What to do when you have no motivation

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated February 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Do you ever feel too exhausted to complete daily tasks or struggle with feeling no motivation to care for yourself, get out of bed, or start your day? In these cases, a lack of motivation may be caused by an underlying mental health concern. If you're worried you might be living with depression, you're not alone.

Over 280 million people worldwide live with depression, and it is a highly treatable illness. However, a lack of motivation can sometimes not be related to depression but may indicate other mental health issues. Understanding the common causes of this symptom can help you decide on a plan to move forward. 

What causes the feeling of little motivation?

If you're not feeling motivated, know that you’re not alone. Most people may find themselves not feeling motivated from time to time and may also struggle to find a sense of purpose in their lives. Motivation levels fluctuate and may coincide with other factors, such as low interest in completing a certain task at work or trying to avoid feelings and discomfort, for example.

A person may also think, "I have no motivation to do anything," if their usual motivation level changes. For example, they might have lost motivation for a specific goal after experiencing a setback. There are many possible reasons why someone might lose motivation at a particular time.

According to the Pew Research Center, over 42% of adults under 50 have felt a lack of motivation since 2020. Motivation can be a key aspect in driving success from a young age and building self-confidence, and there are a few steps you can take to regain motivation. Before moving forward, recognizing that you're struggling to motivate yourself can be the first step. 

Feeling unmotivated to do anything for extended periods may be a common symptom of mental illness. Motivation problems might indicate a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues. For example, depression is a common mental illness, often accompanied by negative thoughts and a tendency to feel unmotivated. 

If you’re among the individuals living with depression, know that many people find support with the help of mental health professionals. To understand whether you’re experiencing depression or another cause of low motivation, examining your symptoms as a whole can be helpful. 

Examples of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to motivation to complete tasks in view of an external benefit, such as getting a promotion, winning a competition, or being rewarded for completed tasks.

Extrinsic motivation is usually tied to a tangible reward system, such as getting a regular paycheck from working or earning a trophy for winning a competition. It differs from intrinsic motivation, where one may feel motivated for the sheer enjoyment or stimulation they get from the activity or task. 

Motivation stems from both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. While a person may be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated, these forms of motivation don't necessarily overlap.

If getting certain external rewards suddenly loses its appeal because your priorities have changed, you may find that you need intrinsic motivation to maintain your interest. For example, if you set a goal to lose weight because you want to fit into a certain outfit for a party, you may lose your extrinsic motivation if the party gets canceled.

A man with brown hair and beard and a black blazer over a white collared shirt holds his head in frustration as he looks at his laptop screen and wonders how to fix his lack of motivation
Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Having no motivation can be tough to deal with alone

How to examine your possible depression symptoms

If you are living with depression, you may experience symptoms other than a lack of motivation, such as sadness, tearfulness, irritability, and appetite changes. Traumatic or stressful events can also cause depression, and a genetic component may exist. More women than men are diagnosed with depression, possibly because men don't seek treatment as often
If you're not experiencing any of these symptoms, you might be living with a daily routine that doesn't satisfy you or struggling with fatigue. Either way, the following techniques might be beneficial: 
  • Write a list of your skills and activities that bring out your skills positively
  • Write a list of activities you enjoy that bring you peace and contentment 
  • Create a motivation journal with goals and dreams 
  • Make it a point to take your time and allow yourself to test out different avenues 
  • Use daily to-do lists to organize tasks and prioritize your personal and professional goals
  • Talk with a motivation-oriented or personal development therapist 

What to do if you're experiencing depression symptoms

In many cases, it’s natural to feel stuck and take time off for activities like watching TV if you’re feeling lethargic. However, if a lack of motivation becomes severe and accompanied by other symptoms of depression, you may want to consult a mental health professional. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), depression affects approximately 14.8 million US adults aged 18 and older. Although this number can seem daunting, millions have proactively sought treatment and received successful results. 

Many peer-reviewed studies have shown that therapy (both traditional and online) can significantly aid in the treatment of depression. For example, an extensive study by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute found that 70% of clients successfully reduced depressive symptoms.
If you're living with a lack of motivation, it can help to learn the signs of depression to determine if you may be experiencing a mental illness. If your motivation remains low for two or more weeks, it's advisable to seek professional help.

