When I was 15, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Some days I felt like I could take on the world and other days it felt like just watching TV was hard work. I had to learn how to deal with getting things done when I lacked anything that resembled motivation.

Although I have my disorder under control now, I still experience the ebbs and flows (like we all do) of motivation. Feeling unmotivated is an inevitability. Even the most driven people on the planet have days that they don't want to do anything. 

Consistently giving in to our urge to do nothing when we're unmotivated can have a massively negative impact on the long term direction of our lives, bodies and businesses (read my article on 1% better everyday for more on this).

On the other hand, getting something productive done (no matter how small) when we lack motivation can have a tremendously positive impact in the long run.

Here are some of the things that have worked for me that I know can help you too.

But First!

Your low motivation might be a sign that you need a break. Although you'll always have times that you need to work through low motivation, sometimes you need to step away from everything.

This can't be the default choice every time you're unmotivated, but it is occasionally the right choice.

If you haven't given yourself a break in awhile, take one if you can.

If you do decide to take one, commit to doing absolutely NOTHING related to work. Taking a day or two off and not allowing yourself to work will usually lead to some new ideas. You 'll likely have thoughts that actually make you want to go work. For me, I typically am struck with new content ideas while taking a break.

But resist the urge to work!

You'll be like a horse champing at the bit to get going the next morning and you just might catapult yourself right back into a more productive version of yourself. 

1. Change the Environment

It's amazing how a small shift in your surroundings can change your mood. This is especially true if your work requires any sort of creativity.

Here are some of my favorite places to go when I need a change of scenery.

  • Starbucks - Hopefully by the time you're reading this COVID-19 is under control, but I absolutely loved working at Starbucks and sipping on a Pike Place while working. Go with headphones or without and just enjoy the ambience around you. 
  • Barnes and Noble - A Starbucks with books! 
  • Shared Workspace - One of the better investments I made was renting out a small office space at a co-working area near my house. I didn't renew my lease this year due to the virus but I plan to once the world is back to normal. 
  • Pub or Restaurant - No judgement here. Going to a bar or restaurant with some wifi and a cold beer is a game changer for me from time to time. 
  • Anywhere Else in Your House - Set up shop somewhere different than normal, even if it's in your own house. Although it's not as conducive to long term productivity, a temporary move to the kitchen, family room or even your bedroom can be a nice reboot. Be careful with the bedroom though! You may make the move permanent...

Change the environment and change the mood.  

60% of the time it works every time...  🙂

2. Remind Yourself of the Power Hidden Behind Pain

Anyone can work well when they're motivated. What we do when we're unmotivated is where we separate ourselves from the herd.

muhammad ali sit up quote

The saying "no pain no gain," might seem corny, but it's true. Work isn't always fun and growth is often hidden behind some boredom and pain.

3. Go for a Long Walk

Walking is one of my absolute favorite things to do, especially when I'm feeling in a funk. 

  • It's Extremely Easy to Do - I won't include "go get some exercise" in this article because that isn't something that unmotivated people are likely to do., but walking is something that anyone can do without an exorbitant amount of effort. 
  • It's Still Exercise - You're not gonna walk your way into a body building contest but walking 1+ miles can burn calories and give your body the slight endorphin refill you're needing. 
  • It's Relaxing - If you can't relax while walking, there might be a bigger problem at hand. Assuming you can find a nice area to stroll around (drive to one if you don't live somewhere particularly nice), walking should alleviate stress and help you unwind.

You can choose to walk in silence, with a partner or while listening to a podcast or audiobook. 

Imagine how much value you could get if you spent 1 hour walking AND consuming some sort of educational content?!? A one hour walk burns about 210 to 360 calories and 1 hour of audio would mean you could go through roughly 1 book per week. 

If your diet remains the same, you could easily lose .33lbs to .5lbs per week AND be smarter afterwards.

Walking is a quick and easy win that I can't recommend highly enough.

4. Remember Your "Why"

Low motivation usually stems from a disconnect between the work and why we're doing it. If you don't have a "why" yet, get one! You probably do but you've just never really put it to pen and paper.

  • Who are you doing this for?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • How will this make you feel?

Answer these questions and remind yourself of the answers for a nice boost of motivation any time of the day.

Your goals can be both extrinsic (gain something like a nice house or reward)  and intrinsic (personal gratification and fulfillment) but focusing solely on latter is proven to be a far better long term driver of achievement.

Watch this video if you're curious why...

Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale and her team followed 11,320 West Point military cadets for a 14 year period and analyzed their motives for attending the academy. Researchers found that those who entered West Point because of intrinsic motivators were far more likely to graduate, become officers, receive promotions, and stay in the military versus those who entered due to extrinsic motivations..

The logic would reason that "having great extrinsic AND intrinsic goals would be better than just having intrinsic goals," but surprisingly, that's not necessarily the case. Those cadets who entered with both strong internal (e.g., a desire to lead others) and external (e.g., to get a better job and make more money) motives, however, did not exhibit that same likelihood of success. Focusing on extrinsic rewards actually harmed the chance of success!

5. Flood Yourself with Positive Media

Another mildly corny but proven method for boosting motivation is to immerse yourself in motivational content.

Zig Ziglar

"People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily."

Zig Ziglar // Author and Motivational Speaker

Whether it's a book, YouTube video, audiobook or podcast, there's something out there that will get your productive juices flowing. 

My personal favorite motivational speakers are Eric Thomas and Les Brown but I also love listening to mashups on YouTube like this one and the one above.

#6. Grab Some Quick Win

In a perfect world, you'd focus all of your energy on the most important tasks everyday. Psychology throws a wrench into this sort of logic.

Since we need to get out of the unmotivated rut, it's ok to make an exception to the typical rules of thumb that say things like, "eat that frog," or "focus on what matters most first."

Do things that are small but meaningful and you might find that they give you the nudge you need to get back into a motivated and productive mindset.

Bonus Tip #1: Build Habits to Reduce Reliance on Motivation

Willpower is tremendously overrated...The importance of habits, on the other hand, can't be overstated. 

The older I get and the more I study human psychology, the more I realize that high achievers rely far more on habits than they do on Spartan-esque, super human levels of willpower.

Habits help us reduce something that renowned Princeton psychologist Roy Baumeister calls Decision Fatigue. The idea of decision fatigue suggests that willpower works like a muscle and that it consumes real energy in the form of glucose. As we make more conscious decisions throughout the day, we consume more and more glucose.

The brain needs fuel to function properly and when poorly fueled, decision making is hindered. 

Decision Fatigue

There's plenty of science to back this up. One study tested the impact of increased glucose and decision making on a group of participants . The participants were split into two groups, one had a sugary beverage (which provides glucose) and one that was sweetened with a diet sweetener (no glucose). Participants who consumed the sugary version showed enhanced willpower in controlled testing compared to those who were given the glucose free but similar tasting version. 

So, where do habits come into play? Habits require less mental energy and therefore, less glucose. We can do something that seems like it would require extraordinary willpower (waking up at 5 AM every single day) without it seeming difficult at all because we've committed it to habit. We don't burn through glucose laying in bed, willing ourselves to get up or justifying to ourselves why it's ok to hit the snooze button. We then have more energy to use on non-habit based decisions like avoiding the siren's call of a toxic political debate on Facebook.

Creating habits that get our days started makes it much easier to get things done without tremendous amounts of motivation or willpower. 

Habits allow us to be consistent with or without motivation. They are truly the x-factor for all extraordinary human achievement.

Bonus Tip #2 Prepare In Advance

They say only 2 things in life are certain. Death and taxes. I'd like to add a 3rd one to this.

Death, taxes and an occasional lack of motivation.

Since it's an inevitability, we can all benefit by preparing for it. 

Leverage a time that you feel motivated and create a "'rainy day" list of tasks that you need to do that don't require you to be in any sort of heightened performance. 

Think "what are some meaningful but relatively mindless tasks I can do right now?" Typically, I'd advise against filling your day with mindless work, but there is no better time and place for it than when you lack motivation. As long as the work moves the needle forward in some way, it's worth doing. 

Here are a few tasks I have on my own rainy day list (for work).

