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  • Writer's pictureEsraa Chaddad

Getting things done without motivation

We all experience a lack of motivation to do things, especially things related to work or mundane everyday activities. Some days we can get it back, but other days we can't. That never stops the things on our to-do lists from piling up, however. So what exactly is going on and what can you do about it? Read on to find out.

What's wrong with my motivation?

I'd like to start by letting you know that nothing is wrong with your motivation, or with your ability to motivate yourself. The lack of motivation you're experiencing is normal given the following factors involved in maintaining it or even feeling it in the first place.

One important factor is the reason why you do what you do. Most of us have very vague or unmotivating reasons for doing mundane activities throughout our days. We say things like, "I just have to" or "it needs to be done". It's difficult to keep motivation up on things that feel more like a purposeless chore than things that feel like fun or at least things you want to do even if they aren't fun. Add to that the guilt of not doing things you have to do, and you're bound to be completely demotivated to do anything.

Another important factor to consider is your available resources for doing what you have to do. You might be too tired to do things or not focused enough to get these things done. This happens to all of us, and feeling a lack of motivation because of the lack of mental resources is normal because motivation necessitates the availability of these resources.

The final important factor is how you're used to motivating yourself. If you're used to pushing yourself into things, or beating yourself up into doing things with thoughts such as "If I don't do this bad things will happen" or "I'll be a bad person/mother/employee/etc.", motivation runs out very quickly. You may get an initial push though fear, shame or guilt, but the short term effect of this method is quickly getting exhausted, while the long-term effect is burn-out and potential depression and anxiety issues. So if you're using this method, it is reasonable to expect that your motivation won't be great.

Finally, it may be helpful to know that motivation is a mental and emotional state that helps drive you towards action, and that it may not always be available on demand. Please keep that in mind when you try to motivate yourself so that when you give it a shot and find you really can't bring yourself to feel motivated, you don't feel defeated. Expecting motivation to pop up when you need it sometimes sets the stage for failure. If this happens consistently enough, you'll feel helpless and will find greater difficulty in taking action. Remember: sometimes you won't feel motivated without being able to tell why, and that's normal.

Is it hopeless?

Absolutely not. Mental states like motivation can't always be accessed on demand, but you can set the stage to at least make it easier for yourself to get things done, even without it. There are very simple skills you can learn to help you take action without necessarily feeling motivated, and this blog post will be an introduction to some things you can do. Since motivation can be quite fickle, here are some ways you can continue to take action when you lose it.

Tips to get things done without motivation

  1. Find a more compelling reason to do things

If you've tried relying on motivation to get tasks done and found that you had difficulty doing them without motivation, then you may want to upgrade your reason for taking action. One powerful "motivator" can be your values. Values answer the question "how do I want to live my life so it's fulfilling?", and some examples of values are kindness, self-care, engagement and skillfulness.

So if you don't feel motivated to work, you can ask yourself "How do I want to live this work day so it's fulfilling?", and see what values you can practice at work by doing your tasks. Maybe you're living the value of skillfulness by doing a task that requires your skill set, or maybe you're living the value of empathy and engagement when you listen and engage with your colleagues during a boring meeting.

No one wants to do annoying tasks at work or sit through endless meetings, so your lack of motivation for these tasks is normal. However, if you have to do it, you can get through it with a sense of doing something meaningful by thinking of ways to live your values though these tasks.

2. Practice self-compassion

A surefire way to kill your motivation is punishing yourself for not doing things.

There is nothing wrong with feeling bad about not doing what you had in mind or not finding the motivation to act. The tough feelings you have about not being productive are normal when, well, you're not being productive. Punishment, however, is when you act on those feelings in a way that is detrimental to getting what you want done.

Self-punishing usually comes in the form of self-blame or beating yourself up about something. It's one thing to feel bad about not wanting to work, for example, and it's another to call yourself undisciplined and harshly criticize yourself to the point of killing any hope of getting something done.

The opposite of self-punishment is self-compassion. Self-compassion is the ability to see your own suffering and to do what it takes to ease that suffering. Being disappointed in yourself is painful, so an antidote to that pain is to approach the situation with genuine curiosity and a desire to ease things up for yourself, thereby enhancing your desire to take action.

To be compassionate with yourself is to acknowledge why you have no motivation to take the action and to be honest with yourself about it, without judging yourself. Doing that helps you understand yourself and your situation better. If you aren't doing something, there is a very valid reason for that. So acknowledge that fact (whether or not you know the reason behind it) and try to see how you can help yourself succeed. Maybe be more gentle in spurring yourself to action, or review your values around that action to see if you have sufficient reason to do what you set out to do.

To make it more clear, imagine a child that has to pick up their toys after playing. Imagine that you are that child, and that you have no motivation do that chore. You have three options at this point:

  1. Do not put away your toys and leave the place untidy to go do something else (AKA give in to the lack of motivation and ignore the consequences),

  2. Think of how you might be grounded if you don't pick up your toys, freak out and pick them up (AKA punish yourself preemptively by inducing guilt, shame or fear),

  3. Feel annoyed, but remember how nice it is when you keep the place tidy so you can find any toy you want to play with quickly, essentially doing yourself a service (AKA acknowledge that you don't want to do it but do it anyway because it serves a purpose that is more than "because I have to" and that is kind to yourself).

Whereas the first option is obviously not ideal, most people apply option two readily in lives, because it gets them to quickly act and get things they don't necessarily want to do over with. That being said, I'd like to invite you to imagine how the child feels about doing the chore in option 3. How would it be different than option 2? As the child, which option would you rather take as way to approach your daily tasks in general? Would you rather live your day getting things "out of the way" or would you rather live a purpose through your tasks?

Why these skills are helpful

If I haven't already convinced you these skills can help you do what you need to do without motivation, here is further reasoning as to why these skills are worth applying.

The aim is to stop relying on motivation alone, but to arm yourself with other practical skills that also have an impact on productivity. Avoid using punishments and self-denial to motivate yourself into doing things, and start living life in a productive way because what you do gives you meaning and helps you live your values. If you can see a point to doing what you do everyday while being compassionate with yourself about not wanting to do it sometimes, you'll be able to maintain a good level of energy through your day to get through all you need to do, even the tough tasks. On the long run, it can help you avoid burn-out and other mental health issues relating to performance and self-worth.

I hope this article can help you approach your lack of motivation with curiosity and self-compassion, and get you started on thinking about how you can add value to everything you do, even the most mundane of tasks, if you choose to keep them in your life. Remember that it's ultimately your time and your life to live, so even if you are doing something out of necessity, you can still do it with value and purpose.

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