How to Get Motivated Even if You Have No Energy

By Roy Krebs

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Have you ever had the feeling that you “need” to get going, but you just can't get your butt off the couch?  

Maybe there’s an important meeting, test, or event coming up, yet you just can’t seem to get your brain or body moving.  

I know how this is...in fact, I had to drag myself off the couch a few times just last week!

Did you know that there are a few ways to ways to “trick” your body into feeling focused, motivated and energized?   

Read on to find out more about the science behind motivation, and what it takes to push yourself into action when you need to be productive.

These are strategies you can use anywhere, anytime, and I know because they work with one of the least motivated people I know...me!  

How Motivation Works

The key to finding a solution to your lack of motivation lies in understanding why it's happening in the first place.  

First off: What is motivation? It’s the desire to move into action.  

At a basic level -- and this is the case for other animal species as well -- it’s about survival.

We actually need motivation to find food and to stay out of danger.  

But this explanation is far too simple to explain how we get motivated for complex human behaviours.

What about people who work towards a goal to the point of exhaustion? Or athletes who participate in extreme sports?

Clearly they are doing these things by choice, and not for survival.

So how do you think they do it?


What Psychologists are Saying

Human motivation has been studied for decades, but no one can agree on a single theory.

Factors behind an individual’s drive to get moving will differ from person to person, and from day to day.  

So we’ll take a look at a few of the key factors that are key when it comes to understanding motivation (or our lack thereof).

  • Instinct: Just like other animals, humans are born with an innate set of instincts, actions which ensure our survival.
  • Drive reduction: When our needs are met, we tend to naturally stop “seeking” that need.
  • Arousal: We are motivated to boost our level of stimulation to achieve or maintain a state of excitement.   
  • Incentive: Forces (sometimes “rewards”) that propel us to do something we wouldn’t do otherwise.
  • Cognitive: Our expectations (thoughts) of either internal or external rewards motivate our behaviour.
  • Self-determination: Most of us have more motivation when we are allowed to control our own behaviour.
  • Self-actualization: Maslow proposes that people are motivated to meet different levels of needs up to the pinnacle of self-actualization.

I personally believe that these last two points are key to moving into a state of personal motivation -- we can’t rely on anyone but ourselves!

That being said, we have to give ourselves a bit of a break in consideration of the fact that, for the most part humans are “naturally” lazy. [1]

New Frontiers in Neurobiology

There’s definitely a link between motivation and brain chemistry.

Let’s start with the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine, which is the most dominant neurotransmitter involved in motivation.

Since it’s released when we believe we will earn a reward, it fuels us into the action we need to achieve a desired goal and experience the pleasure that goes with it. [2]

But here’s the tricky part: each individual’s dopamine patterns are different.

Dopamine-dominant people are often high-performers; conversely, those who have lower levels of dopamine are more likely to experience fatigue and apathy.

This means that what might motivate one person has no effect on the next.

Dopamine patterns are a big deal in motivation patterns, so if you think you have a dopamine deficiency, you should definitely talk to your doctor.

How to Get Motivated Instantly

Do you ever feel like you “just can’t move” even when you know you have to do something important?   

Sometimes, even the most simple task seems like too much effort.  

But being aware of what’s behind my motivation in that instant usually helps me to get out of my “slump.”  

Here are some tips to help you out, even in your laziest moments!  

Just Get Started

The beginning is always the toughest. Our brains anticipate that it will be difficult or unpleasant and comes up with all sorts of avoidance strategies.

If you can visualize how it felt the last time -- in other words, how the first steps were the hardest, and then you gradually started to feel better and better -- you’re set.

For many, this is best done first thing in the morning, but you should assess your natural energy levels and see what time of day you focus best.   

How do we get moving when, for the most part, we’re naturally “lazy” creatures?

Start small.

Let’s take running for instance. The most important part of that routine is that you get your gear on and get out the door!

It doesn’t matter whether the rest of the run is 1k or 10k ...you just need to make that first step.

When you make your goal achievable (eg: get runners on and stay moving for 5 minutes), it lowers your resistance to doing it.

This is something that truly works for me -- once I get started, the things that initially were creating distraction or resistance just fade away.

I’m then super focused and end up doing more than what my original goal was.

So in a sense, action actually makes us more motivated!

Make a Simple to-do List

When you write down what you have to do, you can then enjoy crossing each point off as you work through your day.

The problem for some might be that your to-do list is too long!

