What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

UPDATED: May 29, 2022
PUBLISHED: June 7, 2022
What to Do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything

In all of my interactions with people, I’ve never found anyone, regardless of their level of success, who doesn’t sometimes find themselves simply not wanting to do the things that they need to. It is a part of human nature for there to be times that, in spite of all that we need to do—and even desire to—we will find ourselves not wanting to do anything. What separates those who will become successful from those who will maintain the status quo is what we do at those very crucial moments in time. When we are making that decision, the successful choose to find the inner motivation that will enable us to conquer our complacency and move on in action. I find that I confront this issue in my life on a regular basis, so the following success strategies are not merely pie in the sky techniques, but proven ways to get yourself to get up and go even when you don’t feel like doing anything.

Honestly evaluate whether or not you need a break.

This is usually the first thing that I do when I find that I don’t want to get to a specific action. The fact is that at times we will have been working very hard and the lethargy we are feeling is really our body and emotions telling us that we simply need a break. This is where it takes real intellectual honesty, because sometimes even when we don’t need a break our mind is still telling us we do—and sometimes we do actually need a break. 

I’ll give you a good example—I don’t particularly like to exercise, but I do almost every day. Sometimes before going to the club I find myself thinking about how I just don’t feel like going. Most of the time I am just feeling lazy. However, sometimes I realize that my body needs a break. So from time to time, I will take a one- or two-day break from working out. The benefits of this are twofold: One, my body gets a break to regenerate itself. Two, after a day or two, I begin to miss my workout and eagerly anticipate returning to the gym. 

As another example—perhaps you are a salesman who has been phoning clients for a week straight, day and night. You wake up one morning and just don’t feel like doing it anymore. To give yourself time to rest, take a break for the morning. Go to a coffee shop and read the paper. Go to the driving range and hit some golf balls. Take a break and then get back to it!

Start small.

I’m at a point in my workout schedule where a typical day for me consists of 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise and about 30 minutes of weight lifting. So when I find myself not wanting to get up and go to the gym, I will sometimes make a commitment to go and just do a smaller workout. Instead of deciding not to go, I’ll commit to doing 15 to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise and 15 to 30 minutes of weight lifting. This is beneficial for two reasons. One, I actually get some exercise that day. And two, it keeps me from getting into a cycle of giving up when I don’t feel like moving toward action. 

Maybe you are a writer who simply doesn’t want to write today. Instead of the long day of writing you had planned, decide that you will at least outline a couple of new articles. You will still get some work done, and afterwards you may find that you put yourself into the writing mood after all.

Change your routine.

I have found that what keeps my mind healthy is what burns the most calories, like doing 30 to 45 minutes on the treadmill every day. Now let me be very blunt: I find running on the treadmill to be extremely boring. Usually I can get myself to do it, but sometimes I need to vary my routine. So instead of 30 to 45 minutes on a treadmill, I will break down my aerobic exercise routine into a number of different areas. I will do 10 to 15 minutes on treadmills, 10 to 15 minutes on the reclining cycle, 5 to 10 minutes on the rowing machine, 5 to 10 minutes on the stair stepper and then back onto the treadmill for 5 to 10 minutes. I still get my exercise, but I’m a lot less bored. 

Alternatively, maybe you are in construction and you have been working on the plumbing for a week, and it is getting monotonous. Don’t do the plumbing today! Go frame-in the office.

Reward yourself.

One way that I motivate myself to do something when I don’t feel like doing it is to tell myself that if I get through the work that I need to, I will give myself a little reward. For instance, I may tell myself if I get up and go to the club I can take 5 to 10 minutes off my treadmill exercise, which will shorten my workout routine, and I’ll allow myself to sit in the hot tub for a few extra minutes. Hey, it works! 

Maybe you are a mortgage broker who feels like sleeping in. Tell yourself that after the next three mortgages you close you will take your kids to the fair or your spouse to the movies. Maybe you’ll give yourself a night on the town with old friends.

Reconnect the action with pleasure rather than pain.

Psychologists have long told us that we humans tend to connect every action with either pleasure or pain. Tony Robbins has popularized this even further with something he calls “neural associations.” When we are finding ourselves lacking motivation, it is probable that we are associating the action that we are thinking about with pain rather than pleasure. For instance, when I’m considering not going to the health club on any given day, I am usually associating going and working out with having no time, the pain of exercising and weight lifting or the boringness of running on a treadmill for an extended period of time. What I can do to re-associate is to remind myself that by going in and doing my exercise I will feel better about myself, I will lose weight and I will live longer. This brings me pleasure. When we begin to run those kinds of tapes through our minds, we find our internal motivating force unleashed and change our attitude about the action that we are considering. 

Maybe you are a counselor who really doesn’t want to spend the day listening to people. Your association may be that it will be boring, or that you will be inside while it is sunny outside. Instead, reassociate yourself to the truth of the matter: Someone will be better off because of your care and concern. Think of your clients, the progression they have been making recently and how you have been a part of that.

This article was published in June 2009 and has been updated. Photo by G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock