What to Do When You Don't Want to Do Anything

Activities to do when you lack motivation

Verywell / Nez Riaz

Everyone experiences a lack of motivation from time to time. On days like this, you might feel tired, irritable, or just unable to stir your usual interest in the things you typically enjoy. 

Occasional periods of feeling this way are perfectly normal. It might mean that you're under extra stress or trying to deal with something out of the ordinary in your life. These feelings are temporary and usually nothing serious. They can sometimes be a sign that you need to step back, take a break, and let your mind and body rest.

At other times, these lingering feelings where you don’t feel like doing anything can be symptoms of more serious problems such as depression or some other type of mood disorder. If you are experiencing a loss of interest in things you usually find pleasurable or a sense of apathy about life in general that lasts for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.

If these feelings seem like a more temporary state of mind, there are some things you can do to feel better and regain your motivation.

Take a Break

Feeling like you don’t want to do anything can be a sign that you're stressed or burned out. Sometimes taking a break and spending some time taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do. 

Consider giving yourself a “mental health day” where you let go of your expectations of what you think you are supposed to accomplish. Instead, focus on doing things that help you feel restored and comforted. 

Let yourself enjoy a nap or lounge with a cozy blanket and your favorite book. The key is to spend this time relaxing and letting your mind and body rest.

Sometimes some fairly simple self-care can help put you in a better frame of mind. Try taking a shower, do some stretching, and have a glass of water. 

Treat Yourself Kindly

Self-compassion involves not only being kind to yourself but also understanding that your experiences are part of being human and being mindful of your own emotions, the good and the bad.

Showing yourself some compassion and consideration can have important mental health benefits. Research has found that when people show compassion to themselves, it can help alleviate the negative effects of stress, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and lower overall psychological distress.

So if you're having one of those days when you really don't feel like doing anything, treat yourself with a little kindness. Accept it, accept yourself, and allow yourself space, time, and things that you need.

Showing yourself such self-compassion has actually been found to help improve motivation when you are struggling with challenges.

Go for a Walk

Taking a stroll combines the benefits of exercise and spending time outdoors. Exercise has been shown to be effective in both the treatment and prevention of depressive symptoms.

Research also suggests that spending time outdoors has a wide range of mental health benefits. One 2019 study found that contact with nature was linked to better well-being, better mood, more positive social interactions, and increased happiness.

So if you're battling a low mood and poor motivation, taking even an outdoor walk might go a long way toward helping you feel better, whether it’s a casual stroll around the block or a hike on a local trail.

Talk to Someone

When you’re in a funk, reaching out to another person can be a great way to break out of an uninspired mindset. Think about who might be a good source of support in moments like this.

Who can you talk to who might understand what you are feeling? Are you looking for someone who can listen or do you want someone who can inspire you to get moving?

If you aren’t in the mood to hang out with a friend or if your friend is unavailable, sometimes just getting out and just being in the presence of other people can be helpful.

Enjoying a cup of coffee in a busy coffee shop, smiling at people in the grocery store, or saying hi to a neighbor are all simple social experiences that can help shift your mood.

Plan Something

Even if you don’t have the motivation to work on something at the moment, that doesn’t mean you can’t start making plans for what you might like to do in the future. Research suggests that mental imagery, or visualizing things that you want to do, helps increase the motivation, expected pleasure, and anticipated reward of those planned activities.

Doing something like planning a trip or some other activity can give you something to look forward to and get excited about. Thinking about a future project or goal might involve doing things like visualizing the outcome, planning out the steps involved, or even creating a mood board for inspiration. 

Start Small

When it comes to finding the energy to do something, getting started is often the hardest part. So if you're struggling with the doldrums, starting with something small can help. 

Instead of getting overwhelmed by a mountain of tasks you don't have the mental or physical energy to tackle, pick one small thing that you can do—then do it. 

Easy tasks you might try to tackle include:

  • Doing the dishes
  • Making the bed
  • Folding a load of laundry
  • Answering one email
  • Scheduling one appointment
  • Clearing off the counters
  • Paying a bill

Chores can be boring, but even the easiest tasks can start to feel overwhelming if you let them pile up. Starting with one small task is sometimes enough to get the ball rolling. Once you get done with that easy chore, you might think that tackling one more might not be so bad.

And if you decide to stop after just one, that's fine too! Give yourself some grace and do what you can, when you can.

Write in a Journal

When you are struggling with difficult emotions, it can sometimes be helpful to write about them. Some research suggests that journaling can a useful mental health tool.

Often described as expressive writing or writing therapy, this approach has been shown in various studies to help decrease blood pressure, relieve anxiety symptoms, and reduce depressive symptoms. 

Spending some time writing in a journal can be a great opportunity to reflect on what you are feeling and explore some of the reasons you might be feeling that way.

Find What Works for You

If these ideas aren’t working for you, start looking for something that is right for your situation and what you are feeling. Some strategies that might help inspire you on those days where you don't feel like doing anything include:

  • Listing steps needed to achieve a goal
  • Listing to music that inspires you
  • Focusing on positive thoughts
  • Reading a book or listen to an audiobook
  • Cooking or ordering your favorite meal
  • Practicing deep breathing
  • Meditating

If you’ve tried these and other things and still feel lethargic and listless, it might be time to take a look at your symptoms and decide if the problem might be something more serious.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares a way to boost your mood when you're feeling down.

Assess Your Symptoms

If your mood persists and is accompanied by other symptoms, it may be a sign of depression. Some other symptoms to watch for include:

  • Irritability
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Persistent low mood

Reach out to your doctor or therapist for help, which might involve therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of these approaches.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

On days when you don't feel like doing anything, check in with yourself to make sure that you have the things you need to feel ok. Sometimes these moods can strike as a result of hunger, tiredness, thirst, or even just feeling cooped up indoors.

Consider your current state and make sure that you address any immediate physical or mental needs. By taking steps to shift your mood and care for yourself, you may find yourself feeling more inspired, motivated, and interested.

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