Dealing With Lack of Motivation

Woman talking on the phone while her partner works on his laptop.
Woman talking on the phone while her partner works on his laptop. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

When your to-do list keeps growing, it could be a sign that lack of motivation is preventing you from getting things done. Problems with motivation are best handled by reversing inertia and identifying rewards that inspire you -- as well as ruling out physical and psychological barriers.

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Find Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation can be derived either internally -- through your passions -- or externally -- through rewards or punishment -- writes counseling psychologist Will Meek, in the article "Mastering Motivation" on his website. Internal motivation usually comes easily, because it is fueled by your natural passion. You don't have to force yourself to attend your weekly bowling league because it is something that you genuinely find enjoyable. However, problems can arise when something that was once internally motivated becomes "work." For example, if you turned your love of the piano into a job teaching others in exchange for being paid, you may start to lose your intrinsic joy. If you find yourself in this situation, try reconnecting with aspects of your intrinsic motivation, such as having a desire to share your knowledge with others.

Manage External Rewards

Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do, in exchange for some external reward or to avoid punishment. For example, you might not enjoy your sociology class, but you need the credit to graduate. Most motivation problems are related to external rewards, writes Meek, because there is no natural desire fueling your behavior. Overcome this type of motivation issue by setting desirable goals for yourself, planning rewards after you complete work and pairing something pleasurable with something you do not enjoy. For example, remind yourself of the goal of graduating from college, plan an indulgence -- such as a night out with friends -- after your final exam and try meeting a friend for a study session.

Get Started

Sometimes the key to becoming motivated is to simply get started, asserts Susan Biali, M.D., in the "Psychology Today" online article "Lacking Motivation and Inspiration? 5 Secrets to Get Unstuck." If inertia is standing between you and a college diploma or a promotion at work, taking the first step toward your goals will give you momentum towards achieving them. Biali notes that simply showing up for your work every day increases the odds that you will succeed, through what she calls "divine inspiration." In real world terms, this might mean sitting down to write a page of your novel each day, going to the gym each afternoon or signing up for that art class you've always wanted to take. When you simply get started, good things will start to happen.

Rule Out Obstacles

If your problems with motivation are long-standing, it is important to also rule out any potential physical or psychological issues, according to the Brown University Counseling and Psychological Services article "Motivation: Lost or Just Misplaced?" Physical health problems can easily interfere with motivation, if you are feeling run-down or tired all the time. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthful food and get regular exercise. Psychological issues such as depression can also interfere with motivation. If your lack of motivation is accompanied by feeling down, having no zest for life or changes in eating or sleeping habits, it may be helpful to visit a mental health professional to rule out underlying psychological problems.


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