Dismotivation is when a character actively avoids doing anything that might get them towards their Goal in Life. This could be getting ahead in a relationship, getting a promotion on the job, or succeeding in some lifelong endeavor. They feel that working at maintaining the personal status quo is much better than working at getting somewhere, whether because of risk-aversion, laziness, or anxiety. Of course, they just may be genuinely happy where they are and see no reason to change a life that they are satisfied with.
In the most extreme cases, this could extend to a character putting more effort into staying right where they are than it would have taken to succeed at whatever they were hoping for. Maybe they think that there's nothing they can do to change it, so they make absolutely sure that no progress is made. For instance, maybe Alice is eyeing that promotion at work because the increase in pay would be nice. But Alice thinks there's no way she can get it, or that there's too much competition, or she frets over the extra responsibility. So Alice deliberately sabotages her work, makes more mistakes, shows up late, and acts like the office bugbear simply to avoid coming up in the conversation about promotion. Had Alice put in all that effort into working honestly, she might have gotten the promotion.
Of course, this means that their Dismotivation is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy; they don't succeed because they think they can't, so they don't even try.
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.
When their attempts at mediocrity become unwitting successes, they have had a Springtime for Hitler.
- Ikkaku Madarame 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.
- Unlike the rest of the Baka Rangers in Negima! Magister Negi Magi, 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.
- Medaka Box: This is Kumagawa Misogi's greatest flaw. He is so much of a defeatist that he can't even imagine himself winning, and so instead devotes what little motivation he has towards losing in certain ways, most often at the expense of others. As a result, none of his constant defeats ever helped him grow as a person at all. The one defeat that changed this and (sort of) reformed him was the one direct match in which he earnestly and honestly tried to win properly, and so finally lost properly.
- In My-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.
- 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...
- The Matsuno brothers in Osomatsu-san. They've successfully convinced their parents to keep them as dependents for as long as they can, traded spots at a workplace so 5 of them can be lazy at a time, and actively ruined each others' chances at success on multiple occasions. Osomatsu's got this as his entire philosophy, reasoning it's better to remain lazy and unmotivated than successful and away from his brothers.
- It's telling that the few times they decide to actually put in work is when They have a fight so big they gradually drift apart and their dad gets a heart attack, making them realize they can't mooch off of him forever. And even then those were cosmic examples of the trope, as the brothers "resolved" these by entering a contest to win easy money and straight up getting killed respectively.
- Fruits Basket: The head maid of the Sohma family is the head of the system that encourages the cult-like traditions and customs of the Sohma clan centered around preserving the "bond" of the Zodiac; namely, that as Akito is God of the Zodiac, she's free to do as she pleases, no matter how heinous or abusive, and the Sohmas who bare the Zodiac curse are nothing without her and exist solely to live and die for her sake. When Akito undergoes a Heel–Face Turn and is showing signs of self-improvement by abandoning the God Complex that made her hurt so many people, the maid states she's too old to be able to accept drastic new changes into the strictly traditional Sohma family, going so far as to say she liked the old Akito betternote .
- 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.
- X-Men villain the Juggernaut ostensibly is one of the most powerful beings on Earth (albeit that varies on whose writing him), being the avatar of an evil extradimensional entity blessed with strength and invulnerability enough to go a few rounds with the likes of Thor or the Hulk. However, he has little ambition beyond indulging in his grudge against his stepbrother or serving as hired muscle.
- Office Space has one of the best summations for why someone in a Dead End Job would have this mentality.
Peter: You see, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't even care.
Bob: Don't- don't care?
Peter: It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's another thing, I have eight different bosses right now... So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.
- 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.
- Peter LaFleur, the main character of DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, 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.
- 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.
- Victor Tugelbend, protagonist of 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.
- 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 because he's the best tool of the Lady (-Luck) in their eternal rivalry. So this rarely works out.
- 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.
- Shirley, the title character of Even Though I'm a Former Noble and Single Mother openly refuses advancement past B-rank in the adventurer's guild because if she does advance, she'd be compelled, by law, to abandon her daughters and go off chasing whatever "emergency" the guild tells her to. The guild master has the gall to be shocked and confused at this, and yells at his secretary Yukina because the poor girl can't get Shirley to even consider it.
- Full Metal Panic!: 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).
- Kyon in Haruhi Suzumiya, which more than anything makes up who he is and how he relates to the rest of the SOS Brigade. He's also cynical and snarky. He often acts dumb because 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. After Disappearance he decides to act more to help his friends, especially Nagato, but still hates acting on anyone else's behalf.
- The protagonist from How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe has literally messed with the hardware in his time-machine so that he can live in the present-indefinite forever, and never have to face the future. Yeah, it's that kind of book.
- 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 My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, as I Expected, this trope fits Hachiman to a T. Among the usual reasons, the main one being to Never 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:
Hachiman: 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?
- This gets flipped on its head later on, though. Hachiman's stubborn refusal to change his ways or his attitude begins to strain his relationships with the people he's close to, and it takes nearly losing them forever for him to finally admit that he does want to change, but has no idea how to do so.
- 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.
- It's also noted that he does his work very well indeed precisely because of his dismotivated nature: he's smart enough to have realized that investing a little effort into setting everything up to run as efficiently as possible saves him a lot more work down the line.
