How To Overcome Self-Doubt And A Lack of Motivation

You don't feel like doing anything, you're in a rut. Here are some possible solutions to help you get back on your feet.

This morning I didn’t feel like doing anything. It’s a combination of overtiredness from a few days of hard work, and a lack of sleep last night.

I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything important this morning, which is a rare thing for me. And I just felt bad in general. I started to doubt myself, and wonder whether anything I do is worthwhile.

I sat here in this funk and wondered how to get out of it. Should I just forget about today? Should I just give up what I do, because I’m not as good at it as I thought I was?

That was definitely what I was considering. But I knew this mild depression was temporary, and so I thought about possible solutions. And then some of them actually worked--little tricks of the mind that can have a real effect on reality.

Here’s what I did that worked, in hopes that it might help you if these feelings ever come up..

1. I stopped being so self-centered.

I think we all have the tendency to put ourselves at the center of the universe, and see everything from the viewpoint of how it affects us. But this can have all kinds of effects, from feeling sorry for ourselves when things aren’t going exactly as we’d like, to doubting ourselves when we aren’t perfect. So instead of worrying so much about myself, I thought about other people I might help. Finding small ways to help others gets me out of my self-centered thinking, and then I’m not wallowing in self-pity anymore--I’m starting to think about what others need. I’m not doubting myself, because the question of whether I’m good enough or not is not the central question anymore. The central question is what others need. So thinking about others instead of myself helps solve self-doubt and self-pity.

2. I loosened my identity.

We all have this picture of ourselves, this idea of what kind of person we are. When this idea gets threatened, we can react very defensively. People can question whether we did a good job, and this threatens our idea of ourselves as competent--and so we can become angry or hurt at the criticism. Someone can accuse you of lying and this threatens your idea that you’re a good person, and so you can get angry and attack the other person. My identity of myself as someone who is motivated and productive and has good ideas and so forth … this was getting in the way this morning. When I wasn’t productive, it made me despair because then I was worried I wasn’t who I thought I was. My solution was to realize that I’m not one thing. I’m not always productive--sometimes I am, but sometimes I’m lazy. I’m not always motivated--sometimes I am, but other times I don’t feel like working. I don’t always have good ideas. I can be many things, and so this identity of mine becomes less fragile, more antifragile. Then it doesn’t matter if someone thinks I didn’t do a good job--because I don’t always do a good job. I make mistakes, I am less than perfect. And that’s perfectly OK.

3. I remembered that this day counts.

I only have so many days left on earth. I don’t know how many that is, but I do know it’s a very limited number. I know that each one of those limited days is a gift, a blessing, a miracle. And that squandering this miracle is a crime, a horrible lack of appreciation for what I’ve been given. And so, I reminded myself this morning that this day counts. That I should do something with it. That doesn’t mean I need to work myself into the ground, type until my fingers are mere nubs, but that I should do something worthwhile. Sometimes taking a break to nourish yourself is a worthwhile activity, because that allows you to do other worthwhile things, but just sitting around in self-pity isn’t helpful, I’ve found. So I got up and did something.

4. I created movement.

It can be hard to get moving when you are stuck. This is how I felt in 2005 when I couldn’t change any of my habits. It was really hard to motivate myself when I didn’t think I would succeed, when I felt horrible about myself. But I took one small step, and it felt good. That’s what I did this morning--I took the smallest possible step. Just opening up a document, just starting a list, just getting out a notebook. These are so small as to be insignificant, and yet so easy as to be possible. And it showed me the next step was possible, and the next.

I’m still feeling tired, and so I’ll take a nap later. But I’m feeling better, because I took these steps.

I know some of you feel the same way from time to time, maybe more often than you’d like to admit. That’s OK. We all do. We are not machines, perfectly oiled and constantly charged up and ready to fire on all cylinders. We are human, which means we falter, we doubt, we feel pain.

And this too shall pass.

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world. --Helen Keller

This post originally appeared on Zen Habits, and is reprinted with permission.

Image: Flickr user Justin De La Ornellas]

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