Nate's Low Motivation Task List

  • Outreach and Networking - Connecting with others in your space is a task that many people put way too far down on their to do lists. This might be just a casual chat (read the book Dig Your Well Before Your Thirsty by Harvey Mackay for more on this) or it might be an attempt to build some sort of mutually beneficial collaboration. Networking isn't always measurable but it can be invaluable to your success in life and business. Why not fit some in while you're stuck in a minor rut?
  • Learning (Reading or Online Courses) - I have a surplus of virtual courses I've purchased that I want to complete at any given time. Seriously, enough to fill a year or two probably. On days where my motivation is low, I fire them up and take out my iPad and take notes while I watch. Reading is great too but be careful. If you're like me, low motivation may evoke the sirens call of a nap and reading can be like gasoline on the Melatonin levels and dropping you into a nap you didn't want to take.
  • Organizing - Organization toes the line of "work for work's sake," but there are times it's worth doing. You may feel unmotivated because your work area looks like an episode of hoarders or your office gives vibes of a deserted apartment in Chernobyl. Read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo if you really wanna kick your cleaning and organizing game up a notch. And who doesn't?!?!
  • Ugly Writing - Writing is a critical part of my business. On days when I'm feeling unmotivated, I focus on raw output (time or words) and don't guilt myself for how bad the output is. I'll improve on it later but in the moment, I just want to get something from a day that poses the risk of nothing. A lot of subpar writing can be edited to a little excellent writing, which is of course far better than no writing.
  • Bookkeeping - I outsource most of my bookkeeping but my input is still required at least 1x-2x a month to keep things tight. This is the sort of work I could do while with a 6 beer hangover if I had to (I don't ever have to fortunately).
  • Random Spreadsheet Sh*t - I'm low key obsessed with spreadsheets. I love to create new things to do with them and I usually share my creations with my audience. I have a long list of spreadsheets and workbooks I want to make and I find that even when I'm unmotivated, I can work on them and enjoy the process.
  • Various Analytic Analysis - Being a blogger means I have no shortage of data to review. Google analytics trends, various paid traffic reports and heat map captures (check out CrazyEgg.com if you're interested in this sort of nerdy stuff) could keep me preoccupied for weeks if need be. I'll make a list of things to change for a day that I'm more in the mood. 

The odds are good that you might be reading this article because you're unmotivated right now. If so, consider using this time to actually make your rainy day task list.

Killing two birds with one stone!

Wrap Up

  • Being unmotivated is normal but high achievers learn how to get things done in spite of it
  • Have a game plan for what you'll do when you're unmotivated
  • Build habits to require less willpower and motivation
  • Focus on your intrinsic why's and remind yourself why you're doing what you're doing.

Leave a Reply


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. This came in my email on a day that I was actually feeling very unmotivated. I'm in the middle of reading Atomic Habits because you suggested it. This post has a ton of useful and valuable information. I'm sure one of these tips will come in handy one day when I least expect it. Thanks.

  2. Great article, all really insightful and useful points… I especially like the Muhammad Ali quote… I haven’t heard that before.

    A great book for building rock solid habits is Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg.

    I also like the fact that you clearly understand that motivation isn’t there all the time and that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you don’t have that super productive day you thought you would the night before.

    Thanks mate!

  3. There are some good thoughts here.

    I've noticed that the best way to get a whole bunch of my lesser importance (but still important) tasks done is when I am avoiding the most important tasks. hahaha

    The Yale School of Management Video made me think.

    When I was younger I was very internally motivated and almost crazy committed to some of my life goals.

    This seemed to make me very effective.

    As I grew older and had family to be concerned about and the fears involved with needing provision, etc. began to creep in my life performance seems to have dropped off.

    Basically, the strong internal motivations have proven to be far more powerful than the practical motivations of life for me.

    Those internal motivations are still there, but this gives me something to focus on – building myself up day by day in those internal motivations again – meditating on them, repeating them in words, moving past the fear.

    Great and practical article Nate. 🙂

  4. There are some good thoughts here.

    I've noticed that the best way to get a whole bunch of my lesser importance (but still important) tasks done is when I am avoiding the most important tasks. hahaha

    The Yale School of Management Video made me think.

    When I was younger I was very internally motivated and almost crazy committed to some of my life goals.

    This seemed to make me very effective.

    As I grew older and had family to be concerned about and the fears involved with needing provision, etc. began to creep in my life performance seems to have dropped off.

    Basically, the strong internal motivations have proven to be far more powerful than the practical motivations of life for me.

    Those internal motivations are still there, but this gives me something to focus on – building myself up day by day in those internal motivations again – meditating on them, repeating them in words, moving past the fear.

    Great and practical article Nate. 🙂

  5. Thanks Jon! Yeah I think the typical to-do list approach is flawed because we rarely prioritize and then fill day with the things that are easy to tick off but don
    t move the needle forward.

  6. Thanks Chris! I really appreciate the kind feedback on this post. Someone in my group pretty much accused me of stealing ideas for this article from my idols like James Clear…who has taught me a lot of course haha

  7. It’s really easy when you realize you have a countdown timer above your head and the reaper will find you wherever you are when it reaches “0”.

    What do you want to leave behind when you are gone forever?

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}