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How to demotivate yourself in five steps

Learning, motivation, Productivity

Reading Time: 7 minutes


A quick search on the web will be enough to know that everyone is looking for motivation. Inspirational quotes are all over Instagram and motivational videos are one of the most popular videos on Youtube.

Everyone wants their next shot of motivation to go through the week. Is motivation like a tank that needs to be filled from time to time? Or are we constantly refilling it because of a hole in the tank?

When was the last time you were completely demotivated? Did you ever lose the drive to pursuit a goal? Do you remember why this happened? You probably don’t.

In a world of instant satisfaction and constant distractions, who has time to wonder such personal questions?

Render your efforts null

In February of 2014, I was a happy man.

Not only because I had just presented my bachelor thesis and completed my three year university studies, but also because I was free to pursue other goals.

I could finally start pursuing my fitness goals and that’s what I did. I created a strength training schedule, I began eating the required amount of protein… Everything was perfect.

During weeks I managed to wake up every morning and walk to the gym, sometimes in the rain, fully driven by this burning motivation. One morning, while in the looker getting ready for another workout, I overheard a conversation between two gym members. It turns out that the gym is permanently closing next month.

In that split second, all my motivation was violently snatched away from me. Next morning, I stayed in bed, honestly feeling kinda depressed. I couldn’t pursue my goals and my past and present efforts felt pointless.

As you read this and as I write about it almost 3 years later, we can identify positive points. During the weeks that I exercise, I improved my health and all the research I did was still applicable for my future physical efforts. I could find another gym and redo the schedule.

But for me, all reasoning was pointless. I was drained of all drive to achieve anything fitness related.

The feeling of pointless work might be the strongest form of demotivation. So powerful that was commonly used in prisons. In the 19th century, “hard labor” was meant to break the will (and body) of prisoners by making them perform pointless tasks, like walking in circles for 10 hours or carrying stones back and forward, resembling Sisyphus’s eternal punishment.

I sometimes fall into this trap. While writing my content and specially while editing some of my videos, I obsess about a certain detail. For hours I try to bring this vision to life and often I don’t consider how relevant this small detail is when compared to the entire work.

More than once, all this time and effort was in vain, leading me to become a little less excited about the project.

Work for money, not meaning

Everyone is payed in money for their work right? Which means that if you receive more money, you will work more. Well no. Quite the opposite actually.

If you want to be demotivated from doing a task, the best thing you can do is attached a value to it. Look back to your own life. How did you manage to learn that music instrument? How did you get so good at playing (insert favorite sport or videogame here)?

You might have started learning a new skill because your friends or your mom pushed you to start learning it but why did you kept learning it? Changes are that you kept learning and improving because you simply enjoyed the activity and the challenge.

This example shows the difference between extrinsic (external) and intrinsic (internal) motivation. You might have started with a extrinsic motivation but what kept you going was an intrinsic drive to learn.

Money is often found to decrease productivity especially if the task requires any level of creative thinking. More and more importance is put on the monetary reward and less focus on learning new skills and improving.

But isn’t money important? Should I don´t get payed for my work? Are we gonna see companies proposing to their employees hugs and smiles as their payment?

No. Money is still a driving motivator. This is evident when looking at the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Money is an extremely powerful motivator because it guarantees you food, shelter, water and safety. But once all those basic human needs are taken care off, money is no longer a factor.

With that said, if you want to demotivate me from creating this content, I will leave my paypal email at the end of this post. Feel free to demotivate me all you want.

Work in an ugly, boring place

While researching my previous post (building a tech free desk), I realized how much we are affected by our work environment. Variables like lighting or plants have a deep effect on productivity and motivation.

Take cubicles for example.

Cubicles are specially designed to crush dreams and destroy any hopes you might have. Do you remember The Matrix? While watching Neo slaving away in his perfectly ordered cubicle I wonder, are cubicles still a thing?

During an interview, Clive Wilkinson, an architect and interior designer responsible for designing the interior of Google Headquarters had this to say about cubicles:

Cubicles are the worst — like chicken farming. They are humiliating, disenfranchising and isolating. So many American corporations still have them. I’d say 75–80 percent of America is cubicle land.

Many companies like Google or Tesla already understood the value of this mindset but these are definitely not the norm. Upper management ismost of the times not aware that workers are unmotivated by their workplace because they have the freedom to personalize their offices.

Are you able to design your own work environment? Or are you limited by rules from the last century?

Set DUMB goals

Defining goals sounds easy. You just need to say a sentence that sounds challenging to achieve and that implies some level of sacrifice.

You don’t actually need to do it, you just need to say that you will do it.

In my opinion this is how new year’s resolution work. And that’s probably why their success rate is so low.

Seventy-seven percent of participants maintained their primary New Year’s resolution of 1 week, 55% for 1 month, 40% for 6 months, and 19% for a full 2 years. This pattern is consistent with the familiar “survival curve” and relapse rates in the addictions…

From my engineering studies, I learned an interesting method for defining goals. It is called SMART goals. Each letter means a prerequisite for a successful goal. If you follow these guidelines you will greatly increase your chances for success.

(S)pecific — clearly specifies the goal and when the goal is achieved

(M)easurable — metrics indicate the progress done

(A)ttainable — grounded on benchmarks and facts

(R)elevant — deep connection with vision and long-term goals

(T)imed — goal has a realistic and clear finish line

Do you enjoy the feeling of failing at accomplishing a goal? Make sure you stay away from SMART goals.

Do you want to get in shape? Define a broad goal lacking any trackable metrics like: “In 2017, I will get in shape”.

Or maybe you want to increase your social media following? Make sure you aim for an unattainable number based on emotion instead of facts. For example:” I will reach 1000 subscribers on youtube”.

Good luck!

Think short term

Dan Ariely proposes an interesting thought experiment in his book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations:

Ask yourself how you would feel if everything you did throughout your life was erased from the face of the Earth the moment you died.

Personally I would feel that everything was a bit pointless…

Legacy is the main driving force of so many achievements in human history. We seem to be powered by this need to outlast our physical bodies and leave proof of our existence.

From starving artists who keep creating art for the sake of creating it to billionaires who put their names in golden letters on the side of skyscrapers, we want to leave a mark in the world.

This long term view is the ultimate motivator and yet I feel that more and more people are solely concerned with immediate satisfaction. It’s just easier to quit and move on to the next thing instead of suffer for a bit longer and reap the benefits down the line.

With varying degrees, we all struggle with this, specially in a world of personalized entertainment and tailor-made advertising. If I watch ONE video I shouldn’t watch, Youtube IMMEDIATELY begins recommending me more videos just like that one…

It’s really demotivating to be trapped by an algorithm.

As machines get better at appealing to our lizard brain, we have to get better at understanding how to avoid these traps. A sense of legacy and a long-term vision might be the answer.

Actually now that I think about it, if we think loooong term, machines will eventually take over…. So why bother…


If you read this far and are now looking for the paypal email, there is none. Sharing my content will be more then enough. Thank you for reading 🙂

Road Delta is where I share my interests, experiments and creativity with the world. All blog posts and videos in this website are 100% made by me, which makes it difficult to define a theme. And all over the place. Nutrition, physiology, public speaking, travelling, fitness… You can find it all here.

Your opinion is welcomed :)

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