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Dismotivation
"I found that if you have a goal, you might not reach it. But if you don't have one, then you are never disappointed."

Dismotivation; noun. This is when a character actively avoids doing anything that might get them ahead in a relationship, on the job, or in life. They feel that working at maintaining the personal status quo is much better than working at getting somewhere, whether because of risk-aversion, simple laziness, or Celebrity Is Overrated. Of course, they just may be genuinely happy where they are, and see no reason to change a life that they are satisfied with.

The obvious subversion here is that it often takes more work and careful thought to maintain the status quo than it does to move on. The most common plot and Character Development these characters go through is the gradual awakening of their inspiration and motivation to improve their lot.

May overlap with Brilliant, but Lazy. A trait of The Slacker.

When their attempts at mediocrity become unwitting successes, they have had a Springtime for Hitler.

See also Almighty Janitor. Compare Ambition Is Evil.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Kuroro Lucifer of Hunter Hunter.
  • Bleach: Ikkaku Madarame from refuses to let anyone know he can use bankai, because he wants to continue serving under Kenpachi Zaraki.
    • Yumichika Ayasegawa declines to use the full power of his shikai for the same reason, and also because the 11th division views kidou-based ability as evidence of cowardice which would therefore disgrace him. He also prefers the number five spot when he should really be number four. He just dislikes four for some reason...
  • Shikamaru of Naruto. What a drag. He gets promoted anyway, in large part because he wisely chose to give up, and is the first in his class to become a Chunin.
  • Kyon in Suzumiya Haruhi, which makes up a great part of his personality. He's also cynic and snarky. Probably the main reason why he's so obfuscating stupid is that he doesn't care about anything. Most likely also the reason why he sucks at school, despite being very knowledgeable and aware of other people's intentions. He shows how an Almighty Janitor looks like as a kid.
    • He gets Character Development regarding this after the events of Disappearance (the 4th novel later made into The Movie). Feeling personally responsible for these events since he didn't step up and usually was lazy and saying how he wanted everything to just be normal, he decides to take action sooner to ease the burden on his friends, especially Nagato. Kyon becomes very good at getting things done...but still plays dumb like nobody's business and hates being jerked around into doing more than he has to. He even supports Haruhi's leadership to trick her into doing some of the annoying bits for him. He may lead from the shadows when there's trouble, but he honestly seems to have no motivation other maintaining his spot as the lowest-ranked member of the brigade.
  • Unlike the rest of the Baka Rangers in Mahou Sensei Negima!, Yue is actually one of the most intelligent people in the class. However, after the death of her grandfather or something like that, she stopped studying or trying at all in order to become the resident Little Miss Snarker. When her memory gets wiped, she starts working hard again and then takes about six levels in badass by taking down a griffin dragon.
  • Full Metal Panic!: In one episode, Mao tells the story of how she met Sosuke and Kurz when the latter two were new recruits. Neither of them trusted the shadowy Mithril too much at the start and so intentionally sabotaged themselves, Sosuke using this trope (and claiming that any superior performance was a fluke). When a real situation came up, he was forced to drop the act, which showed his incredible skills and got him recruited (but also proved Mithril's trustworthiness, making everything work out).
  • Hyouka: Houtarou has two rules he lives his life by: "One: Never do anything you don't have to. Two: If you have to do something, do it quickly." Satoshi is also an example. He's content with being a Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of None because he realizes that there's Always Someone Better namely Houtarou.
  • In Mai-Otome, Nao gets good grades, but has a Brilliant, but Lazy attitude, which includes not wanting to be part of the Trias, which is composed of the top three Pearls. Unfortunately for her, when Akane leaves school due to getting a position as the King of Florence's Otome, and eloping with Kazuya at the last minute, Nao takes Akane's position on the Trias and later becomes the Fourth Column.
  • In Oregairu, the trope fits Hachiman to a T. Among the usual reasons for example he doesn't want to be hurt again, he has an uncommon but somewhat logical argument. Hachiman, after being accused by Yukino of running away because of his dismotivation, makes his point of view clear:
    • "We only change to avoid the current situation. The true meaning of not running away is planting your feet firmly in the ground and doing the best you can with your present. Who's running away now? Why can't you just accept who you are and were?"
  • Code Geass: Lelouch starts out this way, as a very intelligent young man who gets very average grades and goes through life without accomplishing much. His reasons are twofold: first, it's in his and his sister's best interests to lay low and not draw any attention to themselves, and second, he harbors an intense hatred for the society he's in, and has no desire to succeed in it. This changes when he meets C.C. and gets his geass powers...

