Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: How do you all deal with lack of motivation?
137 points by wintosh on Aug 6, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments
I remember being an extremely motivated and driven individual until 1-2 years ago. Then came a string of personal issues that turned my world upside down(including my realization that my father was a terrible abuser). Now that things are settled, I have a very strong urge to get up and chase my dreams again , however, I find this invisible force just not letting me do anything. I do not feel motivated at all.I wonder if anyone here has been in a similar state and how did he/she got out of it?

PS: I am a Coder

Visionary, Discipline, Reflection, Release


I don't care what random people think of me, I know what my dreams and aspirations are. I intend on getting there regardless if people support me or not. I've been told I couldn't do it many times in my life and that motivates me even further.


Working out almost everyday forces me to be productive. Motivation is weak and short-sighted, you need discipline. Discipline in building a passion that you actually care about. This also means getting something done everyday. I keep a daily log and sum of my weekly snapshots of things I achieved that week.

I have two military-like disciplinary habits I never ever let go - this is daily journalling (mental) and workout out (physical). These two disciplines alone drive every other discipline I've reinforced, including time management, staying on track, keeping up with friends, etc. The moment I let these 2 habits go is the moment I start losing sight of what matters.


You need to reflect on things you've achieved, it builds a sense of reward for the work you put in. This means sharing knowledge, sharing projects, sharing things you've done only after the fact with others. Whenever I get lost, I look back in my life and realize I've done way harder things that pushes me to move forward.


Write down what's holding you back. I'm impatient & stubborn, sometimes I get really annoyed at incompetent vendors and time-draining clients. I just let it all out in my daily journalling and sometimes I'll just write things on a piece of paper over and over again and then shred it to pieces.

Also, when I daily journal, I write exactly what technical challenges I face everyday. Then I write what 1-3 things I hope to achieve that day, usually its intuitive, I usually come up with it the same day.

When I get stuck I just write my thoughts down in journal form so I can analyze the situation a bit better.

How did you learn how to journal? There are countless quality resources for developing a solid workout routine, but I have no idea how to start a journal and every time I try, I have no idea what to write and there is no structure, which makes me give up after some time.

I went on a long tangent but let me answer your specifically:

I think its important to constantly experiment to see what works for you. Starting simple is usually best

I would take a moleskin notebook, and just treat 1 page of journalling = 1 day. Start doing this everyday. You'll soon realize how inefficient this is, and move onto something easier (e.g. a computer) for journalling

But you learned an important lesson on journalling, which is the commitment and discipline. I still journal this way, specifically my workout training logs. 3 full days of workout = 1 page in my notebook. E.g. legs/abs (top of page), chest/triceps/shoulders(middle of page), and upperback/biceps (top of page).

Whenever I think of structure, I usually think of universal ways to organize things. There's two ways to organize things



When you journal, or write blog posts, this is always TIME-based organization. This mean you organize things chronologically

PLACE is when you take notes for some computer science online course. Its always organized by some folder. You can sort these A-Z, that's also a PLACE parameter too.

Something that is organized by TIME, cannot also be organized by PLACE on the same level. You can organize a PLACE (moleskin notebook) for your journal, and then on a sublevel by TIME(each chronological page is new day)

I hope this makes sense

I use an app called dynalist, I use it to keep track of all my sprint notes

I wrote this sometime last year, but its a general gist of how I do things


This is how I generally organize myself


I quadruple gif scrubbed this here so you can see the big picture. I have some personal information that I didn't really want to share


Each of those little red dots = one week's worth of notes. The notes above the first little red dot is today's notes.

When I expand the list item, those are all my daily sprint logs of things I achieved and major notable things that happened during the day. There all organized with the latest date appearing up top.

I organized my weekly logs (those red dots) the same way. The farther you scroll down the page, the more older weekly snapshots you see

What you see on my left side are all my notes, some are courses, some are project documents. What your seeing on the right is just my journal notes only

some of my notes are journal notes is just what people do with rubber duckies. I talk to myself asking myself things I need to do. Today, this is what my journal notes looked like:


3PM @codepen

- [screenshot] of work done with a frontend component I made on codepen

1PM @vendor-tag

- Meeting with {{XYZ}} vendor

- {{XYZ}} brought up a great point today about some specific technical {{ABC}} requiring 1000 {{GHI}} stuff.


