by Andrea Blundell
We all lose steam now and then.
But when does having no motivation go from a mental time-out, to a serious issue that needs your attention?
What is low motivation?
Motivation is when you feel driven to do things. In a very basic way, we are motivated to get out of bed. But we are also motivated to go to work, to see our friends, and to have goals.
Low motivation means we feel uninterested in doing things. We start to cancel social events, perhaps call in sick to work when we aren’t, don’t make that gym class.
No motivation happens when we just don’t want to do anything. We avoid our friends, stop going to the gym at all, go to work only if we have to, and possibly start to self-sabotage. We mess up the work presentation, end relationships, miss important meetings.
When having no motivation is normal
Lounging around the house in a tracksuit is actually normal behaviour post a big life change like a redundancy, breakup, or bereavement. It’s as if our mind needs a timeout to recuperate.
It’s also normal during teenage years. The teenage brain and body are in flux during adolescence, and it and it can mean teenagers can feel spaced out, moody, and uninterested in such things as thinking about their future or cleaning their rooms.
Low motivation often happens when we agree to do something we don’t like, or don’t say no when we want to.
If you took on a project at work you hate, or you agreed to plan a friend’s wedding but really didn’t want to, low motivation is your mind’s way of protesting. Your energy often returns when you get honest and ask for help, or quit the project.
And finally, having no motivation can also be a symptom of a physical health condition. This includes chronic fatigue syndrome, hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, and brain tumours.
When low motivation is a GOOD thing
Low motivation can be a wakeup call. If you listen to what it’s trying to tell you, it can mean you make decisions that leave you in a better place.
For example, if you suddenly find you have lost all motivation at work, it could be a sign that you need to take a good look at whether you are living from your own values, what your career goals really are, and how you can reach them.
Going for a few sessions with a coach or counsellor might mean your life turns around in a way you could never have imagined before.
When the blahs are a mental health concern
So when does low motivation go from a normal stage you are going through, to a mental health issue? When it has gone on for too long, and when it is jeopardising your day-to-day living.
Look for things like the following:
- it’s gone on for six weeks or more
- it is worsening or unchanged
- you are losing interest in talking to friends and family
- your low motivation is accompanied by increasingly negative thinking
- you are having suicidal thoughts
- you aren’t sure anymore why you lack motivation (or there was no trigger).
Mental health issues and disorders connected to low motivation
If you are trying every tip you can find on the internet about getting motivated but it’s just not working, it could be you have an underlying mental health issue or mental disorder that needs attention.
Depression is the most common mental health issue that has low motivation as a symptom. The onset of low motivation is for many long-term depression sufferers a sign they are falling into another cycle.
[Read our comprehensive Guide to Depression for more on its symptoms.]
Other mental health issues that involve low motivation include:
What do I do if it’s a loved one with low motivation?
If your loved one is diagnosed with any of the mental health issues above, trying to push them to do things might be counterproductive.
Work to accept them as they are, and do not call them lazy. They are not. They are currently unwell, and need your patience.
Some encouragement is of course fine, but if they say no, do not make them feel guilty or flawed. They are likely doing the best they can, and what seems to you like just a bit of cajoling might feel to him or her, in their sensitive state, like a lot of pressure. Focus on small steps, keep your eye on the future, and try to remain as positive as possible.
If your loved one does not have the support they need, approach any suggestion they seek it with care (read our article on “Telling a Loved One They Need Counselling” for good advice here).
And if it’s me who has no motivation?
If your low motivation has an obvious trigger like a life change or career issue, self help can be a good start. If your low motivation feels unmanageable, or has been going on for longer than you are comfortable with, consider talking to a coach or counsellor.
If your low motivation has been going on for months or even years, if you struggle in all areas of life because of it, if you don’t understand what causes it but can’t seem to push past it, or if you suspect you have one of the mental health disorders above, it is essential to seek support.
Talk to your GP or book a counsellor or psychotherapist privately.
Harley Therapy is here to help if you have no motivation lately. We connect you to registered, experienced counsellors and psychotherapists both in central London, across the UK, and now globally via Skype.
Have a question about having no motivation? Or want to share your thoughts on motivation with other readers? Use our public comment box below.
Andrea Blundell is the chief editor and lead writer of this site. She left a film career to train as a person-centred therapist and then ended up becoming a successful mental health writer who has penned thousands of popular articles.