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Unmotivated? 8 Proven Strategies For When You’re Feeling Stuck

Being unmotivated in work or life can be depressing and frustrating, not to mention it can put you at risk of losing your job when not handled properly. 

If you’re feeling stuck or a lack of drive, you’re not alone. Everyone suffers from a lack of motivation at some point. 

Some of us struggle with it daily, while others are lucky enough to only have problems occasionally. 

There is good news though. You can overcome your lack of drive and get back the passion you once had. 

In this guide, we’re going to look at reasons you might have no motivation, then identify and implement strategies to help you stop being unmotivated so you can move forward.

What Is Motivation Exactly?

While several varieties of definitions of motivation exist, at its simplest motivation can be described like this: Your desire to do something is greater than any inclination not to do it. 

Whether that feeling stems from passion, excitement, pain, frustration, or discontentment, eventually, the desire to do something overrides the desire to not do it.

For example, say you’re not feeling very motivated to exercise. Thinking about getting in shape in order to impress that person you like can give you the excitement you need to hit the pavement. On the flip side, you may not feel motivated to get a large work project finished until the fear of consequences spurs you into action. 

feeling unmotivated - woman laying on edge of cliff unable to bridge the gap
Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Why Am I Feeling Unmotivated?

So you’re not feeling it, eh? Let’s try to figure out why. 

Feeling unmotivated can be caused by a wide variety of things, but in general, it’s an emotional state that’s often associated with being stuck or in a rut. You struggle to take action and feel like you’re not getting anything done. 

When you feel unmotivated, it’s generally caused by specific things.

1. Lack of Purpose

You might be unmotivated because you don’t really know what you want out of life. When you don’t know where you want to go, it’s difficult to pick a road that will take you there. 

By not having something to strive for, or goals to reach, there’s no reason to get up and do anything. So feeling like doing a lot of nothing is the general result. Motivation comes when you know your why.

Ask yourself whether you have a meaningful connection to your work. If not, you may need to reevaluate what you’re doing. 

2. Lack of Structure/Routine

You might be surprised to learn that not having structure and routines is a common reason for being unmotivated. Structure and routine help solidify habits, and habits get you going whether you feel like it or not. 

Structure and routine help solidify habits, and habits get you going whether you feel like it or not. 

Once you’re able to get yourself moving and doing something, it’s easier to simply keep going. Instead of waiting to feel motivated to do something, take action instead. Most people mistakenly believe that motivation generates action when the opposite is actually true: actions generate motivation.

3. Unrealistic Goals

Setting unrealistic goals for yourself is a common cause of feeling unmotivated. When the bar is set so high that you internally don’t believe you can accomplish a goal, or you feel overwhelmed by how large it is, it’s much easier to simply avoid getting started. 

Motivation comes from setting personal challenges that you have to stretch yourself for, without being out of reach.

Lack of focus - man distracted by his phone
Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

4. Lack of Focus

Jumping from one thing to another keeps you in a perpetual state of never getting anything done. Your phone buzzes, your email dings, and you feel the temptation to scroll through Reddit for just a few minutes. 

When you’re unfocused, it can lead to feeling like a failure or feeling as if you’re not good enough for the given task, which makes you more unmotivated and prevents you from moving forward. 

Motivation comes from getting things done, and that’s easiest to do when you take action on one thing at a time.

If you’re struggling with focus, use Freedom to block distracting websites and apps at set times every day. This will ensure you have chunks of uninterrupted, distraction-free time when you can knock things off your task list. 

5. Self Doubt

A lack of motivation is often caused because you don’t honestly believe in yourself and your abilities. When you’re filled with self-doubts, it’s difficult to start a task or project because you’ve already decided it won’t turn out well and you want to avoid that eventual failure.

You believe what you tell yourself. If you tell yourself you’ll fail, you will. If you tell yourself you’re good at something, or you enjoy something, you instantly feel motivated and begin looking forward to doing it.

Work in an uncluttered environment - man working at messy desk
Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

6. Surrounding Environment

Your environment can cause you to feel either motivated or unmotivated. The space you work in can drain you of energy and make you sad, or it can energize and inspire you. If you sit in a cramped, dark, cave-like room all day but you thrive with sunlight, you will be unmotivated to get much done while in the room.

This applies to people too. Negative people and places play a bigger role in motivation and success than most realize. Likewise, if you dread dealing with people all day, you may struggle to make yourself get to work on time. 

