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Some days, you’re on fire — others, you’re burned out. Trouble is, that to-do list isn’t getting any shorter. We tend to make things worse when we’re feeling down by beating ourselves up about what we haven’t done. But our inner critics aren’t good motivators. If you want to learn how to increase your energy and motivation, there are gentler, more effective ways.
Being tired is normal
The fact is, modern life isn’t really conducive to getting a good night’s rest. Although most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, finding someone who actually gets that much sleep is rare. According to the Sleep Foundation, 35.2% of adults average less than seven hours each night. More than half of Americans report being plagued by daytime drowsiness at least once a week.
When asked why they’re not sleeping, most adults would point to their obligations. And there’s some truth to that. It’s difficult to balance work, family obligations, and still have any semblance of a social life. However, we may be intent on keeping ourselves on the hamster wheel for other reasons.
Vulnerability researcher Brené Brown documents being “crazy-busy” in her book, Daring Greatly. She says that it's great “armor.” If you’re always doing to the point of exhaustion, it stops you from having to deal with the emotions under the surface.
While this works as a strategy for some time, those negative emotions and discomfort don’t really go away. They continue to draw on your emotional resources, sapping your vitality and motivation. Emotional clutter and staying “crazy-busy” is a fast track to mental exhaustion and burnout.
If you’re just not feeling like yourself lately, here are some possible reasons why:
7 reasons why you might not feel on top of your game
You’re not getting enough (quality) sleep
This is the biggest and perhaps the most obvious reason you might be feeling tired. Sleep deprivation impacts far more than how “awake” you feel. Just one night of poor sleep can affect your mood, memory, and cognitive performance. Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and a compromised immune system.
You’re not drinking enough water
Water does a lot more than quench your thirst. Researchers have linked mild dehydration to low mood, forgetfulness, exhaustion, and headaches. The rule of thumb is at least eight glasses of water per day, but the actual amount you should be drinking is likely higher than that. And if you’re waiting until you feel thirsty to drink water, chances are good that you’re already dehydrated.
You’re not listening to your body
If you’re routinely pushing yourself to just do “one more thing” at the expense of your well-being, it will start to catch up to you. Overdoing it — whether at work, home, social engagements, or other responsibilities — will start to make you feel exhausted. Early signs of this kind of stress are body aches (including headaches), irritability, and feeling overwhelmed. Keep going, and you’re on your way to burnout.
You’re anxious or depressed
If you feel like you’re exhausted no matter how much sleep you get, it might be time to reach out to a therapist. Depression and anxiety can affect both the quality of your sleep and how awake you feel during the day. This can be exacerbated by the side effects of certain mood-regulating medications. If you take medication for either condition, check to see if sleep disturbances are listed as a side effect.
You’re spending too much time indoors
Sunlight plays an important role in regulating your circadian rhythm. If you’ve been spending a lot of time indoors, the lack of sunlight and air may be messing with your body’s cues to produce serotonin. This can affect your mood as well as your ability to focus. You may also experience fluctuations in productivity and mood if you have seasonal affective disorder.
You’re getting sick
You know that run-down feeling you get when you’re coming down with something? That’s a sign that your body is diverting its resources towards fighting off a bacteria or virus. If you’re trying to push through a meeting, thinking “Why can’t I get myself to focus?” take a hard look at your health. Some conditions (like chronic fatigue syndrome, anemia, most autoimmune illnesses, and even sleep apnea) can leave you feeling drained. It might be time to schedule a check-up.
You’re not listening to your heart
It could be you’re feeling stuck in a rut, not stretching out of your comfort zone and bored with your routine, or you’ve been stuck too long in a job that doesn’t fit your values or no longer feels meaningful or fulfilling. Few things will sap your energy levels faster than a lack of engagement. Even if you love the work you do, it’s normal to have days where you just don’t feel like doing it. But if you find yourself having more “off” days than not, you’re probably ignoring signs that you need change.
19 ways to boost your energy and motivation
The hardest thing about trying to improve your energy and motivation is getting started. When you’re feeling sluggish, it can be difficult to even get the energy you need to do the things that would make the biggest difference.
Fortunately, every step you take for your well-being has a cumulative effect. Don’t try to tackle the entire list. Start with whatever seems the most doable and build up from there.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will do wonders for your energy. Try drinking at least eight glasses of water for a week and see if you notice a difference.
