By: Sarah Kelly LCPC

“I just don’t have any motivation.” “Why can’t I get motivated?” “What is wrong with me?”

As mental health clinicians, these are statements and questions we hear often from our clients. Lack of motivation and difficulty finding motivation can be caused by depression, not feeling connected to our values and interests, and unexpected circumstances (such as a global pandemic) that may limit our activities and opportunities. Unfortunately, feeling unmotivated and not meeting expectations we set for ourselves often leads to self-berating, negative self-talk that exacerbate depressive symptoms and a diminished sense of self. Lack of motivation happens to everyone at some point in their life, but understanding personal causes and identifying strategies to improve motivation is key.

There are several things that can contribute to a lack of motivation (, including the following, as well as ways to overcome them:

  1. Being a creature of habit-humans tend to fall into certain routines and “ways of being” that may be unhelpful and can be difficult to challenge or re-train. Taking one action step, no matter how small, can improve confidence and lead to more action steps.


  1. Feeling a lack of purpose. If we feel a lack of purpose in our jobs, our relationships, or in the goals we are working toward, it is difficult to motivate ourselves to engage in them. Remind yourself what you are working toward and ask yourself if this is meaningful to you. Do you feel passionate about it? Does it connect with your values? Once you re-focus on your purpose, it becomes easier to focus on the goals toward that purpose.


  1. Not facing our emotions. If we are experiencing anxiety, worry, sadness, fear this can lead to avoidance of the tasks needed to accomplish a goal, which then exacerbates anxiety and depressive symptoms. Allow yourself to face and feel your emotions and reach out for support to work through them.


  1. Lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, poor sleep habits, smoking, drinking to excess, or using drugs can lead to fatigue, health issues, poor self-esteem, which can all zap motivation. Identify what areas might be contributing to a lack of motivation and choose one or two to focus on improving. For example, if you are finding yourself spending a great deal of your time sitting, start moving. Even a brief walk outside can release mood-boosting endorphins and change your mindset.


  1. Medical issues. For example, Thyroid issues can lead to side effects that can interfere with energy and motivation. If you have not had a regular physical in the last year, pick up the phone and call your primary care doctor for a routine exam/bloodwork.


  1. Feeling overwhelmed. Often, when we are overwhelmed by life circumstances or multiple demands, we tend to shut down or feel “stuck” and freeze. Try and prioritize the “must-do” things and let go of those things that are unnecessary or draining your energy. Find balance through an increase in stress reduction strategies and self-care.


  1. Lack of results- experts say it can take 21 days to form a new habit. We often become impatient when we do not see results fast enough and give up on our goal before change is experienced. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, find a buddy to work together toward a goal, and take it one day at a time.


  1. Lack of connection/support. If you do not feel supported and encouraged by the people in your life or do not have stable, meaningful connections, this can negatively impact motivation and purpose by leading to isolation and loneliness. Identify family, friends, classmates, co-workers, or peers that motivate and support you, that bring value and happiness to your life, and that encourage you to work toward your goals.

You are the most important factor in reaching your goals. Give yourself the same love, compassion, and encouragement you might give your best friend who is struggling with motivation.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”- Arthur Ashe


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