How To Get Motivated When You’re Feeling Slack

Do you ever have those days when you just have no motivation? If feels like someone has pulled the plug, and all of the air has gone out of your balloon.

This is the way I feel today. I was out late at a friend’s birthday party last night, and now I’m suffering the consequences of my good time. Everything has been a mental and physical struggle today.

Often this motivation drain happens when you aren’t feeling great physically. You just don’t have the energy to work or exercise or do whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.

Motivation also can desert us after a loss or failure. We feel depleted or demoralized and can’t work up the initiative to start again. Other times there’s no real explanation for it — motivation just leaves you like a fickle friend. One day you’re on top of your game, the next day you just want to stare at the TV and eat Doritos.

Whatever the reason, when motivation disappears, we feel done for. All of our great plans are smothered by a wet blanket of lethargy and low energy. Without motivation we think we can’t accomplish anything, and this notion adds to our despair.

Not only have we lost energy and the impetus to take action, but also we see ourselves as lazy losers. “I have no motivation, therefore I must be a bad person.” Or another version might be, “I have no motivation, therefore I’m incapable.”

We might not think these things consciously, but we have an undercurrent of self-judgement further discouraging us from taking action. We’re supposed to be producers. We’re supposed to get things done. We’re supposed to feel in control of ourselves and our moods.

However, there’s a surprising secret about motivation most people don’t know . . .

You don’t really need it.

Of course motivation is great when it’s around. It makes it far easier to get things done when you have energy, enthusiasm, and initiative on your side. But are these things absolutely necessary in order to accomplish something? No. You can still get plenty done before you know how to get motivated.

This morning, for example, I didn’t feel at all like taking my usual run. I was tired, congested, and slightly hung over from one too many glasses of wine last night. The last thing my body wanted was to push through running in the summer heat while feeling so puny. So I decided I would put on my running clothes and simply go for a walk. If I felt inspired to run, I would do so only if I felt like it.

Once I started moving and warmed up my muscles, I did feel inspired. It wasn’t my best run, and I didn’t run as far as I normally do. But I ran in spite of my lack of energy. I ignored my lethargy and took action anyway.

Nor did I feel like writing this post today. I really wanted to sit and watch the World Cup and hang out with my guy. So I told myself I’d write just one paragraph. I wrote that paragraph, and then I felt energized to continue. It’s funny how motivation works that way.

What we really need is momentum. We just need a small bit of action to propel us forward. Then momentum will get the ball rolling and often will spawn motivation.

Here are some thoughts on how to get motivated when you aren’t feeling it:

Stop the negative thoughts

One of the first things we do when we lose motivation to analyze it and shame ourselves for losing it. “Why am I feeling so bad? What’s happened to my energy? Why am I so lazy and undisciplined?” Interrupt those thoughts as soon as you notice them. They don’t serve you in any way.

If you’re having a low energy day, just notice your feelings without judgment. Feelings come and go, and so does motivation. It doesn’t mean anything, nor does it define you. Just calmly acknowledge this is how you feel today.

Simplify your tasks

Whatever you need to be doing, break it down into small actions. If you need to run or exercise, start by simply putting on your running clothes. If you have a big project to complete, make a list of the first five small actions involved in starting. You don’t need much motivation (or really any at all) to do one or two small tasks.

Give yourself a break

Tell yourself all you need to do is get started with one or two of these small actions. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to bite off more than you feel like you can chew. Give yourself permission to do less than your best. At least you’ll be doing something, and often just something is enough to keep you moving. But if it’s not, that’s OK too.

Read Related: How to Stop Procrastinating

Match tasks to mood

If you’re feeling really lethargic or ill, or you’re having trouble concentrating, try to match your actions with your mood. Rather than trying to write that big contract, go to a less mentally taxing task on your list, like going through your inbox or organizing your files. Be flexible and allow yourself to switch gears so you can continue to be productive even when you aren’t feeling it.

Go outside

I often find simply by stepping outside and taking a walk, my mood and energy shift. Walking, running, or just being in nature gets my creative juices flowing, and I feel ready to work when I return. Or use a break to go outside as a reward for 30 minutes of focus on your task.

