Why It’s Good to Be Unmotivated


Rain or shine, will you climb? (photo by Ewan Cross)

With so many people in the world doing whatever they can to stay motivated, I’m going to offer up an alternative viewpoint. It’s good to feel unmotivated, and here’s why.

Champions Rise From the Ashes, Not the Clouds

Anyone can do well when fully motivated. If you were always fully motivated to do the right things, life would not be a challenge at all. You’d never have an off day. This sounds nice, but it’s completely impossible for a human life. Therefore, many people are chasing something (100% motivation) that does not exist.

The real test in life is what happens when you aren’t motivated. For many people, this scenario means that they’ll try to “get motivated” so that they can effortlessly succeed again. But do you see the flaw in this? It isn’t going to work every time. There will be circumstances in which motivation is lacking and you can’t change it. You can always do something about your actions, but your emotional state is unpredictable.

People Who Always Seem Motivated Probably Aren’t

If a person always shows up and is generally successful in their ventures, it may seem that they’re highly motivated all the time. What it likely means, however, is that they depend on motivation less than the typical person. Olympic athletes are motivated people in general, but their success comes from the fact that they can get themselves to train even when they’d rather do something else. The casual gym goer might only go when he has average-to-high energy and is in the mood.

Willpower is often misattributed as motivation. When a gold medal athlete looks back to what got them this far, they think of the sacrifices and tough days they put in because they “wanted it.” This overall drive toward their cause is different from the fluctuating motivation they felt along the way. In truth, their success was in overcoming a lack of motivation on many occasions! We get emotional about victories because of the hardship and resistance we conquer to earn them. They may say they “wanted it,” but that’s only in a general sense. There were certainly many moments when they didn’t want to train and did anyways, and this is by definition a lack of motivation that they overcame with willpower. And yet, motivation is crowned the hero.

Motivation and resistance have an inverse relationship. If you’re fully motivated, you will have no resistance.  If you’re fully unmotivated, you will have a lot of resistance. To understand this, simply think of eating a meal. When you get hungry, you’re 100% motivated to eat. It’s not a decision you wrestle with because you want to do it. For more difficult tasks, it’s unlikely that you’ll be 100% motivated to do them, and that’s when you’ll face resistance (the amount of which varies).

The Opportunity of the Unmotivated

Unmotivated people aren’t victims. They are fortunate.

Every time you’re unmotivated, you have the opportunity to practice being unstoppable.

Think about the power of that last sentence. If you’re completely unmotivated and can act anyway, you cannot be stopped. It is the worst circumstance for action, and yet, it doesn’t stop you. Ironically, this very notion may motivate you, but don’t rely on that happening either. The best thing you can do is prove to yourself that you don’t need to feel it in order to act. This increased reliability creates self-trust and self-respect. You’ll become the person who always comes through.

I’m not saying that motivation is a bad thing. When you are motivated, act on that and be happy! But when you aren’t motivated, don’t worry about “getting motivated” and don’t sulk about your feelings. Instead, look at the opportunity you have to prove that you won’t be stopped.

The Unstoppable Navy SEAL

In the article I wrote about focusing on the process over circumstances, I talked about the incredible story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell.

Imagine this: You’re with three other soldiers, and 100+ enemy troops descend upon you. Not only do they outnumber you, but they have the high ground and are flanking you on both sides. You battle as best you can, but all your comrades are killed around you. You tumble down the mountain several times, sustain many painful injuries, and then a rocket-propelled grenade hits next to you, shredding your leg with shrapnel and sending you further down the mountain.

Think about how that would feel. It’s almost unfathomable how scary and devastating that would be not only physically but emotionally too. In a resilience story for the ages, Marcus survived, and wrote a great book about it. But let’s consider his motivational state.

Do you think Marcus felt like crawling on his stomach with a bloodied leg to find water? Most likely, he felt like dying, and I believe he even said that in the book. But his training taught him to be unstoppable in the worst circumstances imaginable. It saved his life or rather, it enabled him to save his own life.

What’s your situation? Are you 100% motivated, or are you unmotivated with an opportunity to show that you’re unstoppable? Being motivated is great, but when it isn’t there, show yourself and the world your true strength.

For more of the “nuts and bolts” strategies on how to overcome a lack of motivation, my book How to Be an Imperfectionist deeply explores the psychology needed to act in any circumstance. I’d also recommend reading my recent post on showing up.

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