Where’s My Motivation? How to Motivate Yourself to Study

Motivation used to be easier to find when there was no internet to abet our procrastination, don’t you think?  We Millennials and Generation Zs have been dealing with two big issues for quite some time now. And through no fault of our own! How are we supposed to resist the perks of modern times? These two very related issues are, as you might have guessed already, beating procrastination and finding motivation. These terms might sound like synonyms, but the truth is you can beat procrastination by forcing yourself to do something without necessarily seeing the point of it. Finding the motivation for it, however, will make you into a much better learner. A person who’s motivated will learn more and understand the material much better than someone who has no idea why they’re studying, but is convincing themselves they should.

Let’s define procrastination as “the lack or absence of self-regulated performance and the tendency to put off or completely avoid an activity under one’s control” [4]. In other words – you’re able to do something – finish your homework, prepare for an exam, or simply clean your room. You know you should definitely do it – but you’re avoiding doing it for different reasons that we’ll talk about later. On the other hand, motivation is “the force that drives a person to engage in activities” [2] – aka, your strongest weapon when it comes to overcoming procrastination.

Now, an article titled “How to Motivate Yourself to Study” might sound like the magic solution to procrastination: (“You mean, I’m finally going to stop checking Instagram instead of writing that essay?!”)

Alas, there aren’t any magic solutions, but what I can offer you here are some tips to first recognize what exactly is making your motivation so low and then how you can try to best solve the problem according to your own individual personality.

So, if you’re determined to overcome your procrastination through some reading and planning, you’ve come to the right place.

Why, Oh Why, Am I Procrastinating?

In order to answer this all-important question, let’s first discuss why people study to begin with.

There are a couple of different goals that people hope to achieve through studying. Some have a mastery-approach goal orientation [1]. This means that they study because they find the topic interesting and they want to learn as much as possible about it. These people often experience the state of flow – the feeling of being so interested in an activity that you lose track of time, space, and your mother calling you to dinner for the third time in the last five minutes.

Others have a different idea and thus foster a performance-approach goal orientation [8]. They may not be interested in the topic itself, but they like to shine in front of others – they want to show off their ability and results.

Now, both of these approaches are positive as they’ll ensure that you’ll have the necessary motivation to study. However, with the first one, people tend to enjoy the process of studying, while the second one may produce anxiety [5]. We’ll come back to that later, but first, let’s talk about some of the more negative approaches to studying.

Where The Dark Approaches Dwell

Some students nurture avoidance orientation, and that’s where procrastination comes knocking. Whether it’s about mastery-avoidance or performance-avoidance, the idea is similar: avoid accomplishing too little – failing (which can sometimes be avoided in ways other than studying extensively), or avoid spending a lot of time studying only to realize you haven’t learned as much as you wanted to [8]. These students have a fear of failure that can produce two different (both negative) outcomes – anxiety and self-handicapping.

Some will try their best not to fail, being anxious and fearful all the time, checking their notebook in the middle of the night because they believe they’ve skipped over something and they won’t succeed on their test.

Others will fear failure so much that they’ll resort to self-handicapping [8]. They set up external barriers for themselves as justifications for failing. If you’re this kind of student, your thought process will go something along the lines of: “I’ll definitely fail. But if I fail due to the lack of ability or effort, I’ll be so ashamed and everyone will be disappointed in me. However, if I fail because the tasks were too difficult or because the teacher just doesn’t like me, or because I’m bothered by the constant chatter in the library when I try to study, it’s not up to me, right? And if it’s not my fault, I’ll feel much better about it.”

Now that we understand motivation and procrastination a little bit better, let’s go to everyone’s favorite part: tips on how to overcome it!

Finding Your Ideal Approach

In order to increase our motivation, it’s sometimes necessary to take a look at our reasons for procrastinating.  We’re going to list a couple of common reasons for the lack of motivation, and after each, some questions you can ask yourself in order to determine whether that’s the cause of your procrastination. Next will be some tips on how to overcome those specific issues. Buckle up, procrastinators, here we go!

  1. My fear of failure gives me anxiety. (Am I afraid of failing?  Do I get anxious when I study?)

Being anxious is no walk in the park. However, to a certain degree, anxiety can be motivational; we call this type facilitating anxiety [3]. If you think “I don’t want to fail, I’d better start studying!”, that’s not a bad start to having healthy motivation. But the other type – debilitating anxiety – is the one that troubles many students [3]. The thought process here is different: “I’m going to fail. I don’t understand anything, I don’t know anything, I’m a good-for-nothing failure!” Such thinking makes it difficult to focus on the human anatomy or Einstein’s laws of physics, doesn’t it?

The root of these thoughts are the avoidance approaches we mentioned before. Instead of trying not to fail, you should decide to try to achieve something. The stakes are higher, sure, but the results – and the process itself – are going to make your life a lot easier. So the next time you recognize those debilitating thoughts, get out a piece of paper right there and then and write down three goals for your study sessions. Make them both short-term and long-term, and, most importantly, make them sound positive. For example, write down: “Read 20 pages by 8pm today, finish chapter 3 by 7pm tomorrow, go over it once more by Wednesday at 7pm.” Then get some rest the day before the exam – go for coffee with friends or finish that comic book you never have time for. The important thing is: make your goals as measurable and clear as possible [4]. Focusing on your goals instead of the outcomes may make your life a bit easier.

If you do suffer from debilitating anxiety and don’t think you can deal with it alone, talk to someone. You can even schedule a free consultation with one of our Coaches.

  1. “I just don’t have it in me. I’ll never understand math.” (Do I believe that I’m not capable of understanding this subject no matter how much I study?)

This was me in high school (guilty as charged!) until I came to the quite reasonable realization that different people are talented in different things. As for me, I always did well in physics, but simply couldn’t understand the logic of math. How did I get through it? By understanding that just because I’ll need three weeks to prepare for my math exam and that other kid from class will only need three days doesn’t make me stupid or a failure – it simply proves that we’re not all built the same.

Most people have a certain self-serving bias wherein they believe that successes come from inside them, while something outside of them is to blame for their failures [2]. This is why we tend to say that we got an A in history because we studied, but got an F in math because the exam was too difficult [1] [6]. This way we protect the positive image we have about ourselves, but we lose any and all motivation to study certain subjects.

Now let’s imagine you spend the next three weeks preparing for that test instead of giving up right away. Two things could happen: you could succeed, or you could fail. If you succeed, imagine the pride you’ll feel for, essentially, being better than your past self. And if you fail, you’ll know you gave it your all, and you can’t really blame yourself for not being talented in everything, right?

But to be fair, whenever I spent that much time preparing for math exams that I “just didn’t get”, I never once failed them – not because I discovered some hidden talent for math, but because effort is what counts in the end. And there’s also something called self-efficacy beliefs: it turns out that we can do much more if we believe we’re capable of doing it [6].

  1. Nothing interests me. (Do I find anything interesting at all when it comes to this subject?)

This is a tough one. As we mentioned before, having an interest in something makes it a lot easier to sit down and study. But all is not lost! If you lack interest inside yourself, you need to find it outside of yourself. Do you like to brag and be the best? Use that to make the subject more interesting for yourself. If that doesn’t interest you either, we have something else in mind for you, which is:

Find your routine.

Nothing kills motivation faster than having no plan whatsoever [3]. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll study as soon as you finish watching that video, isn’t it? But if you have a whole day planned: what time you get up, what time you exercise, what time you study – postponing things becomes a little bit more difficult. To make the plan even more bulletproof, use one of our previous tips: set clear and measurable goals. That way, if you’ve been on Facebook for 15 minutes while your “read 20 pages” time is getting shorter, you might start feeling a little bit guilty. If you don’t believe you’ve got that much self-discipline, ask someone to help you – like a motivation-buddy of sorts. Make sure they know your schedule and remind you to study. Better yet, you can study together: just make sure they’re not the procrastinating type! And while we’re on group sessions…

  1. I don’t have the discipline.”  (Do I believe that I can’t, for the life of me, convince myself to study for more than X minutes at a time?)

Good job on recognizing that – you’re on the right track! Now I’ll let you in on a secret not many people will tell you: having group study sessions doesn’t mean you’ll just be gossiping and wasting your time! Of course, you’ll need to find someone who’s not a procrastinator, and you’ll need to have a clear plan for studying, such as: finish 30 questions, have a 15-minute break. The thing is, some people find it easier to motivate themselves to study (alone), but others thrive in groups [7]. They find it easier to study if they can talk to people while they’re doing so; the sense of togetherness gives them motivation. It’s all about the learning style that fits you best.

I hope you found these tips useful! Once you discover how to motivate yourself, you’ll find many things much easier to tackle and will procrastinate less. And if you came to this article procrastinating, then I also hope you could recognize yourself in some of these thoughts and will be on your way to preparing for that exam. Good luck!

 

References:

 

  1.      Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement Goals in the Classroom: Students’ Learning Strategies and Motivation Processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 80, No.3, pp. 260-267.
  2.   Brownlow, S., & Reasinger, R.D. (2000). Putting off  Until Tomorrow What is Better Done Today: Academic Procrastination as a Function of Motivation Toward College Work. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, Vol. 15, No. 5, pp. 15-34.
  3.   Entwistle, N.J., Thompson, J. & Wilson, J.D. (1974). Motivation and Study Habits. Higher Education, Vol. 3, pp. 379-396.
  4.      Lee, E. (2005). The Relationship of Motivation and Flow Experience to Academic Procrastination in University Students. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, Vol. 166, No.1, pp. 5-14.
  5.      Linnenbrinck, E. (2005). The Dilemma of Performance-Approach Goals: The Use of Multiple Goal Contexts to Promote Students’ Motivation and Learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 97, No. 2, pp. 197-213.
  6.   Pajares, F. (1995). Self-Efficacy in Academic Settings. Paper presented at a symposium held during the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.
  7.   Weiler, A. (2004). Information-Seeking Behavior in Generation Y Students: Motivation, Critical Thinking, and Learning Theory. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp 46–53
  8.      Wolters, C. (2004). Advancing Achievement Goal Theory: Using Goal Structures and Goal Orientations to Predict Students’ Motivation, Cognition, and Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 96, No. 2, pp. 236-250.

If you have any questions about motivation, you’ve come to the right place!

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