Not feeling “in the mood” for certain tasks happens to everyone now and then. But for people with depression, low motivation can be a chronic challenge.

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Most people have a hard time finding motivation from time to time. But for people with depression, it can be even harder to find motivation to tackle everyday tasks and personal goals.

The range of depression symptoms can be complex and may impact the mind and body beyond simply feeling sad. For some people living with depression, the will to do anything — even things that might help you feel better — could be affected.

Yet, depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world, affecting more than 264 million people globally.

Common negative “motivators” that work for some people — like stress and anxiety about deadlines and due dates — might not work to motivate people experiencing low motivation with depression.

This can make daily life challenging for people with depression, especially if those around you don’t fully understand your condition or why you may sometimes have trouble with motivation.

Not feeling “in the mood” to go to work or take on mundane tasks can be typical for most people every now and then. But when a lack of motivation becomes a chronic issue that gets in the way of responsibilities, it may be connected to a mental health condition.

In fact, lack of motivation can be a key symptom of depression. Low motivation might even present as a “red flag” for doctors and therapists to inquire about other symptoms of depression.

At the heart of motivation is cognitive control, which is your ability to direct emotional and cognitive systems towards a goal or reward.

Someone with high cognitive control might find it easier to motivate themselves to accomplish a goal, while someone with lower cognitive control may find it challenging to visualize and create an action plan to reach a goal.

A 2019 study demonstrated that depression might interfere with cognitive control, which means that experiencing depression may make it more difficult to fully focus on pursuing a goal.

For example, if you’re actively looking for a job during an episode of depression, you may struggle to apply for jobs because it may be harder to visualize the future goal of being interviewed and possibly offered a job.

External factors

Certain external factors could also play a role in a lack of motivation, particularly stress levels.

A 2016 study surveying college students looked at the relationship between intrinsic academic motivation, depression, and stress.

Researchers found a negative correlation with academic motivation for both depression and stress. Participants’ academic motivation decreased proportionally when they were experiencing symptoms of depression or an increase in stress.

When stress levels suddenly increase in people with depression — like they might with the realization of potentially being unable to pay rent or bills while unemployed — you might become even less motivated to look for a job.

People who have been diagnosed with depression or think they may be experiencing symptoms could notice a change in their motivation to complete common tasks.

The same tasks that may have felt “easy” before might seem like they take too much effort now. In fact, this change might be a symptom of depression.

One of the biggest symptoms of depression is no longer finding excitement or interest in activities you used to enjoy.

If you’re finding it difficult to get motivated to do a task — especially one that used to make you happy — it might be an indicator of depression.

Other features of depression relating to motivation can include:

  • feeling empty
  • frequently low moods
  • feeling hopeless about the future
  • having low energy or feeling tired
  • trouble remembering things
  • difficulty focusing

Motivation and control

If you have been feeling unmotivated, it may be the result of depression and not necessarily something within your immediate control.

In this case, telling yourself things like, “Just get up and do it,” or, “Just cheer up,” could be unhelpful or negative self-talk.

Depression is a complex mental health condition that can’t be treated with motivational statements.

If you think you may be experiencing lack of motivation as a symptom of depression, it may be beneficial to talk with a physician or therapist who can accurately diagnose your symptoms as a possible mental health condition.

Finding motivation can be difficult for people living with depression. However, you’re not alone.

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world. Effective treatments are available, and many people with depression regain their motivation and live productive, well-balanced lives.

Finding a treatment plan that works best for you to manage depression symptoms can often make all the difference in regaining motivation.

Talking to a mental health professional can be a good starting place in addressing symptoms. They may recommend common treatment options for depression, such as:

You may have to try multiple things or a combination of things before finding a strategy that works best for you.

Still, there are some easy things you can try right now to find motivation when you’re depressed.

Set achievable goals

It takes more cognitive control to build and execute a large plan, so completing big tasks can seem overwhelming with depression. It may be difficult to visualize the end goal — even if it feels far away.

If you have a big task to complete, try to not think of the project as a whole. Instead, consider breaking it down into smaller parts.

Start with just one, small task. Then move to the second, third, and so on.

Ultimately, you’ll have completed a large project or task by breaking it down into smaller, more achievable goals.

It may also be helpful to do things that you used to enjoy, even if you don’t necessarily feel motivated or “in the mood.” They may not necessarily bring immediate happiness or enjoyment when you’re depressed, but it can still be helpful for low moods.

Reward yourself

After setting goals, decide on appropriate rewards to help you cross the finish line. They don’t need to be big, elaborate, or expensive.

Rewards can be as small as:

  • making yourself a cup of coffee
  • playing with your cat
  • taking a few minutes to browse social media

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you can look forward to after the task is complete.

Go for a quick walk

Research has shown that brief, moderate exercise could enhance your mood with both short and long-term effects.

Going for a walk doesn’t have to be a big time commitment. Focus on smaller goals, like walking around the block for at least 10 minutes.

Set a small goal you can visualize and if you have the energy and desire to keep walking, then go for it!

Build a realistic schedule

In addition to reducing your motivation, depression can impact your cognitive control. So, you may not always know what things to focus on or forget to do daily tasks.

By creating a schedule for the day, you can write a checklist of things to do along with the times you should be doing each task.

Over time, your list will more accurately reflect your routine as you revise it. You may even feel a sense of accomplishment when looking back at a completed (or almost fully completed) day.

Be kind to yourself

Sure, some people thrive under a tight deadline. Some are motivated by knowing their boss will be upset if they don’t complete the task on time. But if you experience depression, that person might not be you. If you deal with depression with low motivation and also know that stress and pressure aren’t motivators for you, it may be beneficial to avoid them.

Thinking negative thoughts can be easy when you’re stressed or depressed, but that often leads to:

  • depression and anxiety
  • lack of motivation
  • low self-worth

Instead, try granting yourself a little self-compassion and kindness.

While your depression may be something you need to work through with your doctor or therapist, it’s not an unscalable barrier. Depression is highly treatable, and you can manage symptoms with the right treatment strategies.

It can be typical for people living with depression to sometimes feel a lack of motivation. This may make it more challenging for some to complete everyday tasks or accomplish goals.

Depression is a complex mental health condition. Experiencing low motivation isn’t a reflection of character or work ethic. Rather, difficulties with motivation could be a symptom of depression in and of itself.

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions worldwide, yet it is a treatable disorder.

Many people with depression who experience low motivation are able to treat their symptoms and feel motivated again. Understanding and accepting the link between depression and low motivation is often the first step toward healing. And there are manageable steps you can take now to feel better.

If you’re experiencing low motivation or other symptoms of depression, you may consider talking to your physician or mental health professional about treatment options.

For many people, treatment plans for depression and low motivation may include:

  • therapy
  • medication
  • self-care

A combination of these treatment options is often the most effective course of action in treating depression. But like all mental health conditions, you may need to try different things to find a treatment plan that works best for you.

If you’re ready to get help for depression, visit the APA’s psychologist locator to find support.