What to Do If You Don’t Want Anything in Life
When you can’t feel anything other than depression, loneliness, isolation, dread, or emptiness, getting back to normal can require a monumental amount of willpower and effort to push through the resistance and lack of motivation. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet or perfect solution to the problem because there are several different causes and, therefore, many options to address them. Let’s go through a list of potential causes and talk about how to get you back on track for each.
- The Cause – If you are not feeling well due to a health issue, the cause could be a disease, vitamin deficiency, chemical imbalance in the brain, or injury. There are two possible additional direct causes of issues stemming from those: these conditions might be draining your energy and, therefore, making it hard to do things, or they might be preventing you from doing something you love doing, and so the condition isn’t as bad as the resulting limitations. (Side note: I had an uncle who found out from his doctor that he might not be able to play golf anymore. He said that if he couldn’t golf, he didn’t want to live; he died less than a year later.)
- The Solution – Taking care of yourself by going to a doctor and treating the cause is obviously the first step to recovery here. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is, and then you can’t solve it when you do know what it is without a professional if you need a prescription or some other professional help for it. Once it’s been identified, you can then give yourself permission to rest and let the treatment and your natural healing process run its course. This both solves your direct problem, the illness, and then also alleviates your psychological pressure to take action or get yourself out of “the funk” that you’re in. You might also want to take up a sedentary hobby like reading, board games, video games, watching sports, a new TV show, or any other distraction to keep yourself from feeling like you’re missing out on anything while you recover. Anything that you can do without getting out of bed can help you practice your way toward motivation to do things by getting your mind active.
- The Cause – Clearly, losing a loved one, failing at a big goal, or experiencing some other major life setback can really get you down. The biggest problem with this cause is the, “What’s the point?” reaction at the end of it. Of course, the only constructive solution is to rest, recover, and then to keep moving forward as soon as you’re able to so that you can keep growing and thriving. But that’s easier said than done—the feeling that anything you do will just die, end, or fail, anyway, is tough to cover come. Failure and loss are some of the most traumatic experiences, so it’s not easy to just flip the switch and be better.
- The Solution – There are really only three solutions here: take time to rest, grieve, and process your emotions, then take your mind off it, and then finally move on to the next thing. The first step is probably the easiest, as it just requires you to basically do nothing except allow yourself to be upset. While “being strong” for others can be a constructive way to do the second approach (i.e., focusing on something else), it sometimes can disrupt the first one. Do whichever combination makes you best off both now and in the future: if you need to be strong and push through for a while and then grieve, that’s fine; if you need to grieve before you can build the strength to refocus your attention, then that’s okay as well. If you jumped to solution 2 and feel some unresolved issues bubbling in your psyche, you might need to go back to solution 1. At some point, you have to do solutions 2 and 3. Solution 2 is good when you don’t feel like you can move on yet but need something to start to shift your focus and emotional state. Solution 3 is absolutely necessary if you don’t want to get sucked into a deep whole for a significant period of your life. Rebuild, find a new goal, or simply shift your focus to helping others or improving other areas of your life. You’ll know when it’s time to shift from solution 1 to solutions 2 and 3 when you’re no longer mourning the loss but are instead wallowing in self-pity.
- The Cause – Stagnation in life usually occurs as a result of your desires in life suddenly changing without you realizing it. If you loved football for your whole life but suddenly wake up and find it to be a chore to practice every day, that could be a signal that it’s time to change gears. The reason why this is a different issue than loss is that it might be a combination of stagnation or a loss of interest that might require you to experience a change or loss to move on to something else. It’s not exactly the same as a loss of a thing because it’s more of your internal loss of a drive or sense of purpose that you’d had for a while and you might be attached to.
- The Solution – Ask yourself, “What’s next?” or, “What else?” Athletes at the end of their careers have to ask themselves this or will face this kind of depression at that part of their lives. This is a prime example of having a singular purpose for so long that it can be a major hit psychologically to have to shift to other growth areas as potential options. The hardest shift is if you were the best at something and have to go back to what feels like square one. No matter what you’re facing in life, it’s good to remember that it’ll always be okay if you just accept your new situation and embrace new opportunities and experiences. You might realize you just need to move to a new place, get a new social group, take up a new hobby, or explore new career opportunities. This lull can be the hardest to notice since nothing seems wrong on the outside oftentimes, so unlike when you have an ailment or had a loss, there’s no excuse that will make other people easily empathize with you. They might think that you’re being ungrateful (and you could be, but that doesn’t mean that you also are in a lull). In any case, get help both with keeping yourself together emotionally while exploring new opportunities. This one is the easiest situation to use the “look at is as an opportunity, not a problem” approach since it lacks physical loss or issues. Just by appreciating what you’ve had to date and appreciating that you want or need something new will make your transition to the next thing much easier.
