Personal Growth

How To Find Motivation Even When You Can’t Be Bothered

how to find motivation article feature image

I think it’s time to tackle motivation.  How to find motivation when you really can’t be bothered?  Now, that is a great question.

After all, what chance do we have of living a good life if we can’t get up of our backsides and make things happen?

We all know that feeling all too well when we know we SHOULD be doing something but we feel as though we just CAN’T.  It’s a lazy day.  Our brains feel a smidge slow and Netflix is calling our name.

The last thing we want to do is tackle that challenge that requires brain power and effort.

I have recently spoken about motivation as a key element necessary for improving emotional intelligence.  An emotionally intelligent person is able to self-motivate. Why? Because they have the capabilities to look beyond the here and now and consider the consequences of their actions or inactions.

But don’t worry.  It is only one of the 5 pillars of emotional intelligence (so if you lack this one then fear not, it can be learned). 

One feeds the other.  The ability to self-motivate increases emotional intelligence which in turn aids your ability to self-motivate.  It’s not easy. If it were there would be fewer procrastinators in the world and a lot more doers.

It’s easier to leave it until tomorrow. 

an arm lying on top of some white duvet covers showing someone who is lazy and can't find motivation to take action
‘I don’t want to. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME’

It’s easier to pretend it’s not important.  It’s easier to ignore the reasons why you need to do whatever it is in the first place.

Yep, it’s the easier option to not take action.  But it’s also the most detrimental.  That is why understanding what it takes and what it means to motivate yourself, even on the most laziest of days, is vital to making positive progress in life.

Self-motivation is key to a life well lived and how to stop wasting your own time.

So, how to find motivation when you have zero energy to do anything other than lounge on the sofa eating nachos might seem like an impossible question.

In this article I am going to cover exactly what motivation is, some common misconceptions surrounding it and 7 top tips for how to find motivation even when you really can’t be bothered.

I’ll then round it off with what to do when your motivation is fading.

This takes true mental strength but the more we can make ourselves take action, even when it’s the last thing we want to do, the easier it will become.

So, are you ready? Let’s get started.

WHAT IS MOTIVATION ANYWAY?

Man lifting a heavy bar bell showing his motivation for getting in shape. He is wearing nike trainers and a black watch
Yeah I got up at 4am bro. Got to get the reps in if I want to be shredded you know?

Before we can begin to understand how to find motivation it’s important we clear up exactly what motivation actually is.

The dry version is that motivation is the undertaking of activities, tasks and challenges in order to satisfy a need and maximise pleasure.

This is the meaning of motivation in the most basic of senses and sure, it does the job.  We get shit done in the hope of a better future.

The need for pleasure and fulfilment spurs us to take action so we can meet an end goal.  That’s just fab.  But we can do better.

Here is a better explanation of the meaning of motivation (in my personal opinion).  In life there are two driving forces behind everything we do; pain and pleasure.  We are either running from pain or sprinting toward pleasure and either one of these can motivate us. 

Often people focus on the seeking of pleasure without understanding that often times it’s the idea of extreme pain that is a stronger motivator.  Eventually the pain associated with the consequences of not taking action drives us to take action. 

This is the pain of staying the same.  And the pain of staying the same is a hard one to stomach.

a man sitting in the darkness outdoors with his head in his hand.  He has a waterproof coat and a full beard.  He is sitting in despair wishing he could find the motivation to change his life
A man sitting in despair. He just wish he had taken action.

When you feel that switch in your mental process whereby the long-term pain caused by not doing something is greater than the temporary discomfort of taking action, it can be a powerful tool.  Even stronger than imagining the pleasure that change will bring because now you are willing to live in the uncomfortable.

The problem is that initially what STOPS us from tackling these challenges is that we focus on the temporary pain of doing the tasks rather than the long term pain of not addressing them. 

Perhaps you are overweight and know that you must start exercising to drop the pounds.  But the temporary pain of feeling humiliated at the gym outweighs the long term pain of staying at this weight, or worse, getting bigger.