- Lightsong, one of the Returned deities of Warbreaker, not only doesn't believe his own religion, he actively tries to be as lazy, unhelpful, and irritating as possible to stop anyone else from buying into it. Due to the devotion and insistence of his high priest his brother, whose daughter Lightsong died saving the first time around and the fact that he's really a decent guy, it doesn't take.
- Dave Lister, from Red Dwarf, is basically an Almighty Janitor 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.
- 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 manager.
- 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.
- In Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson wants minimal contact with everyone, both because he just doesn't like dealing with people and he's a raging libertarian who wants to ensure nothing in government ever gets done. April, the office intern, is extremely lazy, unmotivated to do anything, and hates everyone (except Andy). Naturally, Ron hires her as his assistant because she's the worst possible assistant ever. She quickly proceeds to ensure no one ever meets with Ron, sleeps at her desk all day, and conspire with Ron to ensure no work involving him ever gets done.
- Ricky to a T in Trailer Park Boys. He actually likes jail, considering it almost like a vacation. He invokes and defends the status quo (getting drunk and high and living hand-to-mouth) on multiple occasions when Julian is trying a scheme to get them money, and he even gets arrested intentionally because of relationship problems.
- In David Byrne's song "Lazy", The narrator claims to be a Lazy Bum, but he gives a surprisingly long list of activities he does in a lazy way. He comes across less like a genuinely lazy guy and more like one who works really hard to convince everyone how cool and lazy he is.
I'm lazy when I'm loving.
I'm lazy when I play.
I'm lazy with my girlfriend, a thousand times a day.
I'm lazy when I'm speakin'.
I'm lazy when I walk.
I'm lazy when I'm dancin'.
I'm lazy when I talk.
- Wally of Dilbert is a chronically lazy employee at the company he works for, barely doing any work and constantly slacking off. He's based on a former coworker of creator Scott Adams. After realizing that the bottom 10% of employees would be offered extremely generous buy-out packages, this coworker went out of his way to get fired by being incredibly bad at his job. 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 of Calvin and Hobbes says that "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 but finds his school constricting, as he's shown to have an extremely active imagination and even discusses philosophical concepts with Hobbes. Indeed, Calvin was once shown enthusiastically learning about dinosaurs, because he thinks dinosaurs are cool. He stops when he realizes he's learning something, only to keep going when he remembers that he's choosing to do it rather than having it forced on him. Essentially, Calvin maintains the status quo as much as he can simply because he has no interest in trying to succeed in school due to finding most school subjects incomprehensibly boring.
- 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.
- The Chaos god Nurgle in Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 is the embodiment of decay and stagnation (among others, such as disease and possible love), and is opposed to Tzeentch, patron of the ambitious, the backstabbers and sorcerers (and is the embodiment of change and hope). His units tend towards the Stone Wall approach, their deadened bodies feeling no pain, regenerating with cancerous growths, and the knowledge that everything decays eventually.
- 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.
"Life is painless for the brainless/ why think too hard?/ when it's so soothing!"
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Best exemplified when he takes a jar of lotion into the bathroom, closes the door, and then says, "Eh. Why bother?"
- 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. This often makes him a pushover because he's too lazy to put up a fight with Stitch in the few times he's forced 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 a clone army of Stitch's evil twin, Leroy.
- Enforced in Starlight Glimmer's town in the season five premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, where the prevailing ideology is that having talents of any kind only serve to isolate yourself and/or instill envy in others. The end of the season reveals that this mindset was a result of Starlight drifting away from a childhood friend after they learned their talents in magic.
- When combined with a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, this creates a sociological phenomenon referred to as avoidance strategy or avoidance coping. Namely, someone thinks that they'll be bad at something (painting, getting a promotion, carrying on a conversation, etc). So they actively avoid doing it, thus ensuring that they'll be bad at it. This can even extend so far as to putting more effort into avoiding the perceived failure than it would have taken to learn the skill or succeed at the task — put simply, if they'd have put the same amount of effort into doing the task as they did in trying to avoid doing it, they'd have spectacularly succeeded. It's a common way for a person who has self-esteem issues and/or high expectancy concerning their work to preserve their self-esteem by voluntarily (but often unconsciously) failing at a task. The idea can be summed up as: "If I try hard but fail, I must face my failure and I will suffer. Though if I don't even try, there is no proof that I cannot succeed, only that I didn't try to succeed." This is generally a bad way to deal with a problem; more often than not, confronting a problem is the only way to effectively reduce the stress it causes.
- A common thing in sexuality and fetishes - the thought of abandoning control of one's desires is fetish material for many, often to their own frustration afterwards.
- High School students have the term "senioritis" for a behavior that comes up during the end of their tenure. By the time that a high school senior is at their final semester, they will likely have all the credits they need to graduate and get accepted to a college. Some students have even gotten their acceptance letters before they've even graduated. This results in a very passive attitude towards the work they have remaining, and slacking as a result. Particularly bad cases of this have resulted in the subjects having their college acceptances revoked when their grades begin to slip.
- George Orwell often put off or refused to meet certain authors and public figures he planned on writing about or reviewing their works because he worried he might end up enjoying their company and not having the heart to critique them fairly.