Thankfully, all the things that cause us to struggle with motivation can be addressed with simple techniques and tools. Let’s look at ways to get your inner drive back. 

8 Proven Ways to Overcome A Lack of Motivation

1. Connect to Your Why

What’s the bigger picture? Who counts on you? What are the big, driving purposes that resonate with you at the very core? 

Motivation is intricately tied to your reason why. One of the most important things you can do to break out of your unmotivated funk is to ask yourself what the larger picture is, and what it is you really desire. Having a solid, strong reason for why you’re doing something is a powerfully motivating force.

Maybe your reason why is financial. Maybe you want to write a screenplay that will open up amazing career opportunities. Maybe you want to code an app that will change the world. Your reason why could be as simple as wanting to provide for your family. 

If you can’t think of a personal reason why, think instead about who counts on you. Other team members, perhaps? An important client, or simply a subordinate who looks up to you for professional leadership.

Schedule your motivation - plan what you will do each week
Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

2. Schedule Your Motivation 

This may sound a bit counterintuitive since feeling unmotivated is an emotional state and it’s difficult to schedule emotions. However, Newton’s Law plays a key role here. An object in motion will stay in motion. And one of the easiest ways to combat a lack of motivation is to simply start.

Since starting is often the hardest part of moving forward, create a schedule of when you will take action. This is an excellent technique to force yourself to simply begin. Most of us are conditioned to honor scheduled appointments, and this is a way to trick yourself into taking action.

Schedule your project, or block out time chunks if you prefer, during the best hours of your day.

Each of us is more alert, energetic, and productive at various times of the day,  so working within those time frames gives you the best chances of triggering motivation and successfully getting things done.

The poet W.H. Auden aptly put it this way:

A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.

3. Create Daily Routines and Rituals

Routines and rituals lead to habits, and once you have a habit solidly established, it’s almost impossible to get stuck in an unmotivated loop for long.

Think about habits that you already have in your life. If you jog every morning, you probably always wear the same pair of shoes. Putting those shoes on signals to your mind that it’s time to go for a run.

People who constantly lose their keys often find that forcing themselves to get in the habit of placing the keys in the exact same spot each day becomes a strong habit that helps them never lose their keys again.

The point is: Make habits using routines and rituals to help push you through the unmotivated times. Creative people are well-known for using this technique successfully. Some may sit down at a computer with their favorite cup of tea while others write with a pen in a gratitude journal. 

Since motivation comes from action, building habits will continuously keep you moving forward through specific actions.

Since motivation comes from action, building habits will continuously keep you moving forward through specific actions.

Start with baby steps and build from there. Putting too much expectation on yourself at once is simply setting yourself up for failure, much like people do with New Year’s resolutions. Nothing happens instantly. You need to establish routines and rituals that build you towards what you’re reaching for.

4. Visualize the Long Term Outcomes

When your reason why involves longer term goals and aspirations, it’s easy to lose sight of those in the day to day mundane. When you find yourself unmotivated, try stopping and forcing yourself to think about those long-term outcomes. 

Motivation usually comes back quickly when you think about the bigger picture. What is it you’re working towards? Why is that important? How will you feel once you’re there? Sometimes that’s all you need to break through and start moving forward again. 

Make sure you’re not dwelling on the negative too. Remember, whatever you think about yourself is true, so try to get in the habit of reminding yourself of what you’re good at and what you do well. When you focus on the good and positive instead of the bad, you will help yourself be more motivated to move forward.

Set SMART goals - setting weekly goals in a planner
Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

5. Set SMART Goals

If your long-term goals don’t get you excited, you might want to revisit them. Goals that are too easy are boring, and don’t really help us stay motivated to move towards them. On the other hand, goals that are too difficult can be demoralizing, and cause us to give up because of lack of confidence in the ability to reach them.

When setting goals and long-term outcomes, don’t be afraid to push your comfort zones a bit. Facing your fears and making yourself reach for something is often much more rewarding because of the challenge it provides us.

