What to do when you have no motivation
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.
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.
How to examine your possible depression symptoms
- 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.
Some symptoms of depression and depressive disorders
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
*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 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
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.
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.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Below are a few commonly asked questions on the topic of motivation.
Why might I have no energy or motivation?
Many factors can contribute to low motivation, such as lack of personal investment in a particular goal, procrastination through the use of social media or other means to avoid uncomfortable feelings surrounding a specific task (like anxiety, self-doubt, boredom, or frustration), or unrealistic self-standards for one's performance. Some people may also find they lack motivation if they are working from home and don’t have much in-person contact with others. Also, In some cases, persistent lack of motivation and low energy levels can be attributed to a mental health illness like depression.
Many people may not feel driven due to a lack of personal commitment to the goals they are working towards. For example, an individual may feel as though they want to gain muscle mass but struggle to start an exercise plan. They might struggle to start this plan unless they feel it aligns with their personal values and core beliefs. This phenomenon highlights the difference between engaging in a task for personal fulfillment (intrinsic motivation) vs. engaging in it to gain a reward or external positive outcome (extrinsic motivation).
Research shows that a sense of intrinsic motivation can lead to many positive outcomes, including enhanced creativity and increased task persistence. Therefore, an individual finding it difficult to motivate themselves might take the time and space to consider why they want to pursue the goals they are working towards.
Is loss of motivation a symptom of clinical depression?
Low motivation is a common symptom of depression that can make carrying out everyday tasks challenging. If you are experiencing fatigue, decreased energy levels, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities for two or more weeks, consider seeking professional support. There are various types of therapy to treat these symptoms, and many can be conducted online.
How can you regain motivation?
After ruling out any potential mental health disorders underlying lack of motivation, some strategies that may help to increase motivation levels include:
- Re-assessing the life goals you are pursuing and becoming clear about why you want to achieve them or how they are in alignment with your values
- Cutting out projects or commitments to please others or meet external expectations
- Labeling daily tasks by level of priority
- Repeating negative thoughts with new positive affirmations like "I am capable" and 'I am enough"
- Rewarding yourself after completing tasks, even if they seem "minor"
- Maintaining healthy habits like eating nutritious foods, partaking in regular physical activity, prioritizing sleep, and engaging in activities that reduce stress
- Allowing support from others who can hold you accountable and encourage you along the way
What to do when you feel unmotivated?
Why am I so lazy tired and unmotivated?
Am I lazy or unmotivated?
Why am I being so lazy? Is it normal to feel demotivated?
How can I motivate myself?
Why am I so unmotivated to study?
Why do I feel drained all the time?
Why do I feel so lazy and don't want to do anything?
What deficiency causes laziness?
What are the 3 symptoms of laziness?
What are signs of being unmotivated?
- Previous Article
- Next Article