Whether you can’t get motivated to clean your house or you just aren’t feeling motivated to lose weight, a lack of motivation can be the biggest obstacle to reaching your goals.
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.
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.
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.
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 Review discovered 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.