Motivation can be a struggle. We’ve all had times when we feel like we’re in a bit of a slump and have lost our drive to get things done.
On days like these, it’s almost like your motivational mojo has disappeared and all you’re left with is an unhelpful out-of-office reply. “Sorry, I can’t help boost your motivation right now. If the matter is urgent, maybe try procrastination as I’m not sure when I'll be back.”
Often, where we humans really suck at motivation and have the most difficulty is when we’re trying to do things that bring us discomfort.
Don’t try procrastination just yet because we've got some expert advice from psychologist Dr Bec Jackson on what to do when you just can’t get motivated.
But first, here are some reasons you might be feeling unmotivated.
Factors that can impact motivation
During times of low motivation, some people worry that they’re just being lazy. Generally, it’s not normally the case of a lack of motivation vs laziness.
Instead, Dr Bec says some common demotivational drivers are:
Not knowing your why
Without knowing your why, you might end up feeling pressured or obligated to do a task which Dr Bec says is a sure-fire way to lose some motivation.
When your to-do list is out-of-control, Dr Bec says that feelings of overwhelm can lower our levels of motivation.
Being outside your comfort zone
If you’ve ever had a sudden bad mood for no reason, maybe it’s because you're trying to do something that brings you discomfort.
“Often, where we humans really suck at motivation and have the most difficulty is when we’re trying to do things that bring us discomfort. It can lead to avoidance and procrastination,” says Dr Bec.
When your to-do list is out-of-control, feelings of overwhelm can lower your levels of motivation.
10 tips for more motivation
Here are ten tips from Dr Bec to help increase your motivation levels.
1. Manage your to-do list
Three is the magic number for to-do list items, according to Dr Bec.
“There is nothing more demotivating than looking at our to-do list and seeing 28 things on there. While everyone has more than three things to do, limit your list to three items only. That way, you can focus on the most important tasks without feeling overwhelmed.”
Another thing to help reduce overwhelm is to use a work life balance planner.
Stress can also add to the overwhelm, so try to incorporate some stress reduction techniques like meditation or mindfulness colouring books. You might even experience less brain fog and have a healthier work life balance.
2. Fake it till you make it
If you act as though you’re already motivated, by putting on the exercise gear or buying the planner, chances are your motivation will improve.
3. Ignore your inner critic
You’re far more likely to gain motivation by “listening to the little inner champion voice that cheers you on rather than your inner critic,” says Dr Bec.
Pair something that you don't particularly want to do with something that you do enjoy. Like exercise with an audio book.
4. Give yourself a big dose of self-compassion
Talk to yourself like you would to a good friend. Be your own life coach and give yourself a bit of friendly encouragement to help get motivated.
5. Apply the 10-minute rule
“Tell yourself you will apply maximum energy for ten minutes on the task you’ve been avoiding. Give yourself permission to stop if you don’t want to continue after the ten minutes are up,” says Dr Bec.
Chances are you’ll probably keep doing it past the ten-minute mark.
6. Get moving, preferably in nature
- reducing stress
- restoring mental fatigue
- improving mood
- improving self-esteem
- increasing perceived health
There are times when low motivation can be a sign of more serious health concerns. Speak to your GP if you’re concerned.
7. Add some enjoyment into the mix
Pair something that you don't particularly want to do with something that you do enjoy.
“If you’re not feeling motivated to go for a walk, try listening to some music or a podcast while you do it,” says Dr Bec.
8. Play some heroic tunes
Research suggests that listening to heroic music may evoke motivational thoughts. ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child is always a winner!
9. Eat motivation boosting foods
When it comes to mood boosting drinks, try having a cup of tea. To improve motivation, you might want to consider reducing the number of alcoholic drinks you consume due to some of the adverse effects of alcohol on health. Alcohol has been linked with difficulties in getting motivated.
10. Phone a friend
When you’re struggling with motivation, take inspiration from others. Reach out and talk to a friend, family member or mentor to feel more inspired.
Find your motivation
Everybody can struggle with motivation, especially if you are overwhelmed, out of your comfort zone or aren’t sure why you committed to specific goals in the first place. Instead of resorting to avoidance and procrastination, try Dr Bec’s tips the next time you can’t get motivated.
There are times when low motivation can be a sign of more serious health concerns. Speak to your GP if your lack of motivation is impacting your daily functioning or if you’ve had low motivation for two weeks or more.
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Dr Bec Jackson is a Consultant Psychologist with 20 years’ experience across clinical psychology, academia, therapy and education in clinical, forensic and organisational psychology.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board July 2021.