‘How do I get motivated to study?’ is one question I am constantly asked by students.
Having just completed my honours thesis (which turned out to be the hardest, most stressful and rewarding project I have ever done) I am happy to say that there are many ways to motivate yourself, but it may involve some pain, frustration and overcoming mental barriers to begin with (at least this was the case for me!).
Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy solutions to have you feeling totally inspired and energised about studying a subject or completing a project that may not be all that inspiring/interesting at times.
Here are some of the things you can do to motivate yourself to get on with the work and study that needs doing.
1. Make every thought serve you and move you forward
During the initial phase of my honours project I spent a lot of time in my head but it wasn’t time well spent. I would worry constantly about whether I’d be able to pull this project off, whether I’d get the response rate I needed, how I’d start writing it, etc.
In hindsight, this was a complete waste of time. It was only towards the end of my project that I started to be more effective with my thinking. I heard Dr Sharon Melnick state that we have 60,000 conscious thoughts a day. Now for those of you who just thought ‘What’s a conscious thought?’ that’s exactly what a conscious thought is, you just had one! Dr Sharon Melnick states that each of these thoughts are going to either be bringing you closer towards achieving your goals or further away from your goals.
After hearing this I decided to carefully watch what I was telling myself. I replaced thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘My writing sucks’ with ‘I’m making progress’ and ‘I’m doing the best I can and my writing will evolve and get better. This is a work in progress!’.
2. Visualise yourself taking action
Studies have found that visualisation makes a difference to professional athletes’ performance, so why don’t we as students practice doing it as well?
Practice visualising yourself taking the actions that need to be taken (e.g. see yourself typing up your work on your laptop, organising your files and being able to access articles/materials with ease).
This simple strategy helps you to stay focus on what needs to be done. As Jesse Jackson said
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it”.
3. Small actions add up
My mum recently said to me ‘Jane, every action is a cause which has an effect! If you put in the action, you’ll get the results!’. What great advice mum!
Often we can get bogged down and feel overwhelmed/stressed by the enormity of the things we need to do (e.g. writing an 11,000 word thesis). I had to regularly remind myself that even if I wrote only one sentence each day, eventually all those sentences were going to add up to my 11,000 word limit.
But I was really committed to finishing my thesis on time and doing a good job, so in February I set myself a goal to write 500 words a day. This meant that if I stuck to my goal then my draft thesis would be written in 22 days. I said to myself ‘It doesn’t matter how bad the writing is, just type up 500 words’. This was a very empowering activity as it forced me to be in action.
I read somewhere recently that worry disappears in the face of action. So next time you start worrying about an assignment or exams, force yourself to do something, however small it might be.
4. Get some comrades and spend time with them
There’s something really comforting and energising about spending time with others who are going through or have gone through the same painful experience as you.
I found that it made a huge difference to be able to talk to other students who were doing their honours projects or had completed an honours project in previous years. A lot of these people gave me motivating pieces of advice such as ‘You’re going to feel so good once you finish this project! We know it’s tough but just stick at it!’ as well as practical advice/tips (e.g. “Make sure you don’t leave your referencing until the last minute!”)
I was told by one of my lecturers about this idea of getting together with other honours students and having regular writing sessions each week (where you would all sit around at a table and write for an hour or so). Whilst I never did this for my honours project, I have done this in previous years with friends when preparing for really difficult exams. Getting together with others can turn boring, stressful tasks into a fun, playful ones.
5. Remind yourself that this won’t go on forever
I see a lot of students that are really overwhelmed and want to throw in the towel at this point in the year in regards to their studies. If you’re a student, remind yourself that this won’t go on forever, that everything changes and all you need to do is just keep taking action.