As an academic coach, I often hear students expressing a lack of motivation or drive to complete their work. Motivation comes and goes throughout life but try not to let its absence create a habit of inactivity. In the professional world, you will be expected to complete tasks efficiently and effectively, sometimes with very little external motivation. Building motivational skills and practicing finding an intrinsic reward for your work will help you in all aspects of your life. 

Two Types of Motivation

Extrinsic motivation comes from somewhere or something external and is easily identifiable as most punishment and reward systems, such as receiving money for doing a task.

Intrinsic motivation comes from yourself. These rewards are more personal and not discussed quite as often, such as learning for the sake of knowledge and to understand a topic.

The key to breaking through a lack of motivation is often as simple as changing your motivational source from extrinsic to intrinsic.

Building Intrinsic Motivation

Battling motivational problems requires practice. If you have always approached learning in terms of getting a good grade, it can be difficult at first to find motivation. In order to be intrinsically motivated to learn, you need to shift your thinking. Make your coursework something that you want to do instead of something that you have to do.

Why did you choose your major? Are you preparing for a particular job? Motivation can build from your love of a topic or your desire to be prepared for a specific career. 

Remind yourself that each major course you take increases your skills and knowledge for your future. Alternatively, if you are taking a general education course, think about why you chose that particular class. Even if only for an “easy A,” change your thinking to engage in the course.

Find a topic on the syllabus that interests you. Listen actively to class discussions and challenge yourself to think deeply. You may find that you discover a passion you wouldn't have otherwise.

Finding Motivation

Break down your assignments.

Break large tasks into smaller ones. Analyze how you use your time to find time wasters. Motivation is easily lost when we feel overwhelmed by too many responsibilities.

Time management is about balance. 

What is the highest priority item on your list, a test worth 30% of your grade on Friday, or a 10 point quiz tomorrow? How much time is needed for each? Sometimes doing smaller tasks can help build momentum because we feel good when we accomplish something. But sometimes too many small tasks distract us from a larger one that carries more weight.

Create a consistent routine.

Giving yourself deadlines and specific times to do tasks can keep you motivated to stay on track. Sticking to your schedule will help you avoid distractions.

Change your approach to studying.

Think of assignments and exams as chances to prove how much you know. Approach studying in terms of mastering the topic and understanding concepts.

Make studying fun.

Try using active study techniques that leave you with a product you can use to study, such as a concept web, comparison matrix, or annotated problems. Make an appointment with an academic coach to explore these techniques further. 

Create a small study group.

Make a game together to test your understanding of the topics, such as a Kahoot or Jeopardy.

Teach someone else the material.

Learning to teach can strengthen your memories while you simplify concepts to layman's terms. The questions you might get from your “students” will challenge you to think deeper.

Ask for help.

Sometimes it is helpful to have someone cheering you on or keeping you accountable when you are struggling to find motivation. The key is to not become reliant on them long term since they are another form of an extrinsic motivator.

For additional support and/or to create a personalized plan for your academic success, make an appointment with an academic coach.

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