- I need to start working on things today. Stop posting things on hackernews

- Time to start driving forward and pushing through things that matter

- What do I need to do today?

- Catchup on {{client}} work

- With with {{dev}} and checking up on his templating work


I find its extremely helpful for me to write down, the things I have to do everyday. I don't plan very far ahead, I usually know what needs to be done in my head (because I have a vision of what the final project should look like etc).

My notes are generally simple and to the point. I put most of my team communication and specific notes on slack though. Sometimes I'll have more fleshed out journal notes, but those end up becoming blog posts generally.

I have a macro that makes me a timestamp

I wrote about what macros I use here


I have some more generic posts on how I use dynalist (my notetaking app of choice) here






I don't think it matters what noteapp you use honestly, I think its important to stick with a convention and roll with it. You can just do things on a hand-written journal and many people are happy with that

Just so you know I spent literally 9 months deciding on my notetaking workflow before commiting to the one I have right now. I have been using this workflow for about a year now with no issues. I tested every workflow I could possibly imagine, this one works great for me and I'm commiting through with it. You can go through my thought process here, I kind of spammed the forums with my silly ideas. http://talk.dynalist.io/u/Vincent_Tang/activity

I try to jot important notes as things happen. I realize that notetaking is technically a waste of time, so I treat it like I do with email - only do it 3 or 4times a day, unless I'm taking course notes.

Same with hackernews, I realize that posting things on hackernews is a waste of time but I still do it all the same. I just limit myself to 3 or 4 blocks throughout the day and keep it at just that. But it does help me write and come up with ideas I want to blog about later

What's really great is I can go to week15 of this year and say I did {{ABC}} stuff and recount everything I did that week. Its really interesting and puts things in perspective how far along I've come, because I simply can't remember the little things I did.

This also forces me to do


- Visionary is just one sentence describing what I like doing. Its building solutions and software to empower business and peoples to do things that matter. I commit this to memory, all my other visionary "mission" statements are derived from this, including all the goals I wish to achieve (e.g. do a triathlon, do a full handstand, do an L-sit, build the app I see myself using everyday, finish this work project).

- Discipline is done through forcing myself to make a daily log everyday. I'm a slight perfectionist so I get anal when I see I forgot to log a days worth of notes. It happens, I just recount it after the fact.

- Reflection is when I also wrap up and condense 7 days worth of notes into that one giant red bulletpoint. But those are just short summaries, I write a blog post every week or 2 and make a commitment to do so. I have 100 drafts on backlog and its growing so I always have something to reflect on, either something recent or months/years ago

- Release happens when shit happens. I just write my frustrations either in the app, or just on a piece of paper. Then I collapse those notes / shred it, etc. I talk to friends about some of the issues I'm facing for advisement, etc. But my notes are always a place I can go to for a sense of relief because it will always be a place where I can vent, this is not so true for friends & family whom I don't want to burden, etc.

A combination of all of these is how I never get imposter syndrome either anymore or get stuck in paralysis analysis.


Last note is I am not the best writer and I continue to strive to improve. I really enjoy the writings of this person here. http://devonzuegel.com/post/memex-my-personal-knowledge-base

I gained a lot of insights on how to journal and write in general, this person also gets featured on hackernews every now and then

I think its important to make sure you have people you can follow, read, and learn from that are better at you in their respective fields. They don't have to people you know personally, there's tons of great youtubers and writers out there that I really enjoy following.

For me, I drive inspiration from these people. I keep a list of these people on twitter. Its like 100 people from different fields and industries

Also, I want to point out the way I do things here doesn't work for everyone. It requires a specific type of personality IMO. I am naturally introverted, so someone who is extroverted might not benefit as much from this setup.

Thanks - this is all good info that I'm going to take some time to absorb.

No problem glad you found it useful :)

I don't think being a coder has anything to do with your problem. It is common across all lifestyles.

Personally I had several episodes in my life when even getting out of bed was far too much bother. Two things worked for me.

