Lack of Motivation: Overcoming Inertia

Posted June 4, 2024 by Cristina Vrech

Cristina Vrech - Individual and couples therapist

Cristina Vrech

Founder and Director - Individual & Couple Therapist, Corporate Services

Co-founder and director of Leone Centre, Cristina Vrech, has 20+ years of experience in working and supporting people, 14+ years of extensive experience as a therapist and offers valuable knowledge to individuals and couples. Prior to being a therapist, she worked in the financial sector.

Cristina takes a down-to-earth and direct approach across the landscapes of relationships, communication, stress, infidelity, confidence, loneliness, addiction, separation and divorce, IVF, and anxiety.

Offering Online Counselling and in person counselling.

Cristina Vrech can help with...

Lack of Motivation

As a species, we are miraculously inconsistent. Sometimes, we have seemingly endless energy to dedicate to our goals. At other times, we find it almost impossible to do more than keep our heads above water. It’s perfectly natural for motivation to come in waves; we can’t operate at full steam all the time.

A  lack of motivation can also sometimes indicate a need for change. If we think of our lives as gardens, sometimes it doesn’t matter how well we look after, water and feed a particular plant; it can’t thrive in its current surroundings. It may need more sunlight or shade, or it could be attempting to put down roots in the wrong soil. When we aren’t thriving, we can find ourselves being overtaken by the weeds of inertia.

Lack of motivation: Anxious man sat at desk in fron tof laptop, stressed and rubbing his eyes. Image by Freepik.

A temporary lack of motivation can be a sign of an issue such as burnout, stress, or an upsetting event such as a bereavement, job loss or breakup. However, if this continues for more than a few days or weeks, it may be a sign of a more long-term issue.

What is a lack of motivation? How does it feel?

A lack of motivation can feel apathetic, exhausting, frustrating or exasperating.

Understanding the roots might require delving into any deep-seated emotional or cognitive patterns that may contribute to your demotivation, such as past traumas, anxiety, or depression.

You may find yourself thinking, “I don’t see the point, so I won’t bother”, or becoming unusually tired and drained despite there not having been any significant change in your routine. You might suddenly struggle to put in more than the minimum effort, even in areas you usually feel passionate about or perform well in. This can lead to stress and frustration, feeling like you have suddenly become lazy or incapable. This is not the case. You are still the same uniquely talented individual you have always been. So, what could be causing this sudden drop in motivation?

To effectively address a lack of motivation, it is vital first to understand where it stems from. Some likely reasons for a lack of motivation include:

Burnout and stress

When we are overwhelmed, often our brains struggle to keep up with the demands we place on them. Like a computer running for too long without shutting down, our minds can become overloaded with thoughts we haven’t had time to process and stop working correctly.

Lack of clear direction or purpose

When we don’t feel that we’re working towards something we want or feel passionate about, we may experience a state of indifference which doesn’t align with our usual work ethic. We are all hardwired to seek meaning, and when we are struggling to find this in our work, hobbies or relationships, the tendrils of apathy may extend to other areas of life, and we can become uninterested in everything around us.

Exhaustion

When we have drained our mental and physical resources, finding the motivation to do what we want and need to do can become difficult. Physical exhaustion can stem from overwork or from not replenishing ourselves with healthy food and adequate rest. Mental exhaustion can be caused by difficult or demanding relationships or emotionally draining experiences such as loss and grief.

Mental health challenges

Experiencing mental health and mood issues such as anxiety and depression can significantly impact motivation levels. Lower levels of dopamine, a brain chemical which plays a role in motivation and emotional response, have been linked to both depression and lowered motivation and interest. Other effects of depression and anxiety, such as stress and fatigue, can also affect how easy or difficult it is to feel motivated.

Physical health

Our motivation and energy levels are deeply affected by our physical health. If we’re not getting enough nutritious food, exercise and good sleep, we don’t have the necessary energy reserves to spare. Imagine trying to drive a car with no fuel in the tank or air in the tyres – this is essentially what many of us try to do with our bodies. We can also detrimentally impact our ability to apply effort to activities, hobbies and jobs through unhealthy substances such as alcohol, caffeine and drugs. Although it can initially feel as though they are helping, these stimulants and depressants have short and long-term effects, which make it more difficult to build and maintain the motivation we need to blossom.

Man walking up stairs (only lower half visible). Image by Freepik.

How do we overcome a lack of motivation?

This depends on where our lack of motivation stems from.

Taking care of our physical bodies is usually a fruitful first step in overcoming inertia. Healthy, sustainable exercise levels, eating healthier foods and working to build a better sleep routine are the most common advice from health professionals – and for a good reason. We build the foundation for good mental health when we look after our physical bodies. Furthermore, the very act of taking care of ourselves is in itself also an excellent mood booster.

We can also make lifestyle changes to incorporate a stronger sense of meaning into our lives. For many of us, there are unavoidable aspects of life that do not give us a great sense of purpose. Sometimes, it simply isn’t realistic to expect our jobs, responsibilities and education to bring us a daily sense of fulfilment. However, through hobbies, sports, interests, spirituality or exercise, many people can boost their sense of accomplishment and, therefore, motivation. This can also help to stimulate the reward centres in our brains, and the positive effects of this can extend to other areas of our lives.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques can also help create a sense of mental clarity and inner peace, which supports replenishing motivation levels. A qualified CBT or integrative therapist can help you learn CBT exercises that you can apply to reframe negative thoughts that might impede your motivation levels. Mindfulness can help create a sense of distance between yourself and any negative or pessimistic thoughts that might prevent you from feeling motivated.

Seeking support is often one of the best things we can do to improve our motivation. A sudden decrease in motivation can often lead to feelings of failure, and talking with others can help us feel less alone. Everyone experiences ups and downs in their motivation levels, and we can often feel inspired by other people and their slump-busting techniques.

However, if you find you are struggling with consistently low mood and apathy, if you stop caring about your life and future, or if you are depressed, tired or anxious most of the time, it is vital to seek professional support. You may wish to speak to your GP to learn which local services are available. Therapy can also be incredibly valuable in providing structured support, particularly if you struggle to determine where your lack of motivation stems from. An experienced, integrative therapist can help you unpack the roots of your lowered motivation levels and support you in finding new ways of creating significance and purpose in your life.

Young woman holding two thumbs up.

Although starting a new routine, applying new habits and seeking support can be some of the hardest things to do to overcome a lack of energy and effort, they are fundamental. Even small, incremental changes can have a real impact, and you deserve to feel the sense of gratification and contentment that accompanies achieving a goal you’ve felt genuinely motivated to pursue.