When You’re Just Not Feeling Motivated

Six Things You Can Try To Overcome Your Resistance

Some days, you are just not feeling it. You don’t want to get out of bed. You don’t want to make that difficult call, engage with your boring co-worker, or do that silly little exercise from your therapist. You don’t want to do any of those things – and yet your obligations leave little wiggle room. Whether you want to or not, you will have to show up. And whenever you’re “not feeling it”, it helps to have some strategies that can give you a push in the right direction. Without further ado, here are six things you can try to give your motivation a boost.

Tip #1 Get Curious About Your Feeling

We rarely ever take the time to investigate our feelings, so let’s do that right now: where in your body do you notice the lack of motivation? And how can you tell? Take a moment to really feel your feeling, until you can roughly localize it in your body. Does it change? Or does it remain the same? Don’t try to force it to change, and instead just let it be there. Watch it for a while. If you’re getting bored, see if you can expand this feeling of “not wanting to” (yes, really), and lean into it. Notice what changes. Counterintuitive as it may sound, this has actually been shown to be an effective strategy for dealing with unwanted emotions; helping you to become more aware of your own experience, and teaching you to be with it.

Tip #2 Play Around With Self-Judgment

Chances are, you don’t just merely procrastinate, but also judge yourself for doing so. You may even have some insults ready whenever you don’t jump into action quick enough: “lazy piece of work,” “you can never get anything done,” or “worthless.” These thoughts can feel quite heavy, so let’s lighten them up. You could distill them into a single two syllable word (like “lazy”), and repeat it as fast as you can for 30 seconds (e.g. “lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy…). You could imagine hearing the thought narrated by David Attenborough, as if he was making a documentary about your life. Or you could sing it to the tune of “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen. Play around with these methods for a little while, and see which one works best for you. This is not to ridicule your thoughts, but to take out their punch. 

Tip #3 Get Up And Shake Your Body

Get up right now, and shake your body. Seriously, do it. You may even want to jump around a little bit, do some squats, some push-ups if you dare, and really get that blood flowing. When you sit at your desk for too long, you become stiff: not just in your posture, but also in your breathing, and in your thinking, and even in your feeling. A quick and easy way to remedy this rigidity is by getting back in your body. You may even want to take a quick walk around the neighborhood, with added bonus points if you spend time in nature.

Tip #4 Find Your Personal Sweet Spot

Some people thrive under pressure, while others need loose guidelines. Some people require a freshly-brewed morning coffee (guilty), while others can only be productive late at night. The point is, there is no one formula for getting you into action, because it always depends on you: your individual needs and personal preferences. If you currently find yourself stuck, think back to a time when you last felt motivated. Then ask yourself: what was different back then? And how can you recreate this context – both outer and inner – to move you to action?

Tip #5 “Why Even Bother?”

Why do you even bother in the first place? No really, why do you care? You may find that underneath every unwanted task, there’s something that matters to you. It may be about your financial security, or about the connection with others. It may be about your health, about living up to your potential, or just about having a clear conscience. Whatever it is, it’s worth pausing and considering what you care about – and how your task is in the service of it. This may mean looking at the values you want to live by, or it may mean looking at your goals (and if you don’t have any, consider this as an opportunity to create some new ones). 

Tip #6 Do Something Right Now

Motivation rarely works like people think it does. We don’t suddenly feel motivated to do certain things and then jump into action. Instead, it’s more likely to work the other way around: we get started doing something, and then we feel motivated to continue doing that exact thing. Motivation to exercise is often the result of a few previous sessions of exercising. Motivation to work on a project often comes after having some momentum on this exact project. This means two things: first, don’t wait for motivation before you get started. And second, just get started. Do something. Anything that will get the ball rolling. You will figure the rest out as you go along, but action can never be replaced by any amount of thinking.

Remember, this is a journey of continuous experimentation. Your path to motivation is unique, and you will have to find the approach that works best for you. This means getting to know you personally – your unique needs and preferences – and looking at what has worked for you before. Meanwhile it is also helpful to explore your own feelings, play around with self-juddgment, and move your body every now and then. Your values and goals can also help to keep you on track. And if everything else fails, just do something. Anything. Any little step – especially when you’re not “feeling it” – can move you in the right direction. 

References

Hayes, S. C. (2021, August). State of the ACT evidence. Association for Contextual and Behavioral Science. Retrieved May 31, 2023, from https://contextualscience.org/state_of_the_act_evidence

Hayes, S. C., & Hofmann, S. G. (2018). Process-based CBT: The Science and Core Clinical Competencies of cognitive behavioral therapy. Context Press, an imprint of New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 

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