When You Just Can't Get Motivated

Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve got that “blah” feeling. You have tasks on your “to do” list, projects you want to start or finish, a workout plan you want to stick to, but you just can’t seem to get motivated. You probably even know that if you just made yourself get up and out, that you would likely feel better. 

But it just doesn’t happen.

Maybe you are a little depressed. Maybe you’ve been knocked down one too many times. Maybe you just feel like you don’t want to try anymore, that your efforts are not going to make a difference, so you zone out on Netflix, sleep a little extra, or find other things that distract you. 

You might be one of those people that if something good happened, something inspiring came your way, you could be pulled out of the hole. A phone call you’ve been waiting for, a heartfelt email, a great date, a raise. You just need a little hope.

The problem is that when we get into these ruts, we tend to stop engaging in “reward-seeking” behavior—which means we are less likely to expose ourselves to people and activities that would give us the opportunity to get positive things back—things that would encourage us and boost our mood. Rewards could be internal satisfaction about finishing a project, a smile from someone you care about, positive feedback, a job opportunity, etc. When you withdraw, there are just less opportunities to experience these events.

It’s a catch 22. That’s what sucks about it. We get stuck in a cycle. You’re going about your life. Some bad stuff happens, or maybe the problem is that nothing is happening despite all your efforts. You get discouraged and become demotivated. You withdraw and stop doing the things that make you happy or help you make progress. You lose opportunities for support and positive returns because you aren’t engaging in life or connecting with others. As a result, you continue to feel “blah” and withdraw.

It’s hard to get out of the cycle.

So what do you do? 

First, it might take multiple tries and there is not a one size fits all solution. You might need a few of these strategies to get yourself going again.

Strategy 1: 10 Minute Bursts

If you know deep down what would make you feel better, try to start doing just a little bit of it. For instance, if you know getting back to your exercise routine would make a difference, just commit to showing up for 10 minutes (whether it’s running, going to the gym, etc.). Tell yourself that you can stop and go home after that if you don’t want to continue. If it’s working on a project, commit to working on it for 10 minutes today. If you do more great. If not, that’s ok! When you’re done, schedule in your next 10 minute work period.

For many people, once they show up, they are able to keep going. But the point is, each 10 minute investment gives you an opportunity to feel something positive, to make some progress.

Strategy 2: Break the Problem Down into Small Steps

Write down what you think the major problem is. Is it that you hate your job? Is it an issue in a relationship? Is it a health problem? Is it money? Are there a lot of problems that have piled up? Sometimes we get overwhelmed and lose motivation when we can’t figure out how to make change, when the problem feels too big, when we feel discouraged about meeting our goal, or we're unsure what the solution is. 

If there are multiple issues associated with the larger problem, write those down too. Then start to brainstorm solutions to the problem(s) and break the solutions into smaller steps. This helps you to have some structure and gives you a map to follow. Then you can set little goals, such as complete 1 step each weekend or 1 step a day. The important point is that you should make the small steps achievable. Sometimes a step is to get more information, and perhaps nothing more can be done until that happens. If you get stuck coming up with solutions or breaking the solution down into small steps, ask someone for help. You may find after breaking things down, that it’s just one step that is paralyzing you. This might mean getting some courage to push through or finding a way to cope with something that’s uncomfortable.

Strategy 3: Examine Your Thoughts

If you find yourself experiencing a lot of negative thoughts, spend some time answering these questions.


What is the goal?

Example: To feel inspired by my life and feel like my work is meaningful.

What’s the negative thought(s)?

Example: Nothing works out for me. I’m never going to find a better job or meet someone special.

What will happen if I keep thinking this way?

Example: I probably won’t find another job and I will keep feeling bad about myself, which also probably won’t help me meet a great partner.

What is a new, more positive (but believable) thought?

Example: I’m a really kind and loyal person. I am really good at some things. Why should I have a harder time than anyone else who is like me? If I start sending out resumes, I might find something better.

What will happen if I start thinking this way?

Example: I’m more likely to start taking some action and feeling hope. Maybe I’ll socialize more and start feeling better about myself.

Strategy 4: A Little Exercise Outside

This is much harder to do in the winter, I know. But sometimes that cool, brisk air can be really energizing. Exercise is like nature’s antidepressant. It boosts feel good chemicals in our brain. I realize that we are back at square one with this. You need motivation to do it. This is where Tip 1 can be helpful. Try to commit to just 10 minutes of getting your heart rate up in a public space (the park, a gym, speed walking around the block). You could even walk to the next subway stop instead of getting on at the one you usually do. Build it into your day if that’s where you need to start. Push through and do it everyday until your brain starts feeling the positive effects.

Strategy 5: Find Social Support

Getting social support can make a huge difference for many people. If you’ve been isolating yourself for awhile, however, you might not be sure who to call. You can start with just doing some things in public spaces. Read a book at a coffee shop or go to the library or an event in your neighborhood. Think about someone who makes you feel comfortable and who might like to hear from you. If you are spiritual, find a community that shares your faith and start attending regularly.

Strategy 6: Ask For Help

We are all unique and sometimes a list of possible strategies doesn't cut it. We need something more.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When it’s hard to get going, therapy can really make a difference. Individual therapy can give you one-on-one attention each week and help you heal. Group therapy can provide you with peer support, weekly connection, and insight through others’ feedback.

I know finding a therapist can be hard. There are a lot of great therapists out there but you might wonder how to find someone who is the right fit for you. If you are interested in therapy, I offer a free 15 minute phone consultation to help us determine if we are the right fit for each other. If not, I have a large network and will help you find someone who is. 917-689-6530