The pain you are faced with is the pain of the here and now. 

The potential judgment from the other fit people working out and wearing the tiniest of shorts and tank tops to show off their awesome abs.  

Added with the lack of confidence to believe in your ability to make positive change and it doesn’t seem overly inviting. But, you will build self-confidence over time by doing exactly that – taking action and exposing yourself.

That is the pain you are addressing, right in front of you instead of concerning yourself with the long-term costs of not going.  Things like being unable to play with your children in the park.  Or the inability to walk down the street without being out of breath. Or the potential risk of diabetes.

What about the temporary pain of addressing a bully at work?  You might want to avoid confrontation at all costs.  You know the conversation will be awkward and you might have to take it to the boss so you’d rather just deal with it.

But you are ignoring the long term pain that will arise if things potentially get worse. 

an older couple standing outside on the street having an argument that they should have had years ago to avoid a lifetime of pain.
They’re finally having that conversation they should have had decades ago

The constant bullying that you will face every single day until you have to leave and find a new job because you simply cannot cope.

The difficult conversation is the pain standing right in front of you that you want to avoid but in doing so you’re setting yourself up for long term hardship.

Last example for you here.

What about the temporary pain of working 12 hour days to start a new business.  Sure, this might last a little while but it is still temporary if you can make it a success.  Perhaps you are struggling to get up early, put the hours in and miss out on social interaction.  Especially when you are initially seeing very little reward.

However, it makes you blind to the long term pain of being stuck in your 9-5 job.  A job that is soul truly soul destroying and that you have no love for.

The challenge of putting so much work in without any guarantee of success is the pain that you need to address today.  But by allowing it to stifle your motivation you’re increasing the possibility that you will be forever trapped in your 9-5 and never living life on your terms.

The temporary, present pain is what can hinder our motivation but eventually the pain of remaining the same trumps all and forces us to take action.

This is how to find motivation even during the most unmotivated of times, leverage your pleasure and PAIN.

When we can raise our self-awareness and tap into our emotional intelligence we are able to use our passion for what we want and need along with our logical thinking to look beyond our current situation.  To see how great the pains of inaction will be.

And this is a strong motivator.

USE PLEASURE AND PAIN TO FIND MOTIVATION

a metal statue of a naked man in a running pose as a symbol for running way from pain rather than using it to motivate you
Don’t run away from pain like this guy. Especially without clothes on. Use it to motivate you.

I want to expand on this whole pain and pleasure, thing.  The mentor that is Tony Robbins writes extensively about this in his book Awaken The Giant Within.

The general way of thinking is to run way from pain and run toward pleasure.  And, this isn’t wrong.  I mean, I’m only human so I also fall into this way of thinking.

Pleasure feels good.  It is positive and uplifting.  When we do things that make us feel good then shock horror, we are generally a lot happier.

But, as mentioned above, pain is actually the strongest of motivators. Pain can be leveraged.

Pain is an arsehole but it’s an arsehole you should make friends with.  Both pain and pleasure should be used to motivate you with equal importance

To ignore pain is to deny yourself of motivation.

How do we use pleasure and pain for optimum motivation? 

Heighten them.

an image of a person in busy crowd at a concert with bright blue lights from the stage shining in his eyes.  This is to portray how we need to enhance our feelings of pleasure and pain to make them feel more real and to motivate us to take action
Turn up he volume, enhance the color, increase the heat and FEEL it.

Heighten the feeling of pain.  Focus on it and take it to its extreme.  Let’s stick with losing weight as an example.  How might you use pleasure to motivate you to get fit and drop the pounds?  You think to yourself, ‘I’d love to feel confident.  I’d love to get into that little black dress again.’ 

This is great, but go beyond that.

What would it actually mean?  You would feel sexy, you would feel confident, you could ENJOY going out with your friends and you wouldn’t feel EMBARRASSED anymore. You’d be fit enough to play with your children and could live a LONGER life.

Now the flip side is to heighten the pain associated with your weight in tandem with the images of pleasure.

You might think, ‘I’ll be so upset if I stay like this forever’.