- The Cause – Here, you either don’t know what you like, have too many options, or are simply scared of the unknown. In any case, you become paralyzed with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I personally know this one well, as Asperger’s can make you feel like a robot or alien and not have the same interests as the majority of people. Therefore, I often need to trigger a mental algorithm to do common life tasks to get myself going in the morning (or early afternoon). What do you do this weekend? Go to the beach, get tickets to a show, or practice the guitar? There’s no objective answer to that question, so if you analyze it like a math problem, you won’t be able to derive an answer. Fortunately, there are ways to push through uncertainty that can get you past “analysis paralysis”.
- The Solution – There are three solid options to jumpstart you out of this kind of situation: gather more information, explore and experiment, or just pick something. Companies know these techniques very well, especially for big decisions like which car to buy. Think about the car buying process: the sticker has all the details to compare, such as trunk space, 0-60MPH acceleration, MPG, and seating capacity. They offer test drives. And, more recently, they’ve let you take it off the lot for a couple of days to actually experience it. Those are not random guesses as to whether that will help; clearly, these options leverage the techniques to get you out of uncertainty, from knowing that it’s the right option to liking the initial feeling of driving it to seeing how you can seamlessly incorporate it into your day-to-day life to satisfy your needs. With smaller decisions, like where to eat, it might make more sense just to pick a new place and see whether you like it. Obviously, it’ll help you realize what you want/don’t want much faster and give you that experience for future decisions. It can be scarier for larger decisions like your major in college or career, but there’s one thing in common with the “just pick a place” mentality of eating food: there comes a point where more information will not help you make a better decision because you just can’t anticipate how you will feel. So, take the two years to figure out what you want your major to be; get an entry-level job in a field that you might like and either continue if you do or figure out what to explore next if you don’t. The biggest cause of being non-committal is the feeling that you won’t be able to change your mind or that the consequences of making the wrong decision is catastrophic, so the easiest way to overcome that is either to eliminate the barriers to uncertainty or eliminate the inability to change your mind. That said, the results from psychological studies are pretty clear that your brain will “manufacture” happiness with whatever decision you’ve made if you can’t change it, and you’ll be able to change it if you can’t (though you risk being slightly less satisfied). Either way, you’ll come out okay on the other side of the decision.
- The Cause – One of the biggest causes of feeling no desire in life is not the lack of desire but rather the squashing of desire by negative beliefs. If you want to play soccer but someone tells you not to do it because it’s not as big of a sport as football in the US, you might be sad because you really wanted to play but decided not to. So you might’ve had a desire but decided not to pursue it due to thinking that it’s impossible or unreasonable.
- The Solution – Buff up your beliefs that you can attain your goal. Even if you’re 5’1” and want to play basketball, you can play basketball for fun and explore opportunities in the industry so you can have the joy of being involved in the game you love. Regardless of whether you become a pro basketball player, you get what you want in the fact that you get to be part of the industry. It’s the ability to believe in the potential to find a way to get what you want (or something just as good or better) that will lead you to keep trying until you get there. And that motivation will stop you from feeling unmotivated because your beliefs squashed your desires.
So those are a few situations where you can get out of a “funk” and find new things to want and enjoy in life. Remember that there are a multitude of potential causes for your lack of drive. Explore all of the possibilities and come up with ideas for solutions.
Three final points to keep in mind:
- Support is one of the top ways to help you get out of a bad mood or a depression. Other people can make you feel better, get your mind off things, and even help you move forward again.
- Don’t underestimate the basics, such as water, sun, sleep, exercise, and nutrition. A vitamin D deficiency, for example, can cause you to feel down, and a day outside or a vitamin can almost instantaneously get you out of it.
- Try to do what’s best for yourself. There are techniques that can get you out of a funk but are risky, like alcohol and drugs. Obviously, I’m not going to recommend those options as good ones, but I will say that there are plenty of people who get a couple of beers at happy hour with friends and instantly feel better. So if it’s best for you and you’re not at risk of it harming you, it might be an option. Some people do extreme things like cutting themselves just so they feel something again after being depressed for a while. Again, I can’t recommend harmful options, but I do have to say that I respect the willingness to try creative solutions to get out of it—after all, pain is a very acute emotion that’ll wipe out depression in an instant. I’d recommend something less harmful that has the same effect, though, like watching a scary movie or bungee jumping, before something that’s physically harmful.
If you’re still indecisive, remember that growth-enabling activities are what you’re looking for, so seek growth wherever you can. If you’re not interested, move on. If you are, you’ll have found that drive again. The worst thing that can happen is that you regret wasting time feeling bad when you could’ve either taken action or allowed yourself to rest and get better so you could get out of it. I wish you well, and best of luck on your journey.