So remember to choose only 2-4 small goals to start.   

You can even strengthen your “task” list by linking each item to a bigger goal or reward.

Every time you check an item off on your checklist it releases dopamine.

And the more you achieve small goals, the better you will be at moving forward towards your next set of goals.  

Get Physical

Studies have shown that exercise during working hours leads to greater productivity even though less working time is logged. [3]

But this is probably no surprise, since even mild or moderate exercise causes:

  • Endorphin, serotonin and dopamine release, leading to a better mood and more mental clarity
  • Lower cortisol levels  
  • More oxygen and nutrients to the brain and body

    What does this truly mean? More focus and stamina.

    But the problem is that it’s hard to get off the couch when we’re feeling tired -- the thought of exercise might seem like the last thing we want to do!

    The problem with exercise is the way we think about it: If we put pressure on ourselves to “lose weight” or “lift,” it we make it more difficult and less fun.

    The more pressure we put on ourselves, the more resistant we may be to action. 

    Then we lose sight of the fact that socially, emotionally, and mentally, exercise will give us more energy to do the things we love.

    There are plenty of ways you can get quick bursts of exercise in or around the home -- here are some ideas:

    • Do jumping jacks, burpees, squats, or pushups on the carpet.
    • Put on some dance music and jump around.
    • Go outside for a brisk walk and some sunshine.
    • Invite a friend to a dance class at the local community center.

    When we consider exercise as a thing that can change our mood so that we are more motivated, we can make it work for us.  

    Make Sure Your Basic Needs are Met

    Your brain needs a constant supply of fuel. When you lose concentration, feel sluggish and unable to carry on a wholesome, low-sugar snack may be the answer.

    As each day wears on, it’s only natural that you feel more and more fatigued.

    Recharging your motivation could be as simple as having a snack, a glass of water, or what I like to call “brain break.”

    What’s a brain break?

    Every 2 hours or so, step completely away from your computer screen and do something completely different.

    It could be reading, a nap, or a walk, the idea is to let your brain completely rest.

    A good power nap can work wonders after a busy morning -- here are a few tips:   

    • Don’t sleep for any longer than about 45 minutes
    • Sleep between 1pm and 3pm  
    • Be comfortable, but not too comfortable so that you don’t oversleep
    • Try to meditate, either sitting up or lying down on a yoga mat, for about 10-20 minutes  

    If you think you are lacking sleep at night, you may want to try a supplement to ensure a more restful sleep.

    Music (Or other Media) 

    You know you have an emotional reaction when you listen to music. Pumped up music raises your pulse rate and quickens your breathing, giving you a boost of energy.  

    Music increases dopamine levels and so also increases motivation, focus and concentration.

    When I’m feeling lazy and sluggish I put on some music. Getting up and moving along with the music for a few minutes gives me a double boost.

    This doesn’t even mean that I’m out for the long haul -- it could just be one favorite song that gets me up and going!

    Even playing background music going while you work can help to keep your concentration there -- go for classical, instrumentals or even techno. 

    Want something other than music? Take a 10- 15-minute break to watch an interesting documentary or listen to a podcast of interest.  

    Supplements

    The above strategies are particularly useful when combined with natural supplements to help your brain and body be in top form.

    Try supplements that naturally boost dopamine levels. You can also take vitamin supplements like Vitamin C, B6, B12 and folate.


    You May Need More than a Quick Fix

    I’ve already shared a few ideas to help you get your body and brain moving, but there are plenty of other options on the market to help you stay focused.

    Sometimes, you may just feel as though that everything in life is too much most of the time and you just can’t get motivated.

    If you are suffering from daily fatigue and you don’t know why, the first thing to do is see your doctor!

    Another thing to consider is taking a break -- you could just be burned out and need a few weeks of rest and recovery.

    A lack of motivation is nothing to sneeze at, but it does affect almost everyone -- even your most energetic friends and colleagues.

    Fortunately there are plenty of natural solutions available for those of us who need a little boost.

    What’s your experience with fatigue and burnout? Have you tried any of the solutions above?

    Share your thoughts in the comments below!


      1. Oaklander, Mandy. "Here's Proof that You are Wired to Be Lazy." Time, September 10, 2015.   
      2. Dopamine regulates the motivation to act, study shows. Science Daily, January 10, 2013.
      3. Exercise at work boosts productivity, Swedish researchers find. Science Daily, September 8, 2011. 
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