Now go beyond that. 

What would it mean for your marriage or finding love? What would happen if you keep getting bigger? What if you became housebound? What if simple tasks became painful? What if you had to buy two seats on an airplane? What if you became diabetic? What if you couldn’t attend your child’s graduation, wedding or Nobel prize ceremony because you couldn’t physically get up and go? Or even just the pure embarrassment it would cause you?

No, thinking about this stuff isn’t pleasant.

And it is not limited to weight. This is just an example. 

But can you see how taking it to such extremes adds a new level of importance to the NEED to take action?

People want to ignore the pain and only focus on the pleasure and sometimes that is enough but when it’s not, pain can be your ally

Eventually the pain of staying the same is what truly motivates change but why wait until that moment?  Use your beautiful brain and tap into the potential consequences of not taking action.

Our imaginations are powerful enough to envisage a life that we DON’T WANT to such a degree that we WILL take action.   We will feel resistance but even that is present for a reason.

The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield talks extensively on this and is a truly insightful book.  I highly recommend you take a look.  He suggests that resistance derives from our anxieties.  It derives from our pain.

Anxiety is fear and when we don’t have control over it this fear stops us from making progress.  We fear a negative outcome, we fear ridicule and we fear failure. But these things we fear trigger this response in us because they are IMPORTANT.  The act is important. 

The pain is present because it means something to us and that is a powerful message that we must listen to and utilize. This is how to find motivation when you’re feeling stuck.

THE BACKWARD TRUTH OF MOTIVATION

A common misconception surrounding motivation is that motivation causes action.  We think that we ACT because we are MOTIVATED to do so.  Well, I have news for you, my friend.  This is simply not the case.

a man jumping from a cliff edge into the sea.  he has to take action to jump into the sea and not wait for motivation to do so, motivation will never come. Action comes first.
Don’t wait for motivation to jump into the freezing cold sea like a nutter. It will never come. Just do it!

It is more a beautiful cycle whereby one affects the other which affects the other and so on.  But, in the first instance, where there is no motivation to be seen and no action being taken it is the ACTION that kick-starts the cycle.

Action isn’t an effect of motivation but the cause of it.  We think that motivation comes before taking action. 

  • ‘I need to find some motivation.’ 
  • ‘I need to wait for some inspiration.’ 
  • ‘I need to wait for some magical light bulb moment and surge of energy.’ 

But all of these come as a result of taking action.  

You will find motivation once you have started working on something and not before.  You will feel inspired once you have taken the first steps to creating something and not before.  You will feel an ignition of energy once you begin to make progress and, likely, not before.

You cannot wait for motivation you have to act even when unmotivated.  Motivation does not come from nowhere. It comes from creativity; from pain, pleasure and reward. It comes from trying something and seeing that it is yielding results and from the satisfaction of getting something done.

Waiting for motivation is backward logic. You must act when you are unmotivated not wait otherwise you’ll never get there.

A lazy british bulldog lying on a blanket waiting for motivation to do something.
Yes, even when you feel like this. Action comes first.

Much like gravity, you must push the ball down the hill and then the momentum will carry it.  But it needs to be pushed to begin with. You need to give yourself the initial kick-start and the motivation will follow.

The ball does not sit at the top of the hill willing gravity to pull it down the slope.  Gravity needs a helping hand.  It needs the ball to roll closer to the edge, to roll itself of the peak before gravity can take over.

Get the ball rolling and momentum will carry you. 

FIND MOTIVATION BY TAKING SMALL ACTION

The ‘Do Something’ Principle is a technique by Mark Manson which mimics the same sort of process you would take when breaking bad habits.   Do one small thing.  Get the ball rolling.

When we try and take on gigantic tasks that are beyond our capabilities we lose attention and give up easily.  Because we never really gave ourselves the chance to succeed. 

When we are trying to break a bad habit it is best to start with the smallest, most minuscule of steps that encourage us to go that little bit further.  This is better than challenging ourselves with a task so unrealistic that we are never destined to achieve it.

