Lack of motivation may be caused by stress, life changes, or underlying mental health conditions like adjustment disorder or depression.1,2 Low motivation can be remedied with activities that increase dopamine output, like physical exercise, behavioral activation, mindfulness, psychotherapy, and for some, medication.3,4,5,6
Why Am I So Unmotivated? 10 Potential Causes
Lack of motivation can happen when someone is experiencing life stressors or changes, such as going away to school, changing jobs or work burnout, the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, illness, overwhelm, or other major life transitions.7 Or, someone might have a mental health concern, like depression or an adjustment disorder, that’s aggravating their lack of motivation.
Here are ten potential reasons why you’re feeling unmotivated:
1. You Might Have an Adjustment Disorder
Lack of motivation can be seen in individuals who are dealing with adjustment disorders.7 These individuals might be experiencing major life stressors and changes, but continue to have difficulty adjusting to these changes in their lives to the point that they struggle to maintain their normal routine, daily tasks, things they enjoy, or engagement with a support system.
2. You Might Be Experiencing Toxic Stress
Low motivation is often experienced when someone has a chronic stressor that they can’t change—known as toxic stress. These feelings can become a cycle, where people can’t escape their stress and in turn keep experiencing this lowered drive. It can cause reduced sleep and self-care, which continues the destructive cycle. Those who experience low or no motivation tend to struggle when they don’t know how to change the stressful situation they’re in.
3. You Might Be Feeling Overwhelmed
If you have a lot of tasks to complete, especially in a short period of time, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. It is not uncommon to begin experiencing low motivation to complete any of the tasks on your list, especially if you are struggling to figure out where to begin. This can be a frustrating cycle, especially as anxiety can significantly increase and further influence apathy.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it can help to break down each task into smaller, more achievable items to get things done in small blocks. This approach can help reduce anxiety and apathy, helping you meet your goals.
4. You May Not Have a Lot of Activities That Interest You
When you do not have a lot to look forward to or get excited about, you can experience lowered motivation. As a result, you may find yourself engaging in mindless tasks that are not enjoyable, productive, or meaningful to you most of the time. It can be difficult to get out of this slump, especially if you do not know what will fulfill you.
It can be helpful to try new activities or return to old activities that used to motivate you or make you feel happy, especially since research has suggested creativity and spontaneity increase inner motivation.10
5. You Might Be Doing a Lot for Others, But Not Taking Time for Yourself
If you are constantly engaged in tasks with or for other people and you’re unable to find time for yourself, you may find yourself having little or no motivation to do anything. This can be frustrating, especially if you value the people you’re helping. Because of how little time you have to yourself, you may not be able to engage in creative activities that would interest and further encourage creative growth.10
It can be helpful to allow yourself some alone time daily or every few days to breathe and engage in things you enjoy to increase motivation levels again.
6. You Might Be Burnt Out
When someone has emotional, cognitive, and physical fatigue as a result of their work, they are likely experiencing burnout. Burnout can result in lower productivity, feelings of helplessness or frustration, reduced mental and physical health, and lowered motivation. If someone doesn’t feel a sense of belonging in the company and with their peers, it can lead to an increased risk of burnout.13
Burnout can be a complex and difficult experience, especially if you are unsure of how to move forward. It can be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional and take some time to assess how fulfilled you are in your current work.
7. You May Be Having Difficulty Changing Your Perspective
People can experience rigid or fixed perspectives that make it difficult to consider alternatives to being perfect or doing something in an exactly correct way. This perspective can influence rumination (worrying), perfectionism, and other unhealthy thinking patterns that do not allow for alternatives in meeting a goal.11
As a result, you may experience low motivation due to unhealthy patterns that reinforce the idea that if you cannot meet a goal in one exact way, then you cannot at all. It can be helpful to challenge the thought or feeling that comes with the thought process and work on becoming flexible or adaptive in how you can meet that goal.
8. You May Be Dealing With Recent Events That Have Been Stressful or Challenging
If you have recently experienced a life-changing or stressful event, like a death, loss of a relationship, moving, or leaving a difficult situation, you may feel upside down or immensely more heavy. You may be having difficulty handling your new normal, which can impact general motivation.
You may feel like you are struggling to come to terms with this event and may not feel like doing much of anything. In this case, it can be helpful to process the event for yourself and allow yourself time to rest and recover from the event.
9. You May Be Avoiding Difficult Feelings, Like Frustration or Self-Doubt, Brought Up by Your Goals
Imagine a difficult task, like writing an essay, and think about the amount of work. Negative feelings, like frustration or anxiety, may start to occur and you may experience significantly low motivation in starting or completing this task. This may be because you are uncomfortable with experiencing these emotions and facing them in the process of completing this task.
If you feel the level of frustration or self-doubt is difficult to manage in relation to the task, you may be more likely to experience immediate avoidance and, in turn, lowered motivation.12 You might even know how important the task is to complete, further reinforcing the negative feelings of it not being completed. It can be helpful to break down the task into time intervals and even reward yourself as you go along to increase positive feelings surrounding getting it done.
