Drink water, and eat a healthy diet.
- Make time for leisure and fun.
- Use healthy coping skills to deal with stress.
- Avoid unhealthy habits, like binge eating and drinking too much alcohol.
Reward Yourself for Working
Create a small reward for yourself that you can earn for your hard work. You might find focusing on the reward helps you stay motivated to reach your goals.
For example, if you have a long paper to write for class, you might tackle it in several different ways:
- Write 500 words, and then take a 10-minute break.
- Eat one piece of chocolate after 30 minutes of work.
- Write one page a day, and then remind yourself that when you’re done, you’ll have free time to do whatever you want.
- Work for 20 minutes, and then spend 5 minutes checking social media.
- When you complete the paper, allow yourself to go out with friends.
Consider whether you are likely to be more motivated by smaller, more frequent rewards or a bigger reward for a complete job. You may want to experiment with a few different strategies until you discover an approach that works best for you.
Make sure your rewards don’t sabotage your efforts, however. Rewarding your hard work at the gym with a sugary treat might be counterproductive. And counterproductive bad habits will decrease your motivation in the long term.
Seek Professional Help
If your motivation remains low for two or more weeks, seek professional help. You may also want to seek help if your lack of motivation is affecting your daily functioning. For example, if you aren’t able to go to work, your performance at work is suffering, or if you can’t get motivated to leave the house, this could be a sign of something more serious.
Schedule an appointment with your physician. Your doctor may want to rule out physical health conditions that may be affecting your energy or mood.
Your doctor may also refer you to a mental health professional to determine if your lack of motivation might be related to a mental illness, like depression. If so, treatment may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
You may also want to consider an online therapy program to address any underlying issues and tackle your lack of motivation.
Causes of Having No Motivation
Sometimes, no motivation can be the problem. At other times, it’s merely the symptom of a bigger problem.
For example, if you’re a perfectionist, your lack of motivation may stem from the fear that you won’t complete a task flawlessly. Until you address this need to be perfect, your motivation isn’t likely to increase.
At other times, your lack of motivation may cause you to procrastinate. And the more you procrastinate, the less motivated you feel. In this case, improving your motivation to get work done can help you feel better and perform better.
So it’s important to take a few minutes to consider why you might have trouble motivating yourself. Here are some common reasons for a lack of motivation:
- Avoidance of discomfort. Whether you don’t want to feel bored when doing a mundane task, or you are trying to avoid feelings of frustration by dodging a tough challenge, sometimes a lack of motivation stems from a desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
- Self-doubt. When you think you can’t do something—or are convinced you can’t tolerate the distress associated with a certain task—you’ll likely struggle to get started.
- Being over-extended. When you have a lot going on in life, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed. And this feeling can zap your motivation.
- Lack of commitment to a goal. Agreeing to a task simply because you felt obligated, or declaring a resolution out of peer pressure, may mean your heart really isn’t in it. And you likely won’t take action when you aren’t committed to your goal.
- Mental health issues. A lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression. It can also be linked to other mental illnesses, like anxiety. So it’s important to consider whether your mental health may be affecting your motivation level.
These are just a few common reasons why people sometimes lack motivation. You might find that your lack of motivation stems from other issues, like the fear of what people think or a desire to please everyone. So carefully consider the underlying thoughts and feelings that are affecting your drive.
A Word From Verywell
Everyone struggles with motivation issues at one time or another. The way you respond to your lack of motivation is what matters, however. Be kind to yourself, experiment with strategies that increase your motivation, and ask for help if you need it.
Breines JG, Chen S. Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2012;38(9):1133-1143. doi:10.1177/0146167212445599
Macbeth A, Gumley A. Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review. 2012;32(6):545-552. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.06.003
Aspinall P, Mavros P, Coyne R, Roe J. The urban brain: Analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013;49(4):272-276. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091877