Unraveling the Myth of Laziness: Understanding and Overcoming Low Motivation in Goal Achievement

Feeling "lazy"? Drive, grit and goals are the three key skills to restore your motivation.

Most of my coaching work is helping clients create and achieve their goals. But inevitably, we run into detours and speed bumps where they haven’t been able to reach a goal. I’ve found that whether it’s a big annual goal or a smaller daily goal, they’ll tell me it’s because of how lazy they are. They’ll go on to list all the ways in which they’re lazy, how frequently they’re lazy, and why they’ll continue to be lazy. They then use their laziness as an excuse for why they can’t do the very things in life they hired me to help them do.

But in reality, none of my clients are actually lazy. Just like everyone else, they just run into periods of low motivation. It’s unsustainable to constantly be moving toward our goals, to always feel passion for them, or to get up every single day and put in work towards something huge. We require rest, relaxation, and recovery. We’ll burn out if we don’t get down time.

And what most people don’t understand is that motivation can be dissected so that we can diagnose which part is broken and come up with a plan to fix it. In his book, The Art of Impossible, Steven Kotler identifies three main skill sets involved in motivation: drive, grit, and goals (2021). I use this framework when helping my clients get to the root of their “laziness” aka low motivation for their goals.

Diagnosis: Low Drive

Photo by Shane

When we don’t have a lot of drive, we don’t feel passionate about much or perhaps our passion has waned. Things that used to excite us no longer do. We find that we have to push ourselves to do something we previously looked forward to. We also might not see the purpose in our big goals anymore and start to wonder why we ever thought they were a good idea to begin with. Self-doubt creeps in as we question our skills, beliefs, and experience. We might lack a belief in ourselves and find that we want to retreat, making ourselves smaller and quieter as we do.

What To Do When Your Drive is Low

If you find that you’re low in passion right now, you’ll want to start by reconnecting with it. First, know that it’s perfectly normal for passions to ebb and flow. The social media posts about how if you find your passion everything will be easy and wonderful are myths. That’s not how passion works. Passions require maintenance and cultivation. We must work to keep them going. If you’re in the ebb part of your passion right now, just focus on cultivating it a bit. Let’s say you’re writing a book and normally love writing, but have recently found that you must force yourself to just sit in front of your laptop. Read blogs by writers, join a creative writing group, or focus on other aspects of writing that are still helpful, like journaling, reading, and listening to audio books.

Or maybe you realize that you’re unsure of your purpose right now and experiencing self-doubt. You’re questioning why you ever thought you’d be able to write a book to begin with or you find yourself thinking it won’t make a difference since no one reads anymore anyways. Take time each day to journal about your why. Use the following questions as your journal prompts:

  • Why did you set these goals to begin with?
  • What was your main reason for wanting to accomplish them?
  • How will your life (or the life of others) be different once you reach them?
  • What will the positive impact in the world be once you’ve reached what you set out to do?

Diagnosis: Low Grit

Photo by Pablo Ulloa

Grit is our passion and perseverance towards a goal (Angela Duckworth 2016). If we’re low in grit, we feel as though we just can’t keep going anymore, as if we don’t have the physical or mental stamina to continue. We find that we’re no longer checking items off our to-do list and struggle to be consistent with the goal plan. Perhaps you’re at a boring part of your goals, like having to write 500 words a day, or you’ve reached a plateau and you’re not seeing any progress. You might find distractions, like scrolling, alcohol, or binge-watching shows. You still want to reach your goal, you just can’t seem to get yourself moving. 

What To Do When You’re Low in Grit

Start by taking responsibility. Say to yourself or others, “I’m not being very gritty lately.” Just owning it can be a difference. Next, focus on small ways to increase your grit.

  • Blast yourself with cold water at the end of a shower and see how long you can tolerate it. The next shower, see if you can go one second longer than the previous time and keep adding on the seconds each shower.

You’ll also see an increase in grit when you eliminate some of the major distractions in your life.

  • If you find that you’re getting distracted by your phone, change it.
  • Delete apps that you tend to waste time on and clean up your screens by consolidating apps into shared folders.
  • Have a friend or roommate change your passwords so you can’t binge watch shows.

Grit is a muscle that can be exercised so when you’re weaker in this area, work on rebuilding your strength.

Diagnosis: Unclear Goals

When we’re not clear on our goals, we don’t have a sense of direction. We don’t know what steps to take or what actions will create the change we’re seeking. We find ourselves going in one direction for a bit, only to quickly change as soon as we run into an obstacle (or something more exciting). We might even know what we want to achieve, but since we haven’t mapped out the daily steps, we end up spending our time on whatever pops up on our calendars or inboxes.

You know you have unclear goals when you find yourself feeling lost with what to do next. You know you want to write a book, but you don’t know what that means for today. You don’t know how to track progress, or what you’d even be tracking to begin with. 

What To Do When Your Goals Aren’t Clear

If you know what your vision is but haven’t taken the time to break down the steps, start here.

  • Take yourself out for coffee and bring your laptop or journal.
  • Start with your vision or purpose and ask yourself what you’d need to accomplish in five years to make that vision happen. Write those things down and then ask yourself what you’d need to accomplish in a year to make the 5-year plan happen.
  • Take the yearly steps and break them down into quarterly, monthly, and weekly steps.

This can be a time consuming and tedious task, so if you need to do this over multiple coffee dates, do it. Just make sure you stick with it until every goal is broken down. Because once you have your weekly goals, you can create a daily to-do list. Now you know what to do each day to stay on course.

Repeat after me: “I’m not lazy. I’m just dealing with low motivation right now.”

This simple reframe can make all the difference. Instead of feeling helpless, we can diagnose the area we’re struggling with and create positive change. Identify if you’re lacking in drive, grit, or goals and then get to work on building your passion or purpose, increasing your grit, or getting clear on your goals. All while reminding yourself it’s a motivation issue, not a personality trait. And then watch yourself make progress.


Duckworth, Angela (2016). Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Scribner.

Kotler, Steven (2021). The Art of the Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer. Harper.

Recognized nationally for her expertise, Dr. Melanie has been invited to the White House to discuss the paramount importance of teen mental health. To learn more about improving your mental health and achieving your goals, check out Dr. Melanie McNally's newest book, The Emotionally Intelligent Teen.

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