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How To Stay Motivated When You’re Not In The Mood To Do Anything

Amita Patel, LMSW
Licensed Social Worker By Amita Patel, LMSW
Licensed Social Worker
Amita Patel, LMSW, is the owner and founder of, a coaching services company that empowers individuals to achieve their goals and make them stick. She received master's degrees from New York University in both philanthropy and fundraising, and clinical and medical social work. Her unique, no-nonsense, holistic approach combines nutrition, physical activity, relationships, career, and personal philosophy. Patel has been featured on CBS, NBC, and the Huffington Post.

No matter how motivated we consider ourselves as people, there are always going to be times when we are less than excited to take action.

Maybe sitting on the couch sounds more appealing than going for a run. Maybe the overwhelm of a large project prevents you from taking that first step, so you decide to "start tomorrow." Or maybe it's a more abstract lack of motivation, and you feel unable to focus on your true passions and desires.

To get down to business, it's a good (and practical) idea to actually stop and think about what makes some people seemingly better able to stay focused, organized, and goal-oriented. Is it superior self-control? Do they have more motivation muscles? Are they inherently more inspired?

The answer to all of these questions is no. So why do we struggle with this issue?

  • Most of us were never taught these skills. Sure, I know the capitals of the fifty states and I can hold my own in long division, but the skills associated with executive functioning are never formally taught. It’s assumed that you came out of the womb knowing how to manage your time, prioritize and push through discomfort.
  • We don’t plan our time, or if we do, we don’t learn how to stick to the plan.
  • We take on too much and then feel pulled in too many directions.

For most people, fear is the biggest culprit behind our motivation, time-management and general life struggles. Many of us unconsciously believe that we “should” be doing something other than what we want, we procrastinate to avoid pain, or we don’t believe we deserve to take time for ourselves.

The truth is that motivation isn’t about productivity, it’s the failure to use your personal power, giving up your freedom in the process.

As a coach, my job is to keep my clients accountable to their highest vision. That means in those moments when their fears, self-doubt, or Netflix account is calling their name, I remind them of the reasons why they wanted to stop playing small in the first place. In my experience and with clients, I find that those with inconsistent motivation fall into two groups:

  1. Those who need the organizational skills to take action
  2. Those who need deeper help to motivate from within.

For those who need the organizational skills, here are the top three issues I see when clients don’t take action, as well as some tools to help fix them:

1. “I’m getting the wrong things done.”

This comes down to prioritization and learning to triage your to do list. I’m willing to bet that there have been times when you worked all day, but at the end of the day, you felt frustrated that you didn’t get anything important done. You spent time putting out fires, taking care of others, but not getting any big things out of the way. Am I right? The secret is that achieving your goals isn't about how much you get done, it's about doing the right stuff.

Divide your to do list into four categories and take daily action on each:

  • High Importance, Urgent: These are the big-ticket items that relate to your goals or incredibly important things in life, such as your health. Example: Make doctor’s appointment for weird growth.
  • High Importance, Not Urgent: These are the large items that don’t have a looming deadline. Example: Make plans to see cousins.
  • Low Importance, Urgent: Often, these are the annoying day-to-day tasks that have a date they must be completed by. Example: Return shoes to store.
  • Low importance, Not Urgent: These are the items that need to get done at some point, but the timing isn’t vital. Example: Buy that book my friend recommended.

2. “I need momentum to keep going with my goals.”

Each day, decide on the three big (or small) things you want to achieve that day that move you toward your goals and give you the biggest bang for your buck. If three seems like a lot to start, pick fewer. If it doesn’t seem like enough, consider anything you do after those three to be extra-credit.

This will ensure that you’re getting the right things done and building on your track record of success. At the end of the day check in with yourself and ask, “Did I accomplish what I wanted to? Did I do the right tasks in the right order?” Completing a few of your top items is more important than completing 10 pointless ones.

3. “I’m paralyzed. I can’t do it.”

After dividing your goals into bite-sized tasks, it can still be hard to take action. This is especially true when we’re trying something new. But it’s all about developing a track record of success and building your self-trust muscle. Acknowledge that there are times that you’ve felt paralyzed, but were able to push through the discomfort and take action anyway. Write out a list of all the times you felt stuck, but managed to pull through. It can range from personal issues, to work, to anything else.

Then ask yourself, “What accomplishments am I most proud of in life?” Look at this list every time you feel self-doubt start to rise. Personally, I keep this list as a virtual post-it note on my laptop. Everyday, this almanac of my achievements cheers me on.

Now, for those in group #2 who struggle to maintain motivation on a deeper level, there’s really one key thing you need to know: Your chances of achieving your goal are only as strong as your reasons to do it.

What does that mean? If your goal is "to eat healthy," you’re not going to do it. Why? Because that’s a boring goal. But if your goal is: “to eat healthy so that you feel great, have more energy for fun things, stop wasting money on takeout, and save money for your upcoming vacation” you’re way more likely to achieve it.

When you have good reasons, you're armed and ready for when the couch calls your name, you’re scared of failure, or your old fears pop back up. All you need to do is review your list of why your best self wants you to get off the couch.

To harness your personal power and tap into your motivation, download Amita's free Motivation Worksheet here.

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