How to Get Back on Track When You’ve Lost Your Motivation

Woman jeans and sneaker shoesWhen your “get up and go” has “got up and left,” when there’s no more “pep” left in your step, sometimes the best thing you can do is just stop trying for a while.

Moving forward feels great, but movement takes energy. When’s the last time you took a break without feeling guilty?

If you dislike the idea of resting, it might help to know that it’s a productive and appropriate project that could help you get your groove back.

Having said that, maybe you don’t have the option of sitting around doing nothing. Somehow, you’ve got to find or create the motivation to get moving again, regardless of how stuck you feel.

That’s when it’s time to do two things.

The first is to remind yourself of your own agency. No matter how helpless you may feel at a time like this, no matter what challenges you face, you have control over the little things in your life.

You’re the only one who gets to decide whether to brush your teeth, rinse out that empty yogurt container, or sweep up that debris on the floor near the front door.

When life won’t give up its rewards to you, you can still reward yourself with clean hair, a timeout, or—here’s a novel idea—a carrot. (Make it a baby carrot with peanut butter; you need the nutrients.)

Losing motivation creates a sense of powerlessness, not to mention a lack of direction and purpose. It casts a spell that makes you forget your autonomy. But total powerlessness is most often an illusion.

Who else makes those moment-to-moment decisions about whether to wash a dish, darn a sock, or do a push-up?

When you feel paralyzed by obstacles like apathy, low energy, or indecision, taking small, unrelated actions can rev that idling engine.

When you feel paralyzed by obstacles like apathy, low energy, or indecision, taking small, unrelated actions can rev that idling engine.

The best activities are simple acts of grooming and household management.

Sprucing up your résumé and applying for jobs on the Internet is not a small action; don’t ask yourself to do that before you have some wins under your belt in the form of clipped nails, a tidy drawer, or a changed light bulb.

Once you inspire yourself by being proactive in smaller tasks, you’ll be better able to roll up your sleeves and do some heavy lifting on the bigger stuff.

The second thing to do if you’ve lost your mojo is to follow these three, simple words: Just start it. I remember an instructor in graduate school telling us that if you simply begin to do a task, motivation kicks in within 10 seconds.

You read that right: 10 seconds may be all it takes to shift from “I don’t want to do it” to “I’m already doing it, so I might as well continue.”

Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to get yourself to go to the gym. Get up right now and gather your workout clothes and/or shoes. Fill a water bottle or do whatever it takes to prep for a trip to the gym.

You’re far more likely to follow through and actually go if you start doing anything related to your goal.

Between these two tools—inspiring yourself through small actions or committing to just 10 seconds of activity—you’ll be able to make more progress than you would by sitting there berating yourself for being stuck.

Loss of motivation can be a symptom of depression. If your condition becomes entrenched, please consider speaking with a counselor or other mental health professional.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Tina Gilbertson, MA, LPC, therapist in Denver, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Mary

    August 20th, 2015 at 7:23 AM

    How about having a designated person to whom you have to be accountable daily?

  • Loren

    August 20th, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    Think about how you good you felt when you were motivated an doing something for yourself every day!
    Don’t you want to get that old feeling back again?

  • sophia

    August 20th, 2015 at 1:52 PM

    There was a time when I would not let a day go by without doing some form of exercise. Somewhere along the way I think that I got so burned out that I just couldn’t do it anymore. And now that I have been pretty exercise free for quite some time, the thought of starting it again sort of nauseates me. It consumed so much of my time, I would like to be active again without feeling like it takes up so much of my time.