10. You May Be Experiencing a Depressive Episode
Although motivation can be influenced by quite a few factors, low motivation is a common symptom of a major depressive episode or disorder.8 This normally presents with difficulty in other areas in addition to motivation (like feeling sad or hopeless, changes in weight and energy levels), which can make it difficult for you to meet your goals and manage how you are feeling.
It can be incredibly helpful to reach out to a mental health professional so you can get a diagnosis and begin processing what is happening.
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Lack of Motivation vs. Depression
Lack of motivation generally feels like limited or no interest or energy for the activities in your life, including things you’d normally enjoy. Depression includes negative feelings for yourself, although it does also substantially lower your energy, motivation, interest, and focus. Both experiences overlap, so it can be helpful to ask yourself if you’re feeling like you’re in a temporary rut and somewhat lazy, or depressed. It is important to know when to reach out for help with either condition.
While lowered energy and less interest in the things you enjoy is common in both conditions, lack of motivation and depression are different.
When you have a loss of motivation, you may experience:4
- Difficulty in mustering up energy to complete daily tasks
- Relying on others to plan outings or events
- No desire to engage with new or inspiring people or experience
- Feeling limited to no emotions about good or bad things
- Apathetic about your issues
- A general lack of any emotion surrounding your life
When you are depressed, you may experience a number of these symptoms for two or more weeks:8
- Feelings of sadness,hopelessness, or emptiness nearly every day
- Worthlessness and unwarranted guilt
- Weight loss or gain due to a noticeable change in appetite
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Feeling restless or feeling like you are moving very slowly
- Feeling tired or having low energy
- Difficulty focusing or thinking straight
- Suicidal thoughts
While some of these symptoms may sound minor, people should reach out for help when they begin to notice that their life has begun to look different. These changes may be noticed when you are struggling to finish your work tasks or homework, when you are consistently isolating yourself from your friends and family, or when you are not taking care of your basic needs.
9 Tips for How to Find Motivation
While it can be difficult to get moving and start making tangible changes when you have no motivation, there’s a lot you can do to get going again.
Here are nine tips for how to be motivated:
1. Create a Routine
By breaking down your day and creating expectations for each day, you are training your body and mind to naturally fall into these behaviors—even if they are incremental.
2. Take Care of Yourself Physically
Good self-care includes proper hygiene, sleep, and nutrition. If it’s been awhile, you might want to schedule a visit with your doctor and get their personalized advice on the best ways to take care of your body.
3. Work Out
When you engage in exercise and other things that make you proud of yourself, your brain produces dopamine. This can make you feel happy, rewarded, and motivated.9
4. Break Large Goals Down Into Smaller Tasks
You may not feel as overwhelmed about completing each small task, and that will help you to change your perspective regarding the goal itself—while before it may have seemed insurmountable, you now have a game plan that you can follow.
5. Reward Yourself for Completing Tasks
Rewarding yourself works because you’re promoting dopamine output as well as motivating yourself to keep going. This could be anything from a nice coffee to a bubble bath to a kind word to yourself, or even a vacation after completing a larger goal.
6. Do Things You Used to Enjoy
For example, reading a fictional book, playing a game, sitting outside, and drawing are all great places to start. Even if you aren’t sure you still enjoy the activity, give it a try and see how you feel afterward.
7. Reach Out to Your Support System
Sometimes, a coffee date, phone call, or FaceTime interaction can help to increase motivation by getting a reminder from people who love you that you’re doing a good job.
8. Practice Gratitude & Mindfulness Skills
Both gratitude and mindfulness have been proven to deepen your appreciation for life and the simple things. They also help to increase your attention to the present and the control you do have.
9. Consider Going to Therapy
If you’ve tried several strategies to dispel your lack of motivation but you’re still struggling, it may be time to consider therapy. Even if you’re not sure what you would talk about in therapy, the therapist could ask the right questions to help you pinpoint the potential reasons for your lack of motivation and help you brainstorm solutions.
How Therapy Can Help With Motivation
Therapy can help you increase your motivation or energy levels, become more knowledgeable and self-aware, and expand your ability to help yourself and learn ways to cope with life stressors. Going to a therapist or counselor can also help to destigmatize your symptoms and to feel validated by someone who can empathize with you about what you’re experiencing.
Some counseling specialties or types can be more effective than others, especially when someone is experiencing lowered or no motivation. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular option for lack of motivation, as it challenges you to change your thinking and behavior patterns with techniques like reframing and activity scheduling. Another option is motivational interviewing (MI), designed for people who are struggling to challenge themselves and are feeling stuck.
While a number of therapy approaches exist, what matters at the end of the day is having the right fit and feeling comfortable with your counselor. The client-counselor relationship is one of the most important influences in helping you gain what you need—and want—from counseling, as well as feeling safe and accepted.
How to Find a Therapist
A good first for finding a therapist is knowing what kind of treatment you want, then using an online therapist directory to find a therapist who practices that technique. Many directories will provide a filter for areas of specialty—like CBT or depression—and will provide reviews and relevant information like cost and insurance coverage for each therapist.
For some people, going to a therapist or counselor can be a scary, uncomfortable, new, or vulnerable experience. However, if you find the right fit, therapy can be incredibly effective in creating change.
Lack of Motivation Infographics