5 Ways To Stay Motivated Even When You Really, Really Don’t Want To

Where did your motivation go? Here’s how to get it back.

5 Ways To Stay Motivated Even When You Really, Really Don’t Want To
[Photo: Flickr user Rob Boudon]

You know you’re capable of great work. What gives?


Motivation burns hot at some points during a career, and runs like molasses uphill at others.

When the occasional case of demotivation turns into a real problem of suffering work, weeks of disengagement, and listlessly staring at your to-do list, it’s time to shake things up. Here are a few ideas to get started:

1. Accept That You Don’t Have To Love Every Part Of Your Work All The Time

Not everyone loves what they do. It might even be safe to assume that most of us aren’t doing jobs that make us leap out of bed trailing rainbows of purpose. But somehow, we’ve had the “Do what you love” mantra setting such a high bar that a daily grind ends in a grinding stop.

Blinkist cofounder Sebastian Klein sums up the “passion trap”:

People with the passion mindset ask “What do I really want?” which breeds an obsession with whether or not a job is “right” for them. They become minutely aware of everything they dislike about their work and their job satisfaction and happiness plummets.

Should you pursuing a passion that brings an amazing socially conscious businesses into the world? Of course. But settling for nothing less that what you absolutely love is a great way to burn out.


2. Consider What Makes You Different

Looking around at all of your peers doing it better, faster, and more special-snowflake-awesome than you is discouraging. If you’ve forgotten what sets you apart, it’s time to reevaluate. Leadership coach Lolly Daskal suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • What talents do I have?
  • What do people come to me for advice about?
  • What are my strong points?

If those are too tough to answer, reach out to a friend or mentor who can remind you.

3. Do Some Mental Time Travel

“I wish I could skip to Friday.” Those words that ring true for most of us, at some point. If you’re wishing the days away, just to reach the end of the project from hell, get some perspective. Psychologist Art Markman suggests “mental time travel.” Look back at the past few years and consider what opportunities you regret missing. Don’t dwell there: Fast-forward to years in the future, where you can imagine feeling the same way about whatever decision you’re dragging your feet on today.

Anticipating future angst based on past mistakes is a form of intuition-honing–which, in itself, can spur action. Guilt is a great motivator… but so is the anticipation of feeling accomplished.

4. Vent, But Only A Little

Ranting feels good. Yet, we know that venting frustrations actually makes you feel worse in the long run, but in the short term, giving your frustrations a few moments to breathe lets you unburden–whether it’s on a confidant or a piece of paper no one will ever see. Once your reasons for being stuck are laid out in front of you, they might not seem so insurmountable.


5. Embrace The Suck

Hard, boring parts of the job are, well, part of the job. Or, as writer Gwen Moran puts it:

You may be doing some rote job, but perhaps it gives you a few hours away from the phone so you can think. Perhaps you have to have a difficult conversation, but once it’s done, you will have taken a step toward solving a problem.

You can turn this around on yourself, too. Accepting that you suck at some things, and excel in others, means accepting that a motivation-lull is part of the process.

About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.