- Meet with a nutritionist. Meet with a nutritionist. Getting a handle on your dietary intake will help improve your energy and focus. When you’re tired, you crave more junk food, which will cause a spike (and crash) in your blood sugar. This will make it difficult to sustain your focus throughout the day.
- Take a walk. Moderate physical activity helps you sleep better, which will give you an energy boost and make it easier to focus. Aim for 30 minutes a day of regular exercise.
- Get some sleep. Noticing a theme here? Your energy and motivation is tied directly to how you take care of yourself. No life hack can make up for not getting enough sleep. Try using an app to track your sleep patterns and get into a good routine. If you're planning to take a nap, avoid napping longer than 20 minutes or you may disrupt your evening rest. Try a 20 minute power nap for a quick pick-me-up.
- Watch your caffeine intake. It’s tempting to pour yourself a cup of coffee to overcome a lack of energy, but it may backfire on you. In addition to disrupting your sleep, too much caffeine can make you jittery and unfocused.
- Put on some music. Pick a song that matches your mood. Dance to it. See if you can embody how you feel (and don’t worry about looking silly). Then, put on some uplifting music that matches the way you’d like to feel. Sing along loudly.
- Talk to a friend. If you’re having a hard time getting yourself in gear, try talking to a friend or trusted colleague. Sharing your feelings and concerns with someone can renew your determination.
- Meet with a professional. A lack of energy and motivation can be a sign of depression. Reach out to a mental health professional if you need help. They may be able to tell you if something else is causing your low mood.
- Set small goals. When you have low energy, a lengthy to-do list can seem daunting. Limit your to-do list to one item per day. You’ll have a sense of accomplishment from crossing it off, and anything else you do will be icing on the cake.
- Take a class or workshop. If you’re losing interest in your job, try taking a continuing education workshop or attending a conference. Learning something new and connecting with others can help reignite your passion for your work.
- Take a day off. Even if your job doesn't require a lot of physical energy, downtime is important. Your brain can’t work at maximum capacity all the time. Taking time for yourself is important. Try visiting somewhere new or doing some inner work.
- Celebrate your wins. What’s the point of working hard if you don’t take time out to acknowledge your accomplishments? Don’t skip over the celebration. Finding small but meaningful ways to recognize yourself can keep you motivated.
- Reconnect with the whys. Whether it’s taking time to check in on a customer, attending a company all-hands, or having a conversation with downstream colleagues, it helps to remember not just the outcomes of our work but whose life we make a little easier when we give it our best.
- Clear your inbox. If you’re like most people, you probably have thousands of unread emails, messages, and notifications. Instead of swearing you’ll catch up (eventually), go and mark all your messages as “read.” If you’re feeling really brave, delete them.
- Break your routine. Get away from your desk. Seek serendipity by attending a meetup you have no background in or walking the city streets and really noticing what’s new. If something piques your curiosity, ask about it, get into conversation with a stranger. You may think you’re too tired, but getting out of your comfort zone can feed and energize your mind.
- Read something you enjoy. If you haven’t gotten lost in a good book for a while, now’s a good time to pick one up. Reading for pleasure is not only relaxing, but engages different parts of your brain. It will boost your creativity and it’s an easy way to get into flow.
- Take a screen break. If your work keeps you connected all day, take some analog downtime. Try coloring, reading a (paper) book, or meditating. Your mind will appreciate the break from the endless notifications.
- Get into nature. Being in nature is proven to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Take a short walk or visit a nearby park.
- Meditate. There’s a good reason meditation is on everyone’s wellness list. If you’re feeling depleted, taking time to be still can be wonderfully refreshing. It can also be challenging. Start by just watching your breath for a few minutes or try a guided visualization.
- Volunteer. Getting stuck in a rut can cause us to take our good fortune for granted. Try volunteering for a local organization or a cause that’s meaningful to you. This can be a powerful way to connect with the bigger picture.
- Switch it up. Often, when we’re feeling exhausted, going out with friends is the last thing that we want to do. If that’s the case, swap a high energy hangout for something more chill. Skip dinner and drinks and go to a museum. You could forego a party in favor of brunch, or make plans to head to a spa. That way, you get to socialize and relax — a winning combination.
Remind yourself that the low period you’re in won’t last forever. In the moment, when you’re wondering how to boost your energy and motivation, you may feel like you’ll be drained forever. That’s not the case. Like anyone else, you’ll have good days and bad days. Normalize your off-days and take care of yourself to the best of your ability. Things will start looking up again.
BetterUp Staff Writer