  • John

    August 20th, 2015 at 6:37 PM

    I took a different approach with a recent client. He works an overnight shift and will watch crime dramas on TV until he falls asleep. Then he feels forced to get up and go to work the next day only to repeat the cycle. Nothing else motivates him. Antidepressant meds keep him functioning for his wife and kids. I asked if he’d be willing to watch the crime dramas with the intention of identifying what it is about them that he finds interesting, since that’s the only thing he seems to watch now. Otherwise, anything else he is asked to do feels coerced and is rejected. I’m hoping that he will connect the proverbial dots and begin to see how he identifies with the themes in the narratives he finds alluring. He has a history of dependency on opiate pain medication and is on replacement therapy as well. He used to be more involved in physical activities but finds no pleasure or interest in anything he used to do. Classic symptoms of Depression. We can’t force people to do things they find abhorrent or unpleasant. But we can play the hand we’re dealt and creatively encourage them to make something of it.

  • shirl

    August 21st, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    I recently lost my mom and she was my motivation and inspiration but now she’s gone and I’m feeling a little lost

  • Tina Gilbertson

    Tina Gilbertson

    August 21st, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    I’m so sorry to hear you lost your mom, Shirl. It will undoubtedly take time to adjust. Be kind to yourself while navigating the change, and eventually you’ll start becoming more used to finding motivation inside yourself, perhaps with her memory to guide you.

  • shirl

    August 21st, 2015 at 1:53 PM

    Thanks Tina. I appreciate that and I am definitely going to try to use her memory in a positive way, but I am not there yet. Nothing ever quite prepares you for this kind of loss.

  • Alexis

    August 22nd, 2015 at 2:40 PM

    I am trying to let my motto become more about looking at where I eventually want to be rather than focusing so much on where I have been. I know that I have made mistakes, I am sure that we all have, and I don’t want to be back into that. But there is nothing that I can do to change the past at this point, so why not focus on moving forward instead?

  • Cate

    August 24th, 2015 at 7:55 AM

    Sometimes this isn’t about getting a reward, it is just about taking things day by day and living. It won’t always be easy because there are going to be obstacles that we will all have to overcome. But you are right in that it is going to be our choice whether we do this or not.

  • barrett

    August 24th, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    It is always a big boost to me when I know that I am helping someone else. That alone, knowing that they are looking for me to help motivate them, that is what motivates me too.

  • Terrence

    August 25th, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    Small steps are the key to success. Those big leaps? Can be a little overwhelming. But anyone can start off making very small tentative steps, and eventually you will be amazed to see the distance that you have covered

  • Donna

    August 26th, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    So Every Monday I vow to start a new diet and that usually lasts as long as it takes for then someone to bring in doughnuts for the office on Monday morning. I don’t have very much willpower. But then I always try to dust myself off and try again. Now granted, I am not being very successful, but there is some part of me that must be motivated somewhere deep inside or else I would just stop even trying.

  • Polly

    August 27th, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    @ Donna- I know exactly what you mean! I finally got off that particular hamster wheel when I asked a friend to join me on the journey. It makes me less likely to become a quitter when I know that there is someone else to whom I have to be accountable and meet at the gym ;)

  • Cecily

    August 28th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    Perhaps I should commit to taking this weekend off from doing all of that which I always say I need to do and just do a little bit of what I want to do. Maybe that will bring back the motivation starting on Monday.

  • stace

    August 29th, 2015 at 2:09 PM

    I hear what you’re saying but i also know that a body in motion will stay in motion while a body at rest will tend to stay at rest. So I think that on some level you just have to push through and keep on moving because I do not want to become the person who has allowed that one day of lethargy turn into a habit of daily inactivity

  • Christa M

    August 30th, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    one day at a time, one step at a time

  • sibs

    February 11th, 2016 at 4:23 PM

    I have an emergency box I break open when I get to this place. I have a sign I stick on the fridge saying “don’t think, just do”. I often paralyse myself over thinking my next step. I have a jar of Epsom salts with orange essential oil. The Epsom salts relax me and give me a magnesium boost and the orange is so uplifting and you cannot help but smile. I also have a bar of chocolate because sometimes you need chocolate. A photo album of pictures of friends, some old, some present and encouraging things they have said. It always works.

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