Not feeling motivated to work? Strategies to achieve your goals

Not feeling motivated to work? Strategies to achieve your goals

Do you find that it is difficult to get started with your work? Does it feel like hard work, or are you unsure what you have to do to complete the task? We tend to feel demotivated when we are unclear about what we have to do and cannot see a clear path to make progress. Furthermore, it is harder to get started when we are tired because we do not have the energy to focus, be creative, and use our problem-solving skills.  

Research on motivation shows that it is best to nurture our intrinsic motivation. We feel motivated when we feel engaged in the task. We can dedicate our efforts to the task when we trust our abilities, have a sense of purpose and think that it is meaningful.

It is best to anticipate setbacks and the unexpected and learn to deal with the emotions we may experience when things do not work out as we expect them to (Deci & Ryan, 2000). When reaching a “state of flow,” we feel like time disappears as we immerse ourselves in what we are doing (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992)

We are motivated by the desire to be in charge of our lives, develop our abilities, and fulfil our potential (Pink, 2009). We are increasingly influenced by the ever-present digital devices and access to technology in our modern world. We expect websites to load up in seconds and instant communication 24/7, so we can get impatient and forget that learning takes time.

When we do not get fast results, it can lower our motivation and productivity. We need to learn to manage our expectations to prevent this from happening – good work takes time and effort.

When we identify what matters to us, we can spark our curiosity and interest in a task. So when we notice our motivation decreasing, it is helpful to explore the things that prevent us from starting to work on the task.

If it is boring, we can explore what makes it tedious, and if it is something we must do, we can focus on the benefits once it is completed.

Dweck (2017) developed the concept of a growth mindset based on research indicating that our brains are malleable and that we can develop skills through learning and practice.

By maintaining a flexible attitude and viewing mistakes and setbacks as part of the learning process. Our beliefs about the tasks shape whether we attempt them and persevere until completion. If we think it is achievable, we will engage with the task, but we limit ourselves if we believe we cannot do it.

Mental contrasting is another approach we can use to get us to stick with our goals. Oettingen’s research indicated that when we focus on wishful thinking and hoping to get good grades or a positive result, our mind interprets it as if we already have achieved our goal reducing our efforts.

However, in addition to dreaming about what we want to achieve, we also need to identify the obstacles that could prevent us from reaching our goals. We can then be prepared, increasing the likelihood of achieving them (Oettingen, 2014).

For example, we may be fearful of making mistakes or worry about possible negative consequences. We can use our capacity to visualise and contrast what we hope to achieve with potential obstacles to plan for them and be prepared. Thinking about possible problems is not that we are being pessimism, but realistic.

We feel more motivated when we boost our self-efficacy – believing that we can manage the task. We can strengthen our efforts by maintaining an optimistic attitude and expecting that we will make progress with our efforts. (Bandura, 1977).

Our expectations influence our motivation. If we think it is too complicated and believe it should not be so hard, it can affect our confidence in our ability. As a result, we may not take on this task for fear of failure. Dweck identified this behaviour as resulting from having a fixed mindset, where the belief is that when having to do hard work may be a sign of not being capable (Dweck, 2017),

Therefore we disengage because we do not like to risk not achieving the task and feeling disappointed. Having a fixed mindset is limiting and prevents our growth – we do not seek opportunities such as completing a degree or going for a new job.

If we expect to achieve the goal, we are more likely to increase our efforts as we practice our skills and notice improvement, and our confidence in our ability grows. We align our actions with our identity as a person who commits and can achieve meaningful goals. 

Goals need to be moderately challenging to engage us. If they are too easy, we do not learn or develop skills, and if they are too complicated, we are unlikely to follow through.

We soon get bored with easy tasks because they do not stimulate our curiosity – we need a challenge, but not too difficult that we do not feel we can do it (Locke and Latham, 2006).

We need to have some element of self-control to achieve our goals. Like a muscle, its strength varies from moment to moment. When we are tired, we are less likely to control the impulse to do something less demanding than continue to persevere with the task.

We can develop our sense of self-control through practice. We need the energy to regulate our emotions so that we can tolerate frustration, have the ability to deal with distractions and persevere with our efforts.(Halverson, 2010)


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1992) Flow. The classic work on how to achieve happiness. London: Ryder.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000) “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions.” Contemporary Educational

Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Updated edition. New York: Ballantine Books.

Halvorson, H. G.(2010) Succeed. How we can reach our goals. New York: Hudson Street Press.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265–268.

Oettingen, G. (2015) Rethinking positive thinking. Inside the new science of motivation. New York: Current.

Pink, D. (2009) Drive. The surprising truth about what motivates us. Edinburgh: Canongate.

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