Complete lack of motivation to do Anything
Lately I've been completely unmotivated to do anything. Getting things done at work is a challenge, and it's even worse at home. My apartment is becoming a mess, I never cook anymore, and I've been unable to keep up a healthy diet. I don't feel depressed or all that unhappy—just very unmotivated. Is there anything I can do to recharge?
A lack of motivation is a difficult problem because there are likely many factors contributing to it, but the simplest way to get your motivation back is to do something you want to do. The problem with that is when you're low on the necessary energy and willpower needed to start a particular task, your motivation is generally re-routed to indulge in something effortless like food or entertainment. Overindulgence, as you've likely noticed, only serves to make the problem worse. So what do you do? First, we need to pinpoint what's causing your lack of motivation and then we need to find ways you can trick yourself into getting it back.
Social Rejection Can Kill Your Motivation
Motivation can be depleted by a number of sources. A recent post by David McRaney, author of the human behavior blog and book You Are Not So Smart, discusses many of them. One study asked a group of students to meet each other and then write down who they'd like to work with on a piece of paper. The researchers conducting the study ignored their choices and told some that they were chosen and others that nobody wanted them. Unsurprisingly, the rejected were unhappy, but here's how it changed their behavior and why:
The researchers in the "no one chose you" study proposed that since self-regulation is required to be prosocial, you expect some sort of reward for regulating your behavior. People in the unwanted group felt the sting of ostracism, and that reframed their self-regulation as being wasteful. It was as if they thought, "Why play by the rules if no one cares?" It poked a hole in their willpower fuel tanks, and when they sat in front of the cookies they couldn't control their impulses as well as the others. Other studies show when you feel ostracized and unwanted, you can't solve puzzles as well, you become less likely to cooperate, less motivated to work, more likely to drink and smoke and do other self-destructive things. Rejection obliterates self-control, and thus it seems it's one of the many avenues toward a state of ego depletion.
When you get rejected, you lose your desire to try because it seems as though nobody would care either way. It's unlikely this is the case, as one instance of rejection from one or a few people doesn't encompass the opinion of every person in every situation, but it feels that way and so that's how you react.
Neglecting Your Physical Needs Makes It Hard to Do Anything
Getting rejected in even a simple way is not the only way to destroy your motivation to do much of anything. Similar effects are possible when you're not eating:
A study published in 2010 conducted by Jonathan Leval, Shai Danziger, and Liora Avniam-Pesso of of Columbia and Ben-Guron Universities looked at 1, 112 judicial ruling over the course of 10 months concerning prisoner paroles. They found that right after breakfast and lunch, your chances of getting paroled were at their highest. On average, the judges granted parole to around 60 percent of prisoners right after the judge had eaten a meal. The rate of approval crept down after that. Right before a meal, the judges granted parole to about 20 percent of those appearing before them. The less glucose in judges' bodies, the less willing they were to make the active choice of setting a person free and accepting the consequences and the more likely they were to go with the passive choice to put the fate of the prisoner off until a future date.
When leading a busy life, it can be very easy to skip breakfast and/or have a late lunch, then find ourselves in a position where it's difficult to get much done because we're lacking the necessary glucose to help us think properly. Even after you finally eat, you can end up with a headache from neglecting to do so for much of the day, which doesn't really motivate you to do much other than lie down. Neglecting our physical needs can deplete our motivation to do much, so it's important to keep track of that neglect so it can be corrected. One way you can do that is fill out this daily personal inventory form and see if there are any common trends in your days. If there are, recharging your motivation may be as simple as eating breakfast and getting enough water.
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Making Too Many Decisions Exhausts Your Brain
One of the fastest ways to get you lying on the couch with a tub of ice cream, however, is to put you in a situation where you have to make several big decisions. John Tierny, in an article for the New York Times, discusses the problem:
Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can't resist the dealer's offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can't make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It's different from ordinary physical fatigue - you're not consciously aware of being tired - but you're low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts.
This doesn't just come down to large decisions at work. If you have to make a number of small decisions you can slowly cause the same fatigue. If you don't manage the number of choices you make each day, whether small or large, you'll find yourself repeatedly indulging.