How to find motivation when you really can’t be bothered works on a very similar concept.  By doing one small thing that you can succeed in, it’s far easier to think ‘oh I guess I’ll do a little bit more’.

I have days where the last thing I want to do is sit and write a 4000 word article on psychological behaviour.  Because I’m human. I’m allowed to feel lazy, lethargic and disengaged.  That’s normal and that’s ok. 

But when you have to self-motivate it’s integral that you muster the willpower to just do something.

a woman standing on the shore with the sun beaming behind her. Her arms are spread out wide as the sun shines on her face.  She is ecstatic that she has taken action and now has the motivation to do more.
‘I did it! I finally booked my dentist appointment! VICTORY DANCE

Imagine if I felt this way every day and only ever wrote one article a month.  I wouldn’t be providing much value, would I?

But if I say to myself, ‘Sit down and write 200 crappy words. Write your 200 words of shite and at least you can say you’ve done that.’  Well what happens is that I have never EVER sat and only written 200 words.  Why?  Because I got started, I pushed the ball down the hill and the momentum carried me on.  I often do write the 4000 words I was hoping to avoid.

Just by the act of allowing myself to only have to write 200.

Teeny tiny baby steps will always, ALWAYS be better than doing nothing.  So just do something.

Here are a 7 top techniques for how to find your motivation and enhance your ability to stay motivated.

1. SCHEDULE

We are creatures of habit.  Making a schedule and routine will always go a long way to helping you stick to your plans.  It’s beyond unhelpful to say, ‘At some point tomorrow I’ll do a bit of this….

Make it specific.

Tomorrow I will sit down at 3pm and spend 2 hours writing my next article.’

Imagine yourself as your own boss.  Schedule those things that you need and want to get done into your daily life and stick to it.  You are far more likely to get it done if you have planned exactly when you are going to do it.

This way you have no excuses.  Organize yourself properly and there should be no reason not to do it.

2. MAKE IT A ROUTINE

Make the schedule an every day occurrence.  9-5 jobs work on a functional level so well because they are continuous.  Every day is the same; showing up for work and leaving at the end of the day become habitual.

For certain things it must become a lifestyle choice.

Runners who get up at 5am every morning without fail will continue to hit their running targets for longer than the person who runs at sporadic times throughout the week. 

People who dedicate time between 2pm-4pm to painting in their studio are more likely to have the work they need to fill the gallery for their first opening than the artist who only paints when they get a ‘spare moment’.

It becomes a habit.  ‘At this time I do this, every day and without fail; even when I don’t really want to.’

3. MAKE SURE YOU ARE CHALLENGED AT THE CORRECT LEVEL

This is something that a lot of us are not overly aware of.  If you aren’t being challenged by something that is at the optimum difficulty level for you then two things will happen; you get bored and give up or you get disheartened and you give up.

Think about it.

You wouldn’t want to play against a 7 year old in a game of chess because that’s not a fair fight.  There is no challenge in this (unless you’ve never looked at a chess board in your life).  You know before you’ve even begun that you’re going to win in three moves. And low and behold…what do you know? Check mate.

But likewise you wouldn’t want to go up against the Grand National Chess Champion.

They really know what they’re doing and it will be you who is done within 2 minutes of play time.  Now you know how the 7 year old feels.

Just as we become unmotivated by things that don’t challenge us, we don’t like to tackle things that we don’t believe we can succeed in.  No-one wants to play a game that they know they cannot win.

But there is a beautiful sweet spot in between the two.  Where you might find the task difficult but you believe that if you put your mind to it you could pull it off.

There is satisfaction in mastering something that does not come easy to you.

But there is no satisfaction in doing things that don’t test you or things that you have no hope of succeeding in.

4. WHY ARE YOU REALLY UNMOTIVATED?

It’s time to discover the truth.

Sometimes the best way to find motivation is to understand the truth behind why you’re unmotivated int he first place.

If you really struggle to get moving, get started and take action then it might be time to take a long hard look in the mirror and address a few things.

