Recently, I spoke about moments when you need to push yourself whenever you feel like you don’t want to work. You sometimes have to force it and do it in spite of feeling lazy or unmotivated – or even change course into something that might inspire you more.

People who won’t work might be doing it from a lack of self confidence or because they’re procrastinating.

But someone contacted me saying, “What if you can’t work?” When it’s not a matter of won’t – but a feeling as if you can’t do anything. This might stem from them going through something horrible at that time – a medical issue, grief, depression, and so on.

Important: While I’m going to share my advice, I’ve asked some friends who have been in this position to chime in with tips, so I’ve included those near the bottom and they’re great!

You might even try – sit there attempting to brainstorm and be productive but nothing happens. You’d give anything to have ideas bubble to the surface but it’s as if they’re being blocked.

What do you do in those circumstances?

If you’ve ever know a truly depressed individual, you’ll know from talking to them or seeing their behavior that at times, they won’t get out of bed. It’s not that they’re watching TV or being lazy – they just sleep. They often can’t even bother to eat or shower.

I’ve seen people discussing this on TikTok, and I’ve never been through it myself, but seeing them discuss coming out of these episodes to function has been eye opening.

It’s worse when everyone is sitting there spouting off about how much hustle they have, and the only hustle you feel like you have is to allow your eyelids to flutter open.

From an online entrepreneurial standpoint, how do you deal with this?

I feel a little as if it’s not my place to give advice, since I don’t suffer from depression in this way (and if I mess up, I did my best, sorry). I’ve been through some shitty times – abusive childhood and marriage, medical scares, etc. But my mind has never settled into a lengthy depressive state.

Plus, I had no one to support me and my kids. If I didn’t work, I’d lose my home. That wasn’t going to happen, period (although now I see how people become homeless from depression) – I’m sentimental about my childhood home. So I lived in a state of high alert for years (more than a decade), working in spite of any sadness I was enduring. Had to. No choice.

However, when my subscribers ask me to help, I will do my best. All I know is that some of the most brilliant and productive people have suffered from depression. Look at Robin Williams – who made everyone laugh for decades, but silently suffered from depression. He filmed movies, did stand up, attending events, etc.

Somehow, he found a way to function in spite of his mental state. For many, the depression is not going to simply “go away.” This isn’t a post about how to get rid of depression. I’m no doctor.

So what do you do when you want to work but can’t?

Here’s what I would do…

#1 – Conduct Some Major Analysis on the Root of Your Problem

Not everyone who feels like they can’t work has depression. And even if they do, there’s sometimes a reason why you’re feeling this way. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it – like a medical diagnosis, for example.

Part 1 of your plan is to be honest with yourself about what’s causing this and make some tough decisions.

You might have to block toxic people out of your life, for example.

It might be something you experienced in your past, not even in your present at this time.

#2 – Create a Very Slow Plan to Emerge Out of It

If it were me, I’m the type of person who likes to take a pen and pad of paper and create a plan. I LOVE to make it bite-sized, too.

I like seeing a ton of marked off tasks – makes me feel as if I accomplished something. So write down what you wish a daily routine looked like. For example:

Get Ready

  1. Make bed (even if it’s just pulling the covers up or straightening them)
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Wash face
  4. Brush hair
  5. Get dressed


  1. Pick a protein
  2. Pick a carb
  3. Eat slowly and enjoy the flavors while being quiet and undistracted


  1. Do some keyword research to find a topic for a blog post (see, by using tools, you’re not really having to do the work for yourself – you’re leaning on something to help you get started, only making decisions instead)
  2. Create an outline of 5 subtopics to discuss in the article (again, keyword tools drilling it down)

You can go on and add tons of tasks for the day, but if you’re in a severe depression, maybe do ONE of those per day from each category – one habit of making your bed daily, one habit of eating anything, but quietly per day, one habit of keyword research only.

You have to build upon these successes. Small, incremental wins – not major milestones when you’re clinging on by a thread.

#3 – Feed Your Mind Positive, Productive Content

Even when I don’t really need it, I’m always absorbing motivational content. Right now, for example, I’m listening to The Compound Effect: Multiply Your Success One Simple Step at a Time.

I may have read it before but I don’t think so. My son reminded me about it (he’s read it) and it’s a great read for making small changes and progress to get big results.

Stuff like this is good for all areas of your life. It can be great for work tasks, weight loss or fitness, relationships, etc.

At the same time you’re feeding yourself good stuff, start backing off on the addictive negative news.

Damn, if you go to a news site or social media today it’s filled with horrific and scary stuff. Just this week, we have:

  • Possible alien invasions (like, seriously – the military didn’t even deny it might be.)
  • Multiple train derailments in states with hazardous materials making people and animals sick
  • A shooting at a college by a deranged person
  • Kids taking their lives over bullying.
  • A murder trial of a dad killing his wife and son for money
  • Political nonsense – don’t we all just want everyone to shut up by now? All of them. Shut it!
  • Another pandemic threat (bird flu again and oh, this time it might kill 50% of all humans – ugh)
  • Scammers using AI to create campaigns so you’ll donate to them for the rescue in Turkey where the people who really need it aren’t getting your cash (nevermind the images have six fingers – AI often adds more fingers).
  • The earthquake and its toll in general – horrifying.
  • News that six in 10 teen girls severely depressed and suicidal since the pandemic and due to social media. One in 10 have been raped. Teen girls.

Shall I go on? Because it’s endless. And this is just the past couple of days.

How much are humans supposed to take? Growing up, we never saw this 24/7. We might have seen snippets of highlights on the 6 o’clock news, but not 24/7, not everywhere.

I don’t think our minds were meant to take that dose of mental abuse, honestly.

Yet we feed it to our brains constantly.

We need to take back our minds. My daughter deleted all of her social media apps – Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok months ago and hasn’t looked back. She has Facebook but only because it’s just family and kids her age don’t really use it. She’s using it for fiction career stuff.

It is HARD for people to unhook from this stuff, so they continue being depressed and feeling hopeless. I asked if my daughter was back on social media and she said, “No, I feel better without it.”


Some people can easily recognize when something or someone is damaging to them and block it. Others refuse to believe or just haven’t taken time to figure it out, so they keep sabotaging themselves and hurting themselves.

#4 – Stop Saying You Can’t.

Self talk is the first form of bettering your life. You can say you haven’t YET but don’t say you can’t.

You can and you will. Your subconscious mind is extremely powerful! You have to REtrain it to believe as you want it to believe.

Sometimes, you can’t do it on your own. Know what I use? EMDR. I used this previously and now they have an online tool you can use. If you go do some research, it’s been used by the military and experts for decades for PTSD and other things. You have to get real scientific in learning how it works and it’s fascinating.

If you can see how damaging things can be to your mind, but refuse to see how positive tools can IMPROVE your mind, then you’re being one-sided and biased.

So for EMDR, you can use it for 5 minutes or 40 or whatever you need, as often as you need. You might start by inputting the information that you’re feeling now: “I’m too depressed to work. I feel as if I’ll always be a failure.” Really make it hurt.

Then after you do the first session, you replace those negative thoughts you allowed to bubble up to the surface with positive ones. “I am emerging from this depression and feeling as if I can be capable and productive again. I am not being held hostage by these emotions anymore.”

Stuff like that. Or, if EMDR isn’t your thing, then use positive affirmations, guided or unguided meditation – but RETRAIN your brain!

If you’re not willing to fight or push back against that overwhelming monster in your head, then why bother trying to accomplish anything? It might not go away in full, but you can make it smaller than your “can do” mindset and lock it in a cage so it can’t hurt you anymore.

How are you going to fight?

  • By pinpointing the root cause of this feeling.
  • By doing whatever is in my power to remedy that problem.
  • By making a bite-sized plan of action with teeny tiny action steps.
  • By flooding my mind with powerful, positive thoughts.
  • By shutting out negative influences – news, social media, people, my own bully mindset.
  • By retraining my mind to think I’m capable of anything and practicing it to prove it’s right.

You have to start somewhere. Don’t wait until tomorrow or Monday. Right now. What can you do in that list right now?

Additional Input from My Readers and Friends

I asked my friends who go through this or similar things how they do it. Some advise was (and I’m not naming people in case they don’t want to be named):

A male friend of mine replied:

“To keep working at some level means keeping things really simple. Lists. Routines. Essentials. Little interaction that requires deep thought, mental gymnastics or a quick wit. Dexterity is also apt to drop on bad days so macros and keyboard shortcuts may be very useful.” 

A female friend of mine replied (summarized):

She was burnt out and depressed, wanting to work but unable to – to the point of not being able to open her laptop. She took a sabbatical from all online business and social media. She said mindset played a role in her recovery and while she embraced the problem temporarily, didn’t let herself dwell long-term on it. She gave herself positive self-talk without being hard on herself. When she was ready, she took baby steps by finding the smallest steps possible. she also engages in grounding, which she finds very helpful.

A female friend of mine replied (summarized):

She has suffered from depression for years and learned how to navigate it. Because she knows it comes and goes, she has an “emergency plan/list” ready for when she’s really hit hard. On her list are the bare minimum things she needs to do – including the minimum work to survive financially, self-care list (brush teeth, deodorant, shower, change clothes, take meds, hydrate, eat), and her home list (dishes, laundry, cook). IF she can’t manage the basics, it’s a sign she needs additional help. Another thing I loved is that she says she immediately switches to paper everything – plates, bowls, cups, etc. Lessens her load. She highly recommends the Spoon Theory. I’ve linked to a random tutorial about it.

I’m here for you if you need someone to talk to. I’m not a doctor, but if you need to see if you’re on the right track with something, shoot me an email and if I can spot any issues, I’ll let you know. Or, if you just need someone to give you an “atta boy” (or girl), I can do that, too.

I’m cheering for you! I hate seeing good minds go to waste because they’ve been poisoned. People need you out there – they need your guidance. Help yourself so you can help them.


    2 replies to "What Happens When You Believe You Can’t Work?"

    • Diane

      Thanks Tiffany, these are some really useful suggestions and information in helping to navigate this area of one’s life. It’s the middle of the night and I shouldn’t be reading this but your subject touched an area of my life that I’ve often found challenging. Thank you.

      • Tiffany

        I’m glad you found it helpful Diane! Hang in there!

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