Inspire yourself

Prior to beginning whatever it is you want to accomplish for the day, read or watch something inspirational. Seeing how others have made things happen and pushed through challenges will often light a fire under you. Just don’t get so caught up in reading or watching that you neglect taking action yourself.

Don’t believe

Don’t accept the idea that without motivation you can’t achieve anything. Don’t allow this false belief to lull you into inertia. You can achieve plenty with a bit of self-discipline and a dash of momentum. It is tempting to fall back on the excuse that you don’t feel motivated, but doing this takes away your power and self-reliance. Use your mind to control your feelings and actions — not the other way around.

Be kind to yourself

Sometimes a lack of drive really means you need a rest. If you’ve been working too hard, have a real illness, or have been dealing with emotional distress, it’s perfectly normal to lose motivation and energy. Sometimes the very best thing you can do is give yourself a mental health day — without guilt or shame. This should be a conscious choice based on self-awareness — not a belly-up response to feeling bad about yourself.

Motivation, like so many other feelings, is fleeting and mercurial. Sometimes you can manufacture it, but often it comes and goes of its own accord. Rather than rely on motivation to determine your behavior, decide how you want to behave and invite your energy to catch up. With or without it, you are capable of accomplishing great things.

photo credit: Pragmagraphr via photopin cc

13 thoughts on “How To Get Motivated When You’re Feeling Slack”

  1. I think the final point is the most powerful.

    The more time I spend studying psychology, the more I realise how many of our go-to responses are actually quite counter-productive.

    With shame and guilt, it 1) makes you more likely to indulge in a new unresourceful behaviour as your brain will want to remove these feelings with a distraction like smoking or fast food.

    and 2) Each time you do make yourself feel guilty, you start to link pain to that behaviour.

    Thanks for the post- very thought provoking

  2. Great timing Barrie! I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything I need to do in the coming weeks. And when I feel overwhelmed, I tend to cope by procrastinating, which obviously doesn’t help. Will definitely need to think about these things to help keep me moving and motivated!

  3. This is perfect! I have always struggled trying to find the “motivation” to accomplish X, Y or Z goal but I’ve come to realize that it all boils down to just simple habits or tasks that are repeated over and over to propel you towards your goal. No motivation required – just forward momentum, lol. I enjoyed your insights and, as a runner, I relate to the “just put my workout gear on and step out the door” way to get moving!

  4. “If you’re having a low energy day, just notice your feelings without judgment. Feelings come and go, and so does motivation. It doesn’t mean anything, nor does it define you.”

    PRICELESS info!

  5. Such good timing, just as Ed says. Today was THAT kind of day. I started with no motivation, managed to find some, then lost it all again as thing after thing went wrong. Now I’m trying to muster up some more, but you know what? I think I’m going to stop using my preciously limited resources doing that, and instead just start DOING. Because of course, you’re right … the real problem isn’t motivation, it’s starting in the first place. My favorite quote: “The most wearisome task is the one that’s never started.”


  7. Interesting post at an amazing time
    Just arrived back home in Kuwait from a short trip to Boston
    The jet lag and trying to adjust my sleep is taking a lot of my energy to go back to normal performance
    So I gently asked asked myself to go to the gym spent only 30 minutes
    I also forgiven myself instead of beating it up for taking the day off and work out of my home
    Surrounded with my books and plan to journal and reflect on these couple of days
    I guess it is how we look at ourselves and what are our expectations as well
    But today I am at peace
    Need to energise and be back soon to normal energy level

  8. As one who learned to push through anything no matter the source of the challenge, I think giving myself permission to just take that first step in the task as you suggested is very helpful. I have learned to respect my own needs by telling myself that the first step is enough if that is all I feel like doing in the moment. Once I have the “freedom” to “quit” if I want to, I rarely see the need to do so once I’ve finished that first step and I usually just move on to the next step…having that control is often all I need to provide the motivation I need to get started.

  9. I read somewhere this line that helps me whenever I feel down: ‘Motivation will come, but it has to find you working’. This article explains it in a beautiful way. Thank you!

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