Why Am I Feeling Unmotivated? How To Encourage Yourself To Be More Productive

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There’s no one right answer to the question of how to find motivation. Many individuals express feeling motivated by happiness, money, family, fame, passion, love, compassion, necessity, and other factors. However, there may be times when it feels like nothing is motivating you and you're feeling stuck, even in the face of important tasks. There are several reasons you might feel unmotivated to do what you need or even want to do. We’ll explore some of these below, along with ideas for helping you stay motivated or increasing your willingness and readiness to get things done.

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Are you struggling to feel productive in your life?

Why do I struggle with motivation?

When you find yourself feeling like "I have no motivation to do anything," you might consider whether this is a rare occurrence or something that you've been experiencing frequently. It’s normal to sometimes have an off day or to need some extra rest. However, if a lack of motivation is beginning to seem like a pattern in your life, it may be a symptom of a deeper concern. If you have difficulty identifying the cause behind your motivation challenges, it can be helpful to speak with a mental health professional who can help you get to the root of the problem. 

At times, the reason behind a lack of motivation in your daily life may be obvious, such as personal challenges, exhaustion, or having lost sight of medium-term goals or long-term objectives. Other times, you might not understand why you no longer feel motivated. If you're having trouble pinpointing the problem, there are a few common causes that could be impacting you.

Depression

Feeling unmotivated is a common sign of depression. However, feeling unmotivated on its own is not enough for a diagnosis of this mental illness to be considered. Instead, a lack of motivation would need to appear as one of several symptoms over a period of fourteen days or more for clinical depression to be a possibility. Other common depression symptoms in adults can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Excessive feelings of guilt
  • A lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant changes in eating patterns
  • Significant changes in sleeping patterns

Depression is a serious illness, but it can be treated with the help of a mental health professional. If you don’t feel motivated and are also experiencing other symptoms of this condition, it’s recommended that you seek professional support.

Feeling overwhelmed

A lack of motivation may coexist with the sense that whatever important things you are responsible for are too overwhelming, and that you don’t know where to begin in trying to accomplish them. You might experience this when trying to address a significant task, like a long-term work project or a long research paper for school. Or, you might experience it while tackling several minor problems that combine to form a long list of more important tasks. In any case, if “analysis paralysis” sets in, every way of approaching the problem could seem insufficient or incorrect.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, handling the situation with patience, self-compassion, and self-empathy may be beneficial. You might do this by practicing positive affirmations, taking regular breaks to focus on self-care, engaging in deep breathing exercises, splitting the tasks into manageable chunks, and/or delegating or reaching out for help. 

Mental burnout

Mental burnout refers to the feeling of having reached the end of your energy supply and needing to spend time doing nothing but resting for a while. It may happen if you've had a busy week or worked long hours without a break. Students or employees who have worked in a demanding, stressful field or environment for a significant amount of time may also experience burnout. For caregivers, burnout might occur after caring for another person's mental and physical needs for a long time.

Burnout has become a worldwide health concern, since it can lead to mental and physical health challenges over time. Rest, self-care, and therapy are typical strategies for addressing it so you can feel motivated again in the future.

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How can I be more productive? 

The levels of productivity expected at work, in school, or at home may not always be reasonable. That said, we’ll all always have responsibilities that we need to take care of, so finding ways to help yourself feel more motivated as needed can be valuable for daily functioning and the accomplishment of certain long-term goals. The strategies below represent actionable steps for boosting motivation that could be worth trying.

Be aware of and avoid distractions

When you're unmotivated, you may have trouble starting a task. After conquering that hurdle, you might feel stressed or guilty if distractions get in the way. That’s why many researchers studying the psychology of productivity recommend removing distractions to help improve your attention span and productivity.

To get started in becoming more motivated by eliminating distractions, it may help to identify what typically distracts you personally. If you check social media on your phone every few minutes or habitually turn on a TV show in the background, you may want to put your phone in another room and work where there’s no TV nearby. If you find yourself distracted by the conversations of people around you, using headphones or working from a quieter place could help you stay focused.

Choose your space wisely

Think critically about how your work environment may affect your productivity. You may not be able to choose your workspace, but there could be changeable factors. Sprucing up your work area and wearing clothing that’s more professional, more comfortable, or keeps you warmer or cooler, for example, could help you feel more motivated, depending on your unique preferences and situation. Studies of productive workspaces suggest that seemingly minor factors, like bringing green plants into your workspace, may help increase happiness and productivity. If you're unsure of where to start, feel free to experiment. Not everyone will have the same ideal workspace, so you might take the time to figure out what's best for you. 

Write down your goals

Writing your goals down may make them feel more achievable and help you stay on track in terms of being motivated. At times, the abstract nature of problems in our heads could make them more challenging to pin down and work on. By committing your thoughts to a piece of paper, you may be able to hone your focus and reduce distractions from other thoughts and ideas. Seeing your thoughts in black and white can also help you recognize any unrealistic goals so you can adjust them accordingly. In one study on the effectiveness of writing down goals, researchers suggested based on their experiments that people who wrote their goals down on paper were 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve them than those who didn't. 

Work in bite-sized chunks

A common culprit of lack of motivation is the feeling that the task ahead is so large or unmanageable that there's no point in even considering it. If this sounds familiar, you might consider breaking your tasks into more manageable subtasks and then working on them one at a time and taking regular breaks in between. Using certain, specific techniques like the Pomodoro Method, where you work for 25-minute increments followed by five-minute breaks, may be helpful in putting this tip into practice.

Learn to accept unproductive periods

Lastly, try not to pressure yourself into constantly feeling motivated. Feeling unmotivated may be your body or mind signaling that it's time to take a needed break from your work. In cases like these, the best course of action may be to step back, take a breath, and decide how to proceed in a manner that balances productivity with your mental well-being. Do your best to be kind and gentle with yourself and to take breaks often enough to preserve your well-being.

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Are you struggling to feel productive in your life?

Therapy may help you address motivation challenges

Talking to a therapist might help you figure out why you may be having trouble with motivation and learn to build habits that could improve your productivity. If there’s a deeper issue at play, such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, or a mental health condition like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression, they may be able to help you address your symptoms to improve your daily functioning.

Some people who could benefit from therapy may not have made an appointment yet because a busy schedule makes taking the time to travel to and from in-person sessions difficult. If this sounds familiar, you might explore online therapy instead. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can attend therapy from home or anywhere you have an internet connection. You’ll first be matched with a licensed therapist according to your needs and preferences, and then you’ll be given the choice of whether to meet with them via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging.

Online therapy may be able to help you address some underlying causes of motivation issues, such as burnout or depression. Research suggests that it can be “a viable alternative” to in-person sessions for those who prefer this format. See below for reviews of BetterHelp counselors from clients who have sought their support for similar challenges.

Counselor reviews

“I don't know if I would have been able to overcome the hurdles I needed to, if I didn't have Leslie asking all of the right questions. She helped ME come to my own conclusions, and that is priceless. Thank you, Leslie!”

“Ben has been a huge help for me. He listens to me and provides valuable insight into my behavior and helps me to understand the why behind the problematic behaviors I have.”

Takeaway

You likely won’t feel motivated all the time, and most people experience regular fluctuations in their ability to stay driven. However, a lack of motivation may cause significant stress in your daily life. Understanding the source of your motivation challenges and finding strategies to cope with them can help you focus on the most important things in your life. Managing distractions, taking regular breaks and time for rest, and speaking with a therapist could all be helpful in addressing challenges related to motivation.

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