1. Getting out of the house and going for long walks. Sometimes ended up sitting on some park bench and sobbing for a while. But then a bird would chirp, a toddler would stumble by or even an insect would buzz. When you hit rock bottom, there is only one way ... UP!

2. Writing long rants in a spiral bound notebook. Pages and pages. I called it my "Bitch Journal". I would go through it from time to time and write over, scribble, etc. Amazingly it eventually gave me clarity on what was hurting the most and what I could choose to do about it. Many months later I burnt the damn book and it was a most cathartic experience.

When I feel down and unmotivated, I remind myself that it is darkest before dawn.

These are tough days bro but hold on to any thread that keeps some spark going. A few things that helped me

* do only things that truly made you feel good even if you don’t find joy in it now.

* take up work that is relatively easy for you so you keep seeing some progress.

* don’t carry others burden

* lower expectations from others and yourself for sometime

* let your yes be yes and no be no

* if you are finding it hard to focus see a doc and convince him to give you some modafinil. Please promise yourself that you wont become an addict. (I pretended to have adhd and the doc prescribed me retalin, i am alergic to modafinil). This may not be good advice but it helped me not to loose my job back then. Now I have found my way to the otherside and I am grateful to that doc and that drug.

* find joy in simple things. Make sure to notice the trees around you.

* believe that you will find your inspiration again and you will.

Hope you find help.

I had struggled with such problem as well. These are how I got out:

1. Coming up with internal dreams. This is something internal that when I thought about, I'm convinced I'd like to accomplish it. Ideally this is something whose cause you truly believe in, instead of just short-term impulses. To distinguish the two is pretty easy. Impulses have short lives while dreams last long. Even when you try to forget it, at times you'd still think about your dreams.

2. Make plans. When I got motivations from step 1 above, I don't code or execute right away. Instead, I create plan and list out what's needed to accomplish it. I know this isn't the most fun thing to do, especially when you're very excited about something, but I can't thank enough the plans I made.

3. Create schedule. I force myself to spend 4 hours of productive coding every day. No matter how I feel, I have to spend at least 4 hours. Whenever I feel very unmotivated, I simply work like a robot following to the plans created earlier, regardless of my feelings. I always reminded myself that back when I was working in a company, I would do things I didn't like due to the sense of responsibility anyway, so why would I make excuses now? Interestingly, often I ended up spending more than the obligatory 4 hours because I ended up being very motivated after I forced myself to just do it.

4. Exercise, stay healthy, and keep a balanced life. This is often overlooked, but this is very important. One can't just work tirelessly like a robot. It's much more sustainable when everything is balanced. It's like once you take enough vacation, you feel like going back to work and when you actually do, you're much more productive

Great list. I would put #4 at #1. Your body is where "you" happen. If it is unhealthy, it becomes harder to do things in general.

Since switching to a more healthy lifestyle, doubling or trippling the amount of exercise (walking, bicycling) I do, I feel 100x better than before and can do much better work every day. I also am able to stand up at 8am instead of 10am, just because my body is just so much fitter and ready to take on the day.

I can't emphasize this enough, take care of your body and the mind will follow.

Change your setting either with people or places. You're likely sitting at home or always on your computer doing the same thing. That's not helping anyone. If you change your setting it'll also change you personally. I echo everything else related to sleep, exercise, and diet, but besides that just go meet people or work out of different places. It'll work odd wonders because biologically you're predisposed that way.

You got used to being unmotivated. As others mentioned before, you need a bit of discipline. But discipline alone is not the point. I would recommend using productivity techniques. Checklists might be to easy but getting things done or eat that frog are great methods. At the beginning it´s hard, but as you constantly use them, it will become a habit. And, for me, it´s a great feeling and boosts my motivation when I see what I have already finished or when I´m able to set one task to "done". I personally use getting things done and it really helps to stay focused, you can also use "time blocking" to concentrate on your tasks or to make sure you got time to do nothing at all.

If you need more info about all the methods, have a look at our blog, there are articles about many possibilities to boost productivity and enhance your motivation: https://zenkit.com/en/blog

Something I started a month ago and works better than thougt:

Planning the week ahead.

