“Motivation Fatigue”: When trying harder isn’t an option for you

burn out in women

Some of you may have heard of terms such as “compassion fatigue” or “decision fatigue”. Those are very real forms of exhaustion that come from overusing a particular skill.

I recently realized that most of my clients come to me with what I will call “motivation fatigue”. It is a place where you feel like you are buried in a pile of shoulds, and feel totally lost as to which voice to listen to. I know this experience well, being a recovering over-doer myself. Sometimes I end up in motivation “re-hab” because I now know the signs of motivation fatigue for myself. Check out the picture above of my recent bout of “motivation fatigue”. Dirty lunch container, cluttered purse, unfiled papers, and no motivation to change a thing!

Motivation fatigue is when you become tired of trying to be motivated. It might be related to a specific challenge or goal you have been working on for some time such as weight loss, having a cleaner house, staying on top of certain things etc. You feel like you have lost hope. You scroll past the articles with tips, solutions or suggestions. Maybe you even release a sigh, sneer or a carefully selected swear word as you pass it.


It might be more pervasive. You find that, overall, you aren’t really interested in improving on a whole lot of things. You feel lost, unsure where to turn next. You have a to do list, but you don’t really refer to it much, because it just makes you feel more tired. You might start to feel like you suck at everything – being a mom, a wife, being a good employee. It feels like things are slipping, and you think you should do something, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. The energy is not there. You go to your energetic bank account to make a with drawl in order to accomplish a certain task, or give a little more love or attention to someone or something, and you are not only in over draft, but the bank machine takes your card away!!! Now what?

Well, when it first happens, you might go to all of the tools that have worked before. After all, maybe you are telling yourself that all you need is a few good nights of sleep, some self care. You book a massage, argue with your husband about helping out more, take a break from the kids etc. So these are often the first things people do.

But, often these things aren’t enough. Motivation fatigue is the deep loss of wanting to do anything and requires more than just a band-aid solution. This is usually when client’s end up in my office. They are done trying, but they need something. Sometimes they say, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. I used to be so organized and so productive” or “The scary thing is that I feel like part of me doesn’t even care” .

The scary thing for most people isn’t that they are overwhelmed, feeling disorganized or unproductive – it is that they have lost their motivation to do anything about it! This is the scariest thing. Just think about it. We all have images, stories and anecdotes of what happens to people when they stop being motivated. Scary images of losing your job, ruining relationships, losing financial security etc.

 “I keep thinking that I should be doing x y z, but I just can’t bring myself to do it”

What I have learned about “motivation fatigue” from my own experience and in working with clients is:

  • It’s not depression. It’s a lack of overall motivation or energy to do things that you were taught make you a more worthy person
  • It comes in cycles – often after a difficult/traumatic event or life stage eg loss of a loved one/pet, postpartum phase etc
  • It can be a huge tsunami of motivation loss eg:  a sense of feeling lost, alone, in a bubble etc. for a period of several months
  • It can be a small blip that occurs for a few hours or a couple of days at certain times of your menstrual cycle, after a stressful few days, finishing a demanding project etc.

If you are in a cycle of experiencing a loss of motivation, I can tell you that you are definitely not alone. In the busy-ness of our western culture, people are taking stock of their lives and massive amounts of people are wondering what to do next. They are asking themselves if this is all there is. If you are in this place, where you feel like you suck at lots of things right now, you feel bone tired, and feel unable to find the energy to fix things, it’s time to find yourself again. And you cannot find yourself by working harder!

The “ answer” to motivation fatigue: Motivation Re-hab

“Motivation re-hab” is a mental and emotional place we go, to be fully supported while we “de-tox” from overdoing and from too many pressures and obligations. A place to heal a broken body and mind. A place where you don’t need to perform.  A place where you are loved for your being.

When we are dealing with motivation fatigue, we often find ourselves having bursts of trying harder, followed by a total crash. We are applying the same rules to ourselves that got us lost in the first place. Rules about what smart people do, what it means to be productive , how to be loved and respected etc. So the answer isn’t to do more of the same, it is to be more of what we really need. How do you want to feel as you move through your life?

We cannot begin to feel better, when we are too busy trying to keep it all together. Motivation fatigue is actually a “good thing”. It helps us stop trying to keep the status quo, that is no longer working for us.

You might “check in” to re-hab for a day, a week or for a process of several months. As a coach, my role is to help you gently peel away the layers of guilt, self-criticism, fear & over-extension , so you can begin to feel joy, lightness and clarity returning to your mind, body and spirit. This is our birth-right. I can hold the thread, and we can approach it with simplicity, gentleness and immense compassion.

This place is a threshold. Thresholds are amazing “in –between” places. We are not who we were before, but also not yet who we are to become. This courageous place of even contemplating becoming more whole, is not for those who aren’t ready to let go of old, self-limiting beliefs. It is a place where we begin to acknowledge that we might have to disappoint a couple of people to be more true to our authentic needs. It is the place where we begin to listen to a healthy internal voice that has our well-being as it’s only goal. It is the place where we feel more energy, more inspiration and less fear and tension. It is a place for those who are ready and hungry for a life, based on inspiration rather than soul sucking, life damaging, over-doing.

We can move quickly or take small, tiny steps – it doesn’t matter, because you set the pace. Learn which voice you want to listen to. Learn to trust yourself. Ready?

1 Comment

  1. Amanda C. on December 7, 2016 at 3:13 am

    Great article! Just went through this process with Nelia’s guidance at it was absolutely the best thing I could have done for myself. Self-limiting beliefs were overshadowing my creative energy and through this discovery process I was able to shed so much worry and offload many responsibilities to make space for what I NEEDED in my life. Now I feel so much more enthusiastic and excited about what each day offers, and the guilt of not doing all the ‘shoulds’ is all but gone.

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