Sometimes a lack of motivation goes beyond just a feeling of laziness of carelessness.  It’s not always that we can’t be bothered.  Sometimes there are some serious underlying feelings that are hindering your progress and need your attention.

It’s time to start understanding yourself better and asking yourself what the real reason is for your lack of motivation.

Do you have an extreme fear of failure?  Is it not as important to you as you thought it was? Are you doing it for someone else and not yourself?  Do you have limiting beliefs that are stopping you from taking action?

These need to be addressed.

It takes a whole lot of courage to tackle the painful truth of our emotions.  And it takes courage to take on tasks with no guarantee of reward but courage is available to all of us.  And you need to be able to muster yours in order to make progress.

Sit with your emotions. Sit with your shame, your jealousy, your anger, or your guilt and understand what they mean.  What are they trying to tell you?  This will help you understand your lack of motivation.

5. HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE

Announce what you are trying to achieve to the world, your friends, any groups you are part of and stick it in a diary.

You need to be able to see the goals you have set for yourself so that you can take responsibility for the times when you don’t meet them.  It sounds harsh but it works.  It’s similar to writing a food diary.

If someone who is trying to eat better in a bid to lose weight writes down every single thing they’ve put in their mouth every day then it’s very clear to see if they are eating how they should be.

By doing this you can reward yourself when you’re doing well and hold yourself accountable for when you aren’t.  This is important.  Remember, we are motivated by pleasure and pain.

We want the pleasure of the reward.  We aren’t doing all of this hard stuff for shits and gigs…. We want to get something out of it.  Likewise we do not want to be sat with the guilt and self-loathing after knowing that we haven’t tried or haven’t tried hard enough.

Judgement from others is tough but judgement of ourselves is much worse.  No-one is harder on you than you are. 

6. CHOOSE YOUR DISTRACTIONS WISELY

Time to get rid of all of those unhelpful distractions.  Social media makes you feel like crap but it’s calling your name, your phone is pinging every 30 seconds, you’ve got music on in the background and your red standby PlayStation light is flashing at you begging to be played.

Sometimes we need distractions.  And you’ll be pleased to know that distractions can be healthy.

I can hear the sigh of relief from you upon reading that.  But it’s about you choosing your reactions and not letting them choose you.

You will need a break. You will need some escapism at times otherwise you risk total burn out.  Your brain and body needs down time and all of that is acceptable.  By all means choose any of the above and go to town IF you have actively decided that it is what you NEED.

Heighten your awareness, realize that you are not perfect and you are also not a robot.  You cannot keep going and going and going with no rest time.  But make sure that the time you use to distract yourself has been chosen with purpose and is beneficial to you.

You should be taking breaks so that you can function at a higher level for longer, not to avoid doing something that is tough.

7. BE COMFORTABLE WITH FAILING

Failing is part of the process that I’m afraid you need to learn to enjoy.

I have written extensively on why failure is your friend not your foe.  Only through failure do we learn from mistakes.  Only through failure do we understand what’s truly worth fighting for.  If fear of failure is what is stopping you then this needs to be addressed.

The main difference between the super successful people in life and those that aren’t is that they have failed many more times.

But the persistence and tenacity to keep going through it all is what has gotten them to where they are.

You must be willing to fail over and over and over again.  Because nothing worth having in life is easy and despite what you might believe, shortcuts will not get you the outcome you desire.

Failure can be what drives you to find motivation if you can appreciate it for what it is.

Fail, fail with all you’ve got.

Learn to love it and let the mistakes be what motivates you to do better next time.

HOW TO FIND MOTIVATION WHEN IT FADES

a black and white photo of a girl holing her hands over her face and making a funny face.  She has lost her motivation and doesn't know how to find it again
It’s gone guys. I’ve lost it.

Ok, so all of that is good and well but we are all human (mostly).  Which means that even if you manage to get yourself started and even if you do more work than you planned you might find yourself slowing down when you’d really rather keep going.

Well, I have some things to suggest for that.

Change your perspective

Look at the situation you’re in and ask yourself why you’re doing what you are doing.  Remind yourself.  Instead of thinking, ‘…this is boring now’ or hard work or exhausting it is, apply the principle of do something

If I do this then I will be one tiny step closer to my goal and that’s good enough for today.

When I think about sitting down and writing my 4000 word essays for you beautiful people and I find my motivation waning it is always helpful to remind myself, ‘…by getting this done I am sticking to my schedule and I am one step closer to reaffirming my identity as a writer in my authority’.

How do you find motivation to keep going? Well, by looking at what you’re doing from a bunch of different angles you can always find a damn good reason for why you should keep going.

The slog is temporary

a notepad with a hand drawn calendar and yellow highlighter to show that the challenge you face today is only permanent.  You only need the motivation to get through today.
Things will be different either tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. Just you wait.

The pain of the challenge is only temporary. 

Remember, it’s this temporary discomfort that stops people from taking action but action leads to motivation.  Whatever the situation may be, it is temporary and not permanent.  It has the potential to lead to progress which could have a permanent and positive impact on your life.

So, the temporary discomfort is always worth it.

If you’re struggling because what you are doing is hard then you must understand that it will end and you will be rewarded for your actions eventually.

You will only ever regret what you didn’t do

It’s like when you choose to eat a green smoothie over a Mars Bar.  In the moment you’re angry with yourself.  You should have chosen the chocolate bar, you tell yourself. 

a green smoothie bowl on a wooden board surround by sprinkles of spinach to show that you will never regret choosing the option that is best for you.
You’ll never regret choosing the green smoothie. No really, I promise.

But afterwards you feel good, you feel healthy and you’re happy with your choice. 

If you had chosen the Mars Bar you might have enjoyed it at the time but you might find yourself riddled with food guilt and a sore stomach afterwards.

You will never regret doing the work that you do, you will only regret your inactions.

It’s difficult to be aware of the positive feelings we gain as a result of taking action before we’ve actually done anything.  Because, we can only think about what is standing between us and the reward…the hard stuff.

But the person who is trying to be healthier never regrets choosing the green smoothie once they have drunk it.

The person trying to train for a marathon never regrets the 13k evening run once they’ve done it.

The person trying to build a new business from scratch never regrets spending an entire day setting up their website once they’ve done it.

They only ever regret not doing it.

That’s life and that’s OK

a woman holding her thumbs up in front of a beautiful mountain landscape to say that is everything is ok.  Life is balance and sometimes it is hard to find your motivation and that's alright.
It’s all good, friend.

The War of Art talks of resistance and how to beat it.  The resistance that he speaks of is in the form of fears, anxieties, insecurities and distractions all of which work against our motivation to take action.  They make us resist productivity and progress by having us doubt ourselves and having us do what’s easy not what’s best for us.

And that’s life. 

Life is a balance. There will always be forces working against us and we must push against them.

This does not mean ‘harness your willpower’.  This notion puts a lot of pressure on ourselves to get too much done and also will have us punish ourselves when we fall short.  It is spoken of as if it something that only the best of us have access to.

Bullshit.

Sometimes it’s not as heavy as all that.  Just DO SOMETHING.  It’s simple psychology.  Take one small action and the rest will follow, or not. If that’s all for today, then that’s ok.

This is how to find motivation even when you can’t be bothered.

MOVE ON TO THE NEXT LESSON IN THIS GUID TO LIVING A GOOD LIFE: 5 PROVEN WAYS TO RAISE YOUR SELF-AWARENESS



About Emma Loveday

Hi there! My name is Emma, founder and writer of 'Resilient Humans'. Lover of slippers, 13% vol red wine, online courses (I don't care, you don't know me!) and queso, obviously. I'm currently in the process of writing my new book, 'Bold, Brave & Brilliant: 12 life lessons to cultivate mental strength and emotional resilience'. Check out @resilientemma on Instagram for the latest updates and all of the juicy goodness. Any questions? Just drop me a DM at hello@resilienthumans.co.uk or jump in the comment section below, I'd love to hear from you. No, truly I would.
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