It often helps to set SMART goals:

  • Specific – A vague goal is like trying to take a trip without a destination: you’ll find yourself meandering all over the place and possibly going around in circles. Knowing the exact thing you’re reaching for helps you create a plan to get there. It’s not helpful to tell yourself you want to be rich if you haven’t yet defined what rich means to you.
  • Measurable – When you have a measurable goal, it’s easy to see how far you’ve come. It also increases your excitement to see progress towards the goal, and it’s impossible to be unmotivated and excited at the same time.
  • Attainable – Set goals that you can realistically reach within the timeframe you choose. It’s counterproductive to set a goal to have a million-dollar business next year if you only focus on building it a few hours a week. Don’t make goals too easy either, or you’ll simply become bored and unmotivated again. Make your goals big enough to challenge yourself within your abilities.
  • Relevant – Relevant goals are goals that fit into your lifestyle or work environment. By setting goals that match your personal and professional values, and those that align with your long-term plans, you’ll stay motivated to keep making progress towards them.
  • Time based – Give yourself a deadline. This goes hand in hand with specific and measurable because you can mark off your progress as you go. And marking off progress is one of the most powerful ways to stay motivated and moving forward towards accomplishing the goal or outcome you desire.

6. Kill Distractions

Undoubtedly, you know that multitasking is not a good thing. The more you try to do at once, the less progress you’re able to make with any one of the multiple things you’re juggling.

Modern distractions were born from the multitasking era. Whether it be social media, email, chat and messaging tools, or cute cat videos—all serve to distract us throughout the day. 

It’s almost impossible to make solid progress with something when you’re interrupted every few minutes. And when you’re unable to make much progress with work, you start feeling unmotivated to try starting over again after each distraction. 

And unfortunately, most of these tools become a procrastination crutch, because it’s easier to mindlessly scroll when we’re not motivated to work.

The best way to guard against distractions is to use a distraction killing tool such as Freedom to help squash those distractions so that you can concentrate on moving forward with what you want and need to do.

If you really want to supercharge your focus, use Freedom in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique. It works like this:

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes
  • Work on only a single task during that time block
  • Take a 5 minute break to allow your mind to recharge
  • Repeat the process

After four 25 minute sessions, take a longer break. By working in short, highly focused bursts, you make significant progress on your most important tasks.

7. Work With Your Body Not Against It

Just as it’s important to schedule work for your best times of the day, it’s also important to take time for yourself. Having balance with your work and your personal life is a critical strategy to combat feeling unmotivated.

When you try to continuously get everything done, you risk severe burnout and depression. Your body and your mind need regular breaks. 

Take time to decompress, enjoy a hobby, and have fun daily. Likewise, take care of your health and remember to eat. When you’re not feeling well physically, it affects your emotional and mental state.

You may be surprised to hear that simply moving your body helps move your mind. You don’t need to turn into a gym junkie to receive this benefit either. Simply stand up, walk around the office, go outside for fresh air. These small, physical movements often help clear your mind and get it motivated to go back to work.

Optimize your environment - women working at orderly desk
Photo by Nicole Wolf on Unsplash

8. Optimize Your Environment

Finally, create an environment for yourself that makes you feel good. Everyone is different in this regard, so experiment with what works for you. Author James Clear said:

“Imagine if your world — your home, your office, your gym, all of it — was crafted in a way that made the good behaviors easier and the bad behaviors harder. How often would you make healthy and productive choices if they were simply your default response to your environment? And how much easier would that be than trying to motivate yourself all of the time?”

Common ways to improve your environment include:

  • Remove clutter – Clutter is often distracting and creates a mental weight that can make it difficult to concentrate well. Create organization in and around your workspace and remove clutter to help create a calm, happy workspace.
  • Furniture – Sometimes you can simply rearrange the furniture in your environment to make it feel more conducive to your work style, and other times it helps to change it entirely. 
  • Lighting – Most people are more motivated and productive when they have natural light in their environment. If the light is too harsh or flickers, it can be distracting and draining. Likewise, some people simply want to go to sleep if there isn’t enough light in their work area.
  • People/sounds – You may find it’s much easier to stay motivated when you have the right ambiance around you. An unnerving thing for many when they first begin working at home, is not having standard office sounds around them.

    Sometimes you can fix this by working in an area where there are other people. Or you can simply use the ambient sounds feature in the Freedom app to make it seem as if you’re in a coffee shop or other place that motivates you.
you didn't come this far to only come this far - sign
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Getting Unstuck

If you’re dealing with a lack of motivation, don’t beat yourself up. It’s simply part of life. Just like anything else, motivation ebbs and flows depending on a wide variety of circumstances. 

Work to identify exactly what’s causing you to feel stuck and then implement the various strategies we walked through above.