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5 Keys for Becoming More Motivated

Lack of motivation can be related to mental, physical, or environmental factors.

Key points

  • Lack of motivation can be related to depression or performance anxiety.
  • A common cause of poor motivation is when people do not perceive an immediate benefit.
  • People can consider how to improve their motivation through interactions with their subconscious.
Emerald Media/Shutterstock
Source: Emerald Media/Shutterstock

Lack of motivation is a complaint I often hear about from parents and their teenagers who are referred for therapy. Occasionally, the motivation issue turns out to be a symptom of depression that can cause a teen to feel disengaged from life.

In rarer instances the apparent lack of motivation is related to performance anxiety, in that people worry that they will not succeed even if they do their best. Therefore, they decide to give up rather than set themselves up for disappointment when they do not achieve their goals. In some instances it is nearly guaranteed that they will not make their goals, as they have unrealistic expectations for themselves, e.g., to always be at the top of their class.

Much more common are people who are unmotivated because they see no immediate benefit from the activities they are supposed to perform such as completing their school work, being responsible on a job, contributing to the household by performing chores, and occasionally participating in sports that they were pushed to undertake.

Sometimes, people lose motivation because they feel overwhelmed and as if they could never achieve their goal. This can occur when people have been assigned or taken on too many activities, or because they have an underlying condition, such as attention deficit disorder, or a serious medical illness that makes it much harder to accomplish tasks.

Finally, some people are unmotivated because of competing interests such as videogaming, sports, or an active social life. Use of alcohol, marijuana, and harder core substances can present as competing interests as well, although it is possible that ennui associated with lack of motivation led to the drug use in the first place.

When depression, anxiety, or other mental or medical disorders underlie lack of motivation, treatment typically helps motivation improve. For people who do not have a disruptive mental or physical disorder, motivational interviewing can help figure out the pros and cons of their life choices, and supports them as they think about why they might want to change their approach.

For example, teenagers might recognize that academic achievement in high school will influence the flexibility they will have in making career choices, or that a good job performance will be more likely to lead to financial success.

Self-examination can be very helpful. People might consider why their motivation is not stronger through interactions with their subconscious. Do they feel inadequate compared with their friends? Are their friends or family putting them down? Do they lack self-esteem? Do they feel that they don’t matter?

Once underlying hurtful thoughts are identified they can be addressed through reframing. For example, people can learn to embrace and be happy with their own progress irrespective of their friends’ achievements or criticism.

Even when people recognize that they should be more motivated they often do not know how to get started and keep going. For them, I share five keys that have been helpful for many of my patients.


I remind patients that self-discipline is a key for keeping going, rather than always relying on motivation, which can come and go depending on their mood, state of alertness, and distractions. Ways to keep going include:

  • Make a plan for each day, and stick to it
  • Create and follow a routine to accomplish the goal
  • Take one step at a time
  • Keep up with deadlines, including for small steps within a large project
  • Have fun! Don’t take yourself so seriously
  • Appreciate and reward your progress with breaks, calling a friend, or good food
  • Make it a game. For example, you can compete against yourself to achieve more than on the previous day
  • Remember to breathe, exercise, take a walk, and get plenty of sleep
  • Use the hypnotic state to tell yourself you want to stay in the zone
  • Avoid negative self-judgement. Remain patient with your progress
  • Remind yourself of past successes and encourage yourself that you can be successful again
  • Recall Oprah Winfrey’s suggestion: “Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do”

Choose an Appropriate Goal

Choosing an appropriate goal is another key for maintaining motivation and self-discipline. In choosing a goal people should think about:

  • Choosing a goal of doing something that they love or from which they will gain important benefit
  • Considering whether a goal is realistic, and altering it if necessary
  • Reminding themselves frequently why they are pursuing a particular goal
  • Taking control of a project rather than following someone else’s lead
  • Picking something challenging, as this is important for people who lack motivation because of boredom

Avoid Distractions

Avoiding distractions is yet another key:

  • Engage with friends who are supportive of your progress, rather than ones who encourage you to postpone your plans to accommodate their desires
  • Set smart phones on silent to prevent interruptions
  • Musical rhythms can help maintain progress. However, avoid music that is loud or with distracting content
  • Resolve to defer engaging in competing interests on a regular basis until after you work towards your goal

Receive Reinforcement

Receiving reinforcement is always helpful as a way of maintaining motivation. Such reinforcement can come from:

  • Someone you care about to whom you report about your progress
  • A mentor who can guide you
  • A buddy who is working towards a similar goal
  • Reinforcement can even come from within: Use hypnosis to imagine how you will achieve your goal (in addition to imagining how it will feel to have succeeded)

Evaluating Progress

Evaluating your progress objectively is the final key. Recognize that:

  • Your personal growth will depend more on the steps you take as a result of your journey towards the goal rather than achievement of the goal
  • Setbacks are opportunities to learn, rather than a sign of inadequacy


Motivation can be enhanced by addressing issues that may underlie lack of motivation, and identifying ways to reinforce the self-discipline required for consistent achievement.

Copyright Ran D. Anbar


More information about hypnosis and its uses that can enhance motivation is available in the 2021 book "Changing Children’s Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center," by Ran D. Anbar. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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