How to Get Things Done When You Don’t Want to Do Anything

When it comes to writing, though, competition just stresses me out. My internal monologue becomes a meanspirited aerobics instructor who says things like, “You’re lazy and ungrateful!” and “Finish this story, or you’ll never work again!”

This doesn’t help. Treating ourselves with compassion works much more effectively than beating ourselves up, said Kristin Neff, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “People think they’re going to shame themselves into action,” yet self-compassion helps people stay focused on their goals, reduces fear of failure and improves self-confidence, which can also improve motivation, she said.

To start, Dr. Neff suggested pausing to ask yourself what you need. Maybe you’ll find it’s time to refocus on your purpose, or notice you’re ready to ask for outside support. Sometimes simply acknowledging you’re going through a hard time, and that this is a normal part of life, is all it takes.

Self-compassion doesn’t mean you’ll go soft or lose your drive, Dr. Neff said. Her new book, “Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power, and Thrive,” highlights a study of university students who did poorly on a challenging vocabulary test. Students who were encouraged to be compassionate toward themselves after the test studied longer and performed better on a follow-up test, compared to students given either simple self-esteem-boosting comments or no instruction.

“The key thing about self-compassion and motivation is that it allows you to learn from your failures,” Dr. Neff said.

And I’ve got plenty of failures to learn from, so on a morning run, I gave self-compassion a try. What did I need? First, exercise and more sleep. I could consider new approaches to this story and ask some colleagues for advice. Then I realized what I really needed to do: pay attention.

I looked around. Even at dawn, I wasn’t alone: I saw dog walkers and maintenance workers, people commuting to work, people pulling up their masks. I imagined people in hospitals and homes, starting a new day whether they felt like it or not. The idea of all of us, trying and failing and trying again, carried me to the end of the run and to the end of this story. And if you’re still reading, you’ve found enough motivation to get here, too.