Often I get home and don't wanna do anything suddenly. When I plan it, I come home with something specific.

Also I proactively think about people/friends I haven't seen for a while and ask them out to do stuff.

Strange thing proactively planning a week ahead, checking out events, movies, etc.

What helps me most is to focus on the steps. This invisible force you describe is nothing that prevents you from doing anything (based on my experience, I can't know how you perceive it), but a step you want to skip, but are not able to.

You mentioned you have a strong urge to get up since everything is settled. Maybe this could be the invisible force?

You think (based on general believe how things should be done) that you need to get up since everything is fine, because that's what people do, right? Things are settled and you want to chase your dreams, thus this is what you need to do now, right? What else should you do?

You may stress yourself subconsciously which puts you in a vicious circle. If that could be the case, do something you enjoy, instead of chasing something.

But again, this is based on my experience, so I share my view, not telling you what the right thing is. I can't know.

I find that the harder I try to force myself to code, the worse it gets. I like to try some other creative task that can get the juices going and then come back to coding when I have a really great idea. Obviously in a working environment this doesn't always work.

What _else_ do you find really motivating? Could be writing or painting or making youtube videos. It doesn't really matter as long as you're starting to engage creative muscles that you haven't flexed in a while.

I’ve often found that lack of motivation is a symptom of some other problem. Often the direction you think you need to motivate yourself toward isn’t the right direction, or sometimes there is a lot of FUD that’s blocking natural motivation from shining through. We’re inherently curious and excited creatures, so if you can find a way or area where that curiosity and excitement shines and unleash it without stress/worry, it flows naturally.

Byron Katie’s work has been really helpful here for me to weed through + dismantle whatever is causing FUD that blocks motivation. http://thework.com/en


You don't have to run marathons. Start with 30 min walks every morning. (Outside helps). Work your way up to moderate exercise that gets your heart rate up.

It's amazing the difference it will make.

that seems to be a recurrent problem in the software industry, my suggestion here is to check "discipline beats motivation" ( http://iheartintelligence.com/2016/11/17/discipline-beats-mo... ).

You don't need motivation, just discipline to build habits... everywhere will be a challenge if you lean on motivation.

( i also struggle a lot forcing myself to build discipline... )

First, echoing what others say, and channeling Marcus Aurelius,

You have identified your obstacle: "this invisible force"

Now penetrate into it with your mind / feelings, discover what it truly is, in essence. What is it, in and of itself? Sit quietly, relax, clear your mind and think. How do you feel? What is this force? Keep penetrating into it more deeply until you see it clearly enough for your purpose.

Once you understand your exact situation with a useful amount of clarity, and connect with your feelings, I believe you will know exactly what to do and have the non-mixed-feeling motivation to do it.

That's the thesis. Now for the antithesis.

What if the following is true:

What if the dreams you had chased before, were to some extent formed as a response to, or to protect you from, or to compensate for, whatever happened to you. And now that you have dealt with and vanquished this issue in your life you have the following bipartite situation:

- On the one hand, you are still motivated by what you have trained yourself to be motivated by for so long. And,

- On the other hand, having killed the original motivation that gave rise to it, you have removed the impetus to do it.

Now what can you do in this situation?

I believe you already know. But here is what I think. You are at a crossroads. You can re-examine your values and motivations and see if what was once important, still is. You can recommit to, or now redefine your purpose. You may find that you end up deepening your commitment, or that you free yourself from what once drove you, and make way for the new purpose / motivation to enter your life.

Finally, for the curve-ball. What if this invisible force is just your intuition / the matrix / the signal line / a deep feeling trying to make its way to you and give you an important message about something in your life? What if it is nothing you expect but will be, once you open yourself to its message, completely surprising and very useful for you?

Okay, so it could be 1, a mix, or all of these things. Or something else entirely. You've got the thesis, antithesis (and curve ball for good measure), you make your own synthesis and solve your own problem / meet your own opportunity. Hope this helped you and anyone else watching. Have a great day y'all.

I recommend (and already mentioned) journaling. In the journal, I visualize attaining the goal or write about ways to keep going.

