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Depressed and Unmotivated?

Updated: May 12, 2021

How to Motivate yourself when you don’t want to do anything.

Depression can be a bitch. She can convince you to stay in bed and do nothing, and tell you lies like “You’re worthless, why even try?” “What’s the point in starting, you aren’t going to finish anyways.” “Don’t waste your time, just do what you’re best at, and be worthless.”

Of course, depression isn't the only reason you might not be motivated to get your shit done. Sometimes the issue can be as simple as being too tired, starting to get a cold, anxiety is giving you analysis-paralysis, or you’re shit at time management.

What is intrinsic motivation

and do you have it?

Intrinsic motivation is simply a fancy way of saying “passion”. You want to do the thing. It’s not hard, you put off other things to do it. You feel accomplished when it’s done, and you can’t wait to start the next similar thing to get the same feeling the entire time you do it. For some people it’s reading a book, racing a car, sports, cleaning, or really any hobby you can think of. This post would become a hobby list if I tried to include everything. Do you have it? Yes - for something. Probably not the thing you’re reading this post about, because intrinsically, you don’t need help to do that thing.

Inspirational quotes can only take you so far. Fitness quotes aren’t going to burn your calories for you. Monday motivation only comes around once a week, and is easy to miss. So what can you do when intrinsic motivation escapes you? Why, use the Expectancy Theory to your advantage, of course.

By definition, it makes sense to look at the opposite of intrinsic motivation for help: Extrinsic Motivation. In other words, the motivation doesn’t come from within, you need external rewards to feel accomplished by doing the thing. That’s ok though, we all have things we don’t have intrinsic motivation for, you can stop beating yourself up over it.

Write a list of all the ways your life will be better if you accomplish one thing on your list.

Here are some examples, but try to come up with your own ideas that are situation specific, it rings a little differently when they are true to only you.

  • You don’t have to worry about it anymore.

  • You get to celebrate!

  • What relationships might improve?

  • Completing this gives you momentum for your next task.

  • Sense of accomplishment.

  • What health issues might improve?

Monitor your progress

and celebrate it.

Whenever possible, track your progress. If you track simple things like your mood alongside your progress, you will begin to see patterns. Additionally, when you track your goals, it helps you stay focused on the important things - the things you wanted to track in the first place, which in turn, helps you finish the task. Companies that track in real time are twice as likely to hit their goals. It makes sense it would work for you as an individual as well.

Actually reward yourself

Train yourself like a dog. Yep, you read that correctly. People and dogs alike respond well to positive and negative reinforcement. Use this to your advantage and give yourself appropriate treats. Don’t treat yourself to a vacation to the Bahamas for getting up on time, but maybe you could treat yourself to 5 minutes of “chill” time, or a coffee on the way to work if your budget allows.

Researchers find that perceived self-interest, the rewards one believes are at stake, is the most significant factor in predicting dedication and satisfaction toward work. It accounts for about 75 percent of personal motivation toward accomplishment. ~ Dickinson

Pledge a goal you want to work towards, an amount of hard-earned cash, and a deadline you have to complete it by. Your accountability partner is important, because knowing you don’t have a backdoor out of it is what makes this one work. If you don’t plan on getting an accountability partner, don’t try this one at home. It will just end up de-motivating you more. Give the money you set aside to the friend you’ve chosen, if you don’t complete your task on time, they get to send it into a political party you hate, a religion you don’t agree with, or something equally terrible and negatively motivating.

Positive Peer Pressure

Most of us have had someone in our lives warn us about peer pressure. Even if it is on TV. Peer pressure can get you to do some pretty unspeakable things, which is why Moms across the globe cringe at the thought of it being included in a list of coping skills.

Sometimes, just your peers doing something will make you want to do it. Moms generally think of smoking or drinking when they think of peer pressure, but what if you had a goal of improving your health and you made a bunch of fitness junky friends? What if you had a goal of learning a new language and you made friends with someone whose primary language is the one you wish to speak? The great thing about positive peer pressure, is that it often helps everyone involved. If you’re trying to learn French and you make a friend who is trying to learn English, the practice will help both of you.

Work on your mood

People procrastinate the most when they’re in a bad mood. When you’re in a good mood, you screw around a lot less. Therefore, it’s easy to deduce if you improve your mood, you will be better at getting your shit done and will be more motivated.

SHORT break before you start. Do you have a game you like to play that you can go a round or two on before you jump into your task? Do you have a favorite tree you like to walk out to? Anything will work as long as you’re chilling. Take 5-10 guilt free minutes before starting. Just be careful not to go over and get sucked into the thing you want to do and put off the thing you’re motivating yourself for. Your problems would just get worse. If you don’t trust yourself to stop when you’re supposed to, try setting a timer or a non-negotiable 2-rounds-only clause.

Listen to music you like. This seems so obvious, but people forget it all the time. I have playlists I build over time when I’m feeling good and just coming across songs. They come in handy in times like this (or depression, or anxiety, or anger, you get it). I don’t have to go searching for music that just feels flat that ends up demotivating me more. The shit I like is already ready to go.

Watch stand-up comedy. There are comics for all tastes out there. They can be as clean or vulgar as you prefer. Find someone that sits right with you, and subscribe to their channel on YouTube. While you’re on there, be open to the suggestions YouTube spits out on the sides and underneath the video you’re watching. They will help you discover new things without much effort on your part.

Declutter one hard surface. I know what you’re thinking. “How is more work going to motivate me?” If you accomplish one small task, you will be able to ride that momentum into your next! It feels good to have an open and airy space, it might help you get rid of items you don’t need or use anymore, and if you donate your belongings, it could help someone in need too!

Eat something. Be careful with this if you don’t have a healthy relationship with food, but in general, eating a snack can help push you through. If you have brain fog, are tired, or sluggish a healthy snack can get you back on track. Oftentimes our crashes and energy issues throughout the day lead back to nutrition, so make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need every day. If you skip breakfast, don’t be surprised if you’re struggling not to crash by lunch.

Positive Procrastination.

Really feeling like you don’t want to do that thing you’ve been dreading? Do a thing you’ve been dreading a little less instead, and reassess how you feel. Marking something off your list is a motivator, you got to procrastinate the thing you didn’t want to do, and you knocked something off your list! Use the momentum to spring into the dreaded thing.

“We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.” Dr. Steel

Break the task down into

smaller chunks.

Work in sprints rather than marathons. Do the dreaded task for 25 minutes and give yourself a 5 minute break. It’s hard to talk yourself into working for the next 8 hours, but if you can just get through the next 25 minutes you get to chill. That’s not so bad right? You might not have confidence in yourself to finish, but at least do the first 25 minutes. Now you’ve proven to yourself you can do it, so why not do it again? You still get your 5 minute break at the end of it. Give it a shot, you might surprise yourself.

Breaking your task down into chunks shows you the natural progression of the task. What should you focus on first? What will be hardest/easiest? What is time sensitive and needs to come before the other steps can be worked on? This process helps you know where to start, and about how long to expect the task to take.

Nike. Just Do It.

I’m not one to get behind company slogans. They seem to change rapidly, and the end goal is to sell you something. Nike’s slogan, however, has done some positive damage on my life. This commercial of theirs can single handedly get me to start a war. In the past, I have used this video to get myself up in the morning, or out of bed even at 3 in the afternoon after having spent the entire day staring at the ceiling wishing for willpower. It gives me chills and sometimes makes me tear up when I watch it. This is an intense emotional reaction that makes me want to MOVE MY ASS. Find yours. You can use mine if it does the same thing for you, but if it doesn’t, don’t stop until you find your perfect match.

Nike did a great job of using behavioral activation. Basically just getting up and doing it. It’s a coping technique used widely by counselors and therapists alike because it’s so effective. An object in motion stays in motion. I don’t know about you and your Hero Powers, but I haven’t met anyone who didn’t adhere to the Laws of Physics.

Wanting more?

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Funds go to furthering the reach of Mental Health.

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1 Comment

Prajakta Palkar
Prajakta Palkar
Jan 13, 2023

That is a great post. Motivation in any form is very important for smooth running of our lives. Some of the points you mentioned are worth remembering and noting.

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