Some symptoms of depression and depressive disorders

iStock/Kateryna Onyshchuk

Depression can lead to various cognitive, behavioral, and physical symptoms, and individuals may experience varying degrees of symptoms depending on their depressive disorder diagnosis. If you experience several or all of the symptoms below, consider reaching out to a therapist for a depression screening: 

  • Low or depressed mood lasting two weeks or more 
  • Noticeable mood swings 
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities 
  • Significant changes or fluctuations in weight
  • Decreased ability to focus or concentrate
  • Decreased motivation 
  • Increased feelings of fatigue
  • A reduced level of energy
  • Slowness in activities
  • Sleeping difficulties 
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Recurring suicidal thoughts* 
  • Depressive symptoms causing significant stress or difficulty functioning 
Depression can be serious. Though lifestyle changes can be helpful, consider consulting a mental health professional if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. Lifestyle changes may include eating a healthy diet, going for walks, and including relaxation, self-compassion, and mindfulness meditation into your schedule. 

*If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.

Possible causes of low motivation 

When experiencing the feeling of "I don't want to do anything", it can be helpful to recognize that there are many potential causes of low motivation that may occur alongside depression or independently of it, including the following:

Chronic stress and its impact

Chronic stress can lead to a lack of motivation or mental burnout, which can have symptoms similar to depression. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, the following lifestyle changes and self-improvement activities may be beneficial to you: 

  • Eat Healthy: Avoid a poor diet and focus on eating foods high in omega-3, fish oil, antioxidants, and vitamins, including leafy greens, fish, and berries.  
  • Exercise: Exercise can help keep your mind off your stress. You can try a brisk walk, hike, or swimming to start. 
  • Organization: Break down tasks into minor pieces, and list everything you need to accomplish. Creating a to-do list may help you focus your energy on one task at a time, which may increase your motivation to keep moving forward. 
  • Ask For Help: Ask for support if you feel overwhelmed and are struggling to find enough motivation to complete important tasks that may affect your life. You may find that talking to friends, family, and experts can help when you have no drive.
  • Try Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness and meditation to improve your state of mind. Note that mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress
  • Try positive affirmations and practice self-compassion when struggling with self-doubt
  • Read well-regarded self-help books on motivation and practice self-care

How grief and loss can change behavior

Grief can also cause low motivation and is often associated with depression. Whether you've lost someone due to death or the end of a relationship, grieving can be challenging to cope with.

Although some people identify with the "five stages of grief" model, grief isn't necessarily black and white or linear. 

Each person copes with their loss differently. However, if your grief is accompanied by various mental health issues, lasting more than a year and affecting how you live your life, you might be experiencing complicated grief. 

If you're experiencing complicated grief, consider contacting a grief counselor or center. A therapist can listen and offer guidance when you feel down, and you may be able to find a support group of others who are experiencing grief. 

Substance use 

Substance use disorders are also associated with low drive and motivation. Substance use can also lead to mental and physical challenges, which may decrease your motivation in other areas of life. 

If you’re struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources, and/or seek professional help.

Counseling options for depression 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Having no motivation can be tough to deal with alone

If you don't know why you lack motivation or think you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, you might benefit from reaching out to a licensed therapist. Through counseling, you can make progress and gain skills unique to your situation to increase motivation in your daily life. In addition, if you lack the motivation to attend in-person appointments or deal with the complexities of in-person therapy, you can try online counseling. 

Online counseling is a unique form of treatment where you’re paired with a mental health professional who meets your specific needs. With online therapy, you can attend sessions from the safety of your home using video chat, phone calls, or messaging to speak to a therapist about your symptoms. Your therapist can also offer resources like worksheets to guide you through the lessons you learn in your sessions and tips to help you practice self-compassion and remove self-doubt.  

Research shows that online therapy effectively treats various mental illnesses, including depression. A review of 17 studies found that online therapy for depression may be more effective than in-person treatment. If you're interested in getting started, you can sign up with a platform like BetterHelp to get matched with the right therapist within 48 hours. 

Takeaway

There can be many reasons for a lack of motivation, but a lack of drive combined with low or unstable moods and other symptoms can be a warning sign for depression. Consider seeking professional help by talking to a counselor if you think you might be living with a mental health concern or would like to learn research-backed strategies for increasing motivation in various aspects of your life. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-person therapy at this time, you might consider online therapy. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience helping individuals who want to find ways to stay motivated. Take the first step toward getting support and contact BetterHelp today.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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