Watch, listen or read stuff that motivates and uplifts you. And keep on doing it every day.

Try to motivate yourself every day and find what works. This quote sums up what motivation is, it is not something that is only done once:

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily." - Zig Ziglar

I take care of sleep, exercise, and diet. Then weekly sessions in therapy. I honestly don't believe you can be well adjusted without sleeping 8 hours, exercising 3-5 times per week, and trying your best to eat right.

If you think you're going to have a perspective shift without taking care of the basics...I doubt it. Take care of these fundamentals first. Then circle back in a month if you're still having issues.

Even though you think you're ready, you may still need some down time. Find some way to disconnect completely from your daily responsibilities for a weekend or even a whole week to sleep, eat, and reflect.

If down time isn't working for you, you may need to start permanently removing or changing unpleasant things in your life. This can take a lot of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking and therapy can help here.

Work with others.

Find likeminded individuals who can help you get to where you want to go. It's really difficult to generate significant traction on your own.

Doesn't have to be massive, I train once a week with a coach and some other folks and this motivates me to go to the gym for the six other days of the week.

My wife motivates me to do the best for my family. In my hobby I have others who rely on me.

Noopept + caffeine at the beginning of every day, but this isn't golden bullet. So when I am totally unmotivated, this means I have to entertain myself. To do so I read popscience book like Randall Munroe's "What if" or watch sci fi movie. Also meeting with people who you can exchange coding experience and ideas is also great motivator.

Get into therapy my friend, it will help in all aspects of life. It's not just for people who have mental illness or severe trauma. It's for all of us who have life experience that is unprocessed. I think it would be valuable for you if you went in to explore the roots of what interests you and what your underlying motivations are.

Zinc supplements. It turned out I was seratonin and dopamine deficient due to multiple (6) genetic defects in my liver’s zinc uptake genes, so whenever I was under duress, I’d run out of neurotransmitters and be unable to produce more.

How did you find out about these defects? Did you get a genetic test? And how much zinc do you take to compensate? Is it a mega dose?

I read a lot of scientific papers, then determined the common trace mineral supporting dopamine and seratonin production, then identified my genetic variations from societal norms with respect to zinc uptake and processing in various liver and brain pathways using those papers to narrow down with locations to check.

I already had genetic data available. Commercial tests would not have revealed an issue, as my variants have neither been proven benign nor harmful, and the unproven [1] correlations to autism are not yet included in testing. I was not certain when I bought the first pack of zinc cough drops whether they would affect me, but the only downside was temporary magnesium deficiency, which I’m already used to perceiving and treating.

I vary consumption of sublingual tablets based on whether I desire more metallic taste in my mouth or not, which I sometimes do. I vary my intake to include magnesium and copper-assisted zinc now and then. I prefer the dissolving tablets one at a time over a period of time so that I can develop a natural dislike for their metallic taste once I’ve consumed enough, but the same dislike develops using zinc-honey cough drops. I rarely use capsules (primarily for the copper variant) as they do not have a taste linkage for me to calibrate against.

Please seek professional medical advice. Increasing your zinc intake can have detrimental effects on your copper and magnesium levels, leading to bodywide soreness and/or death.

[1] Unproven due to only a couple papers published to date; no conflicting opinions existed, and no comprehensive analysis of autistic people has yet been performed.

If I may ask, how many mg do you take?

Getting a deposit notification from my bank every other Friday works for me.

I would highly recommend the 5 minute journal used in combination with the Pomodoro technique. The former will help you with the vision and the latter will help you with any procrastination.

I changed my goal to something more immediate - getting out of the funk and focused all my attention on that. The obstacle is the way.

I have the freedom to kill myself anytime I want, so if I am not doing that, I might as well do something "useful."

Also, it's not like being bored isn't boring, so might as well do something, even if it's equally boring.

PS: All the mundane stuff everyone else mentioned is a bare minimum for sure - do exercise, do plan things to do, do eat correctly and get enough sleep, etc.

This comes across as reductive. There is truth here but some sensitivity wouldn't go amiss.

This is what depression is like.

inertia. Easier to keep movement going than to start it.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact