Motivating the Unmotivated

motivatedAt the beginning of every school year, I would tell myself “This year is going to be different. Assignments in on time, great marks, participating in lots of activities and to top it off, I’m going to be more organised” For a short time, I would feel motivated with a positive outlook, but it wasn’t long before the work started to pile up, the average marks started rolling in and I’d be thinking “I’m so tired of this. I just want to get through and pass all my subjects”. I decided that I wasn’t one of “those” people, the motivated, smart ones.

My high school year coordinator hired motivational speakers to come in and tell us how we could fulfill all our dreams, overcome obstacles, see the cup as half full rather than half empty, etc. But there was a problem with this. The problem was –

1. I didn’t believe and/or couldn’t relate to what the motivational speakers were saying;
2. I’d feel less motivated after the talk than before; or
3. The motivation would only last for a day or two before it was gone.

I finished high school and went on to spend thousands of dollars listening to motivational speakers and studied 6 years of psychology at university. From these experiences, I’ve come to the following realisation –

You don’t need to be motivated to achieve success and experience pleasure from your studies and in life. In fact, you and I may never be super motivated like Tony Robbins and that’s OK. Knowing this, we should go and do the things we want to do, whether we feel motivated or not.

There is a myth that you need to change your mood before you can change your behaviour. Behavioural Psychology has dispelled this idea time and time again by showing us that if we simply become more active in our lives, then we will feel better and think more positively. Basically, you can become more motivated by taking action and engaging in new, positive experiences.

Exercise has helped me to stay positive about studying and life. Research found that when a group of people suffering from mild to moderate depression exercised (i.e. strength training, running or walking) for at least 20 to 60 minutes 3 times a week, they were significantly less depressed 5 weeks later. The benefits were maintained for these participants as long as they kept on exercising. If people diagnosed with depression can experience such amazing results from becoming active, imagine what is possible for people who don’t suffer from depression?

But the question arises “What if you’re so unmotivated that you can’t even get to the gym or start an assignment?”

Here are some strategies that have been suggested to help you overcome these problems –

1. Don’t eat the elephant all at once:
How would you eat an elephant (if you had to)? One bite at a time. Starting a new behaviour is a difficult task and your success will be maximised if you’re able to break down the task into manageable components

2. Understand the benefits:
The positive benefits of participating in the activity (e.g. exercising or completing an assignment) must be fully considered. Often people aren’t motivated because they’re uninformed. Psychologists often ask unmotivated clients to identify all the benefits of engaging in a certain behaviour. If the client’s list of benefits starts to reveal many reasons, then it is likely that they will be more motivated to take action.

3. Treat it like an experiment:
Put aside your judgements about the activity and try as an experiment engaging in the activity regardless of the way you feel.


  • Prochaska, J. (2001). How do people change, and how can we change to help more people? In M. Hubble, B. Duncan, & S. Miller, S. (Eds). The Heart and Soul of Change. Washington: American Psychologial Association
  • Flora, S. & Wallach, M.A. (2004). The power of reinforcement. State of University of New York Press.
  • 4 thoughts on “Motivating the Unmotivated

    1. I’m right with you on this one Jane. Actions speak louder than words, in more ways than one.

      Waiting for the ideal motivated state before starting something is just another form of procrastination (or not doing what will get more of what you want).

    2. Thanks, Dr Jane.

      Your information read during my study on same topic – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation unit. I am studying at University of the People online.

      Thanks again.

    Comments are closed.