Motivation to study

Motivation comes and goes. This tip sheet offers several effective strategies to increase and maintain your motivation to study.

Motivation and study

Motivation feels good, energising, and drives us to get things done. But it doesn’t always come naturally, and we all face challenging or slow periods when motivation feels hard to come by. During these times, we can find it difficult to attend class, complete assignments, or study for exams.

Strategies to improve motivation

Fortunately, there are many effective ways to increase and maintain motivation to achieve what we want to while studying at university.

Reconnect with your 'why'

One of the most powerful ways to find motivation is to reflect on the reasons why you chose to study in the first place. You could:

  • Write a list of the 3 main reasons you decided to study this course and stick it on your wall
  • Write a list of your values and remind yourself of them regularly
  • Imagine your life in the future and how your degree will help you (e.g., job, skills, opportunities). Keep this future version of you in your mind and use it to motivate you now (e.g., “I don’t enjoy statistics, but I need to develop these skills so that I can effectively do research").

Understand different types of motivation to make it work for you

Positive motivation focuses on the positive things that can happen from taking action. This might look like: “In the process of writing this essay, I’m learning new things that will be useful in the future.”

Negative motivation focuses on the negative consequences that might happen from not taking action. For example, “My parents will be disappointed in me if I don’t get a certain mark.”

Positive and negative motivations can be effective in different circumstances. Try and notice the effects of different motivators on you. Generally, it can be easier to pursue a goal that you are genuinely interested in or enjoy, rather than to avoid a negative outcome, which can make us feel helpless or overwhelmed.

Act first and motivation will follow

Many people fall into the trap of thinking that we need to feel “motivated enough” before doing something. Psychological research shows the converse - it’s action that leads to motivation, which in turn leads to more action. This means that at times, we need to start even if we don’t feel ready, trusting that motivation will follow, which will then enable us to take more action.

Set goals that motivate you

Starting before you feel motivated is easier said than done, but there are strategic ways that we can set up our goals to help us generate and keep motivation.

  • Break down big tasks into tiny steps. Instead of telling yourself to ‘write your essay’, a tiny step could be that ‘review one relevant journal article and note two or three points you want to cover in the first paragraph’. Taking one step at a time can help us focus and feel less overwhelmed.
  • Set specific, measurable, and time-limited goals. Being as clear as possible about what you want to achieve can go a long way in increasing your chances of following through.
  • Be realistic. Making goals as realistically achievable as possible is important so that you don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Try asking, “How much can I achieve in the next hour?” instead of “I need to complete all these tasks.”

Create an encouraging work environment

Some people study better with a routine, whereas others need change and variety to stay motivated. Consider trying a new study location such as the library, your favourite café, or experiment with different methods such as listening to instrumental music while studying or the Pomodoro Technique. See what works for you.

Remember that you don’t need to do it alone – if you are someone who feels motivated by working with others, join a study group or surround yourself with supportive friends who encourage (rather than distract!) and help you keep on track.

Balance your life

  • Celebrate the small wins. Planning small rewards (a break or a treat) after you’ve accomplished a task can help keep your spirits up. It can also make it easier to get back to studying after a brief, refreshing break, and to anticipate another reward around the corner after you get the next thing done.
  • Prioritise self-care. We all know that if we don’t plug in our phone to charge, it will run out of battery. It’s the same for us. So take time to recharge – schedule regular breaks, time to meet friends, exercise, listen to your favourite song, or get enough sleep. You may feel like you don’t have the time, but you’ll be surprised how much clearer you can think and work after a restful or fun break.

What can I do next?

  • Feeling unmotivated can lead to procrastination. If this is getting in the way, read more about what can help you overcome procrastination.
  • Explore resources on developing your study skills at Academic Skills. You can also attend workshops or make an appointment with an Academic Skills Adviser.
  • Speaking to a CAPS counsellor can help you develop individualised strategies to address low motivation. We also offer workshops to develop a range of skills to enhance your learning throughout the semester.

If you'd like more support, come along to one of our workshops or make an appointment for individual counselling.

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