Here's What Actually Causes A Lack Of Motivation

Your social media feeds may be full of "after" pictures and sweaty selfies time-stamped at 5:15 a.m. Then there's that cousin who worked two jobs to put himself through college, and your confident friend, who boldly asked for a big raise — and got it. As for you ... well, no one is tagging you with #goals. But why? It's not like you don't want to see your dreams come true. "Lack of motivation can crush you, literally cripple you from taking action," observed personal development expert Dean Bokhari on his blog.

There's actually a biological difference between people who are motivated and those who aren't. A study by Vanderbilt scientists, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that people who are go-getters have higher levels of dopamine in the reward and motivation portions of the brain, while those who were "slackers" had higher level of dopamine in the part of the brain that's associated with emotion and risk (via Vanderbilt University). "Say you're sitting at home on your couch in your pajamas, thinking you really should exercise, for example. Dopamine is what enables you to make the decision to be active," study researcher John Salamone, Ph.D., told Entrepreneur. "Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself."

Not having the right goals and plan to achieve them

We may understand the biology of why our brains aren't sending us signals to get off the couch, but the goals themselves may be what's actually holding us back, according to Bokhari. Not actually having a clear goal is the number one reason why people lack motivation. "Whenever I do goal-setting workshops with people or with organizations, one of the first questions I ask is, 'What do you want?' You'd be surprised by how many people are unable to give me a compelling response to that question," he explained.

Once you do know what you want, set some goals — but make sure they are goals that you can actually achieve. You want to choose something that actually excites you and carefully plan out all of the details required to accomplish that goal. For example, if you decide your goal is to write a novel, you need to think through the characters, the plot details, and the individual scenes before you start writing it (per Live Bold and Bloom). Set a writing schedule and honor it, and celebrate milestones — completing a chapter, nailing a character's voice — to keep yourself motivated. Visualizing the finish line also is a good strategy to keep yourself on task.

Thinking of yourself as a slacker

If you don't think of yourself as the kind of person who achieves goals, you won't be motivated to go after what you really want. "One reason you may have a lack of motivation might be because you're constantly identifying as someone who's 'unmotivated,'" Bokhari explained. Of all of the hurdles getting in the way of your success, this one is the trickiest, because it involves a complete reset of the way you've constructed your identity. According to psychology expert Courtney E. Ackerman, "the tendency to look ahead and persevere with the belief that you can reach your goals" is one of the keys to self-motivation (per Positive Psychology). 

But you don't have to go at this alone, Ackerman added. Surrounding yourself by people who believe in you can foster within you something called self-efficacy, which is the belief that you are capable of accomplishing your goals. "Having social support and connections with others is critical for feeling motivated and believing in yourself and your power to achieve," she noted.