     Comic Books 

  • Firefly example: This turns out to be Mal's motivation in Better Days, realizing that he is genuinely happier in his small ship running dangerous jobs all around the galaxy, then actually getting a big score and being able to retire.

    Film 

  • Unsurprisingly, Clerks II.
    • In the original Clerks it applies to Randal (who even says as much), and possibly to Jay and Bob. In the second film Dante comes around to the same point of view.
  • As the page quote indicates, Peter LaFleur, the main character of Dodgeball, is one of these, contrasted with his antagonist White, who takes "you should not be satisfied with yourself" to unhealthy extremes.
  • At the beginning of Music and Lyrics, former eighties pop star Alex Fletcher, if not exactly happy, is at least comfortably resigned to his life of comfortable relative obscurity as a 'happy has-been'. Curiously, his love interest Sophie also never really demonstrates much desire to improve herself either, but in her case it's more out of a lack of self-confidence: a cruel novel written by a vindictive ex-lover which portrayed her as talentless and derivative and which went on to be a bestseller pretty much destroyed her faith in her ability to write. Both are prompted throughout the movie to get out their respective ruts and start yearning for more things than theme-park gigs and watering plants.
  • The premise of Fight Club, in the sense that a great number of men became so dissastified with their corporate aspirations and material achievements, that dingy underground fight clubs, dilapidated shacks, and random acts of mayhem become attractive.
  • Van Wilder is one of these, simply because being a Big Man on Campus is more fun than trying to graduate.
  • Kirk, in Star Trek: Generations, advises Picard to keep doing this for this exact reason. For his part, Kirk hated being an admiral so much that when he was demoted back to captain it was treated as being Cursed with Awesome.

    Literature 

  • Victor Tugelbend, protagonist of the Discworld novel Moving Pictures, bases his life (up until the plot kicks in) on wanting to remain a student at Unseen University: he studies very hard so as to be able to maintain a perfect 84% average, because that's the only number that allows him to both keep his scholarship and not graduate. Similarly, he's athletic because it's easier to get things done with a fit physique and tries to be well-groomed and well-dressed because it's easier to get dates that way. An example of the "takes more work" version.
    • Also from the Discworld, Rincewind, who wants to avoid any excitement or heroism for the rest of his life, even though it gets him congratulations and the admiration of pretty girls. However, he has historically been Fate's Butt Monkey, so...
      • Fate just hates him because he's the best tool of The Lady (-Luck) in their eternal rivalry.
    • William de Worde, from The Truth, got a reputation for keenness at sport while at school because he was always dashing about the field and shouting. His sports masters evidently overlooked the fact that he was invariably doing so, while remaining a long way from the ball or any possibility of getting caught up in a scrum over it.
  • The Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail, a novella within Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love, plays with the trope: the title character is as smart as he is lazy, and ends up a naval aviator and later becomes an Admiral because every step along the way was easier than sodbusting back on the family farm.
  • The protagonist of Doorways in the Sand was left an enormous allowance from a rich relative's estate as long as he stayed in school, which he of course decides to abuse. In spite of every effort by the university to make him graduate or kick him out, he always manages to outmaneuver them, until The Plot detains him long enough for his most recent adviser to award him with a degree in absentia.
  • Ivan Vorpatril of the Vorkosigan Saga is perhaps the most unambitious, dismotivated character of the series. He steadfastly refuses to make waves, spends much of the series resisting the idea of politically advantageous marriage because he likes casual dating (and casual sex), and generally refuses to put himself forward. Despite this he is quite competent and makes captain even before Miles, and later reveals that he's the official unofficial Spare To The Throne because nobody would accept a "mutie" like Miles, so being studiously unimpressive keeps others from wanting him as emperor - an office Ivan never aspired to since his father was murdered in the last succession crisis.

     Live-Action TV 

  • Dave Lister, from Red Dwarf, is basically an Almighty Janitor in because of this. While partly due to the fact he hates his job pre-apocalypse (in the novels, he only signed on with Red Dwarf because he somehow got so plastered that he wound up on Mimas, a moon of Jupiter, when he'd been getting drunk on Earth and it was the quickest way to get back to Earth), and post-apocalypse he's millions of years of non-stop travel away from Earth, he just doesn't have any major ambitions outside of trying to get home and open up a hot dog stand on Fiji.
  • Jaye Tyler in Wonderfalls exemplifies this trope but ends up helping others, often under protest.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Will Riker works pretty hard at staying Exec on the Enterprise D even though offered several promotions. He stays XO because he's waiting for Picard to make Admiral and therefore become captain of the Enterprise. Ultimately subverted. The Enterprise D is destroyed, and Riker is eventually promoted anyway and given command of a new ship.
  • George in the first season of Dead Like Me, who goes back to work at the same temp agency she worked at prior to her untimely death.
  • Morgan Grimes on Chuck.
    • Chuck himself at the beginning of the series. He's brilliant and capable, but he works at a big box electronic store in a menial, dead-end job and is reluctant even to compete for a promotion to assistant manger.
  • On Roseanne, Darlene resisted going to a prestigious art school due to fear of failure.
  • Jonathan Creek. With his keen analytical skills and brilliance at coming up with magic tricks, he could have either been a great detective or a great magician if he'd wanted to be; instead, he has to be dragged kicking and screaming into virtually every investigation that Maddy or Carla rope him in to, and he's quite content to hide in the wings and play second fiddle to arrogant tool Adam Klaus, who gets all the fame from his tricks. In Jonathan's case his dismotivation results from a combination of shyness, anti-social reticence and Celebrity Is Overrated feelings.
  • Oz of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is smart enough to be tapped by the world's leading software concern, and has no ambitions except getting his guitar chords right. He has incompletes on his schoolwork, didn't go to summer school, and usually gets up late.
  • Referenced in the Chappelle's Show skit "Knee-High Park" with Stinky (an Oscar the Grouch analogue) expounding on the evils of materialism and the pointlessness of working to improve your life.
    Stinky: Me, I gave up working a long time ago.
    Little Girl: Don't give up, Stinky! My dad says, if you never give up and work hard, all your dreams will come true!
    Stinky: ...that's the gayest shit I ever heard.
  • Jeff Winger in Community plays with this trope, in that he actually does want to get his law degree and out of Greendale Community College, but is also incredibly lazy, is used to coasting by on his looks and charm, and views doing anything but the absolute bare minimum effort required to get by as a personal failing; the key reason he wants to get his degree is so he can get back to the cushy life he had before he was exposed as a fraud. This is partly why he chose to go to Greendale, a school he (at least initially) views with nothing but contempt over a better school where he'd be expected to put the effort in. He also naturally falls into the trap of putting more effort into doing less than it would take to just suck it up and put an honest amount of effort in, and bringing more trouble than is necessary on himself as a result.

     Newspaper Comics 

  • Wally of Dilbert. He was actually based on one of Scott Adams' coworkers who, after realizing that the bottom 10% of employees would be offered extremely generous buy-out packages, went out of his way to get fired. Adams says about this "This wouldn't have been so much fun to watch except this fellow was one of the more brilliant people I've met and he was totally dedicated to this goal." Wally's take on it:
    It's all part of my can't-do approach to life.
  • Calvin: "I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone's expectations."
    • It's implied that Calvin is very intelligent for a six-year-old. It's just that he's such an energetic Mr. Imagination that he finds his school (especially his crotchety old teacher, Ms. Wormwood) extremely constricting.

     Tabletop Games 

  • In All Flesh Must Be Eaten, a Zombie Apocalypse Tabletop game, one of the sample characters offered is a "professional student", who has been in college 12 years, living rather comfortably off of his scholarship, and has come "dangerously close to graduating" on several occasions. Though it's mostly used as a Hand Wave for why he has so many seemingly-unconnected skills.

    Theatre 

  • Fiyero's "I Am" Song in Wicked is all about this. He chides schools for wanting to break his shallow, go-with-the-flow attitude about life.
    • As he says to his companion upon arriving at said school: "Are we there already? Oh well, I'm sure I won't last longer here than I did at any of the others."
    "Life is painless for the brainless/ why think too hard?/ when its so soothing!"
  • Twimble's song "The Company Way" in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying talks about how he's spent the last 25 years in the mailroom, avoiding promotion to avoid risk.

     Video Games 

  • Kariya from The World Ends with You intentionally avoids getting a promotion, despite being one of the most competent Reapers around. He already has his ideal job, which lets him relax and hang out with Yashiro.
  • Kingdom Hearts's Demyx would like nothing better than to just sit around the Castle that Never Was and write songs. He actually bribes you to do his missions in 358/2 Days.
    • Though he's not completely demotivated. Axel explains that Demyx's specialty is scouting and observation, which he does enjoy. It's the missions where he has to do more than sneak and watch that he dislikes.
  • Many games force this on the player, if they're trying to achieve some sort of perfect or near perfect game. Many games feature Empty Levels, where the player is punished with lower overall stats or some other disincentive for levelling up normally, and thus are better served by running away from every single random encounter and fight bosses with the main character dead for the whole battle.

     Web Animation 

  • Grif of Red vs. Blue. He acts lazy and incompetent that Sarge has slowly been giving him less and less to do, until he has practically no responsibilities at Red Base... just the way he likes it. At one point he takes Simmons' place as Sarge's second in command, but once he realizes that he'd actually have to do work, he gives it to Donut. It should also be noted that Grif is the only member of the Red Team that Church is wary of, realizing that his dismotivation hides the highest intelligence of the team.

     Western Animation 

  • Andy of Mission Hill actively mocks his little brother Kevin for choosing to focus on school over drinking and partying. Kevin, on his part, is upset that Andy chooses his lazy, layabout lifestyle over trying to get his (very good) cartoons published. One episode took Andy's dismotivation to extremes - he had just lost his job, and spent his days waking up in the afternoon, drinking, and basically wallowing in his own filth.
  • Experiment 625 (or Reuben as he is now called) in Stitch! The Movie and Lilo & Stitch: The Series has all the powers of Stitch but was regarded as a failure by Jumba because he would rather eat and make sandwiches than use his powers, which often makes him a pushover because he's too lazy to put up a fight with Stitch in the few times he's forces to assist Gantu in capturing an activated experiment. It's not until the last movie that ended the series, Leroy & Stitch, where he finally gets off his butt and helps Lilo save Stitch and defeat an clone army of Stitch's evil twin, Leroy.

     Real Life 
  • A common thing in sexuality and fetishes - the thought of abandoning control of one's desires is Fetish Fuel for many, often to their own frustration afterwards.
  • Every high school graduate has at least heard of the term "Senioritis." Basically, by their second and last semester, a high school senior has all the credits they need, has gotten their college acceptances, and is working on their financial aid, so they think "Why do I need to do any more work?" Unfortunately, particularly bad cases of this have resulted in the subjects having their college acceptances revoked.


Despotism Justifies the MeansMotivation IndexDriven by Envy
Disability as an Excuse for JerkasseryCharacter Flaw IndexThe Ditherer
Dirty CowardCynicism TropesThe Ditherer
Didn't We Use This Joke Already?Apathy IndexThe Ditherer
Dish DashComedy TropesDisgusting Public Toilet

alternative title(s): Dismotivated
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