35 Study Motivation Tips by Key Areas

35 Study Motivation Tips by Key Areas
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Study motivation is perhaps the most difficult to maintain consistently over a long period. Also exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of general and personal motivation to study has become quite common among learners in the online environment. Marked decreases in the quality of the learning experience and students’ mental health have been observed in online learners (Barrot, et al, 2021). This is perhaps the new normal for the foreseeable future.

Although there are different factors affecting motivation for different people, there are several common tips and practices we can try to improve and maintain motivation. The study motivation tips given here have been proven to work for many types of students.

This article will discuss learning strategies, personal factors, one’s environment, and learning techniques that can help you increase study motivation and reduce stress.

Study Motivation Tips Table of Contents

  1. Learning Strategies
  2. Personal Factors
  3. Your Environment
  4. Learning Techniques

Learning Strategies

1. Set Goals

Remember – goals are dreams with deadlines.

List some short-term goals under your long-term goals. Long-term goals may seem intimidating, but you can always list down what components make up each long-term goal.

Example:

Goal: to memorize all the skeletal muscles

Short-term goals: for each muscle group (head, neck, thigh, leg, arm, chest, larynx, hand, arm, scalp, eyes, vertebral column, abdomen, pharynx, nose, mouth, tongue, and back) memorize the three groupings:

  • Superficial muscles
  • Intermediate muscles
  • Deep muscles

2. Start with the Easy Information

Starting with easy information makes us feel successful in the initial parts of memorization. And once we feel successful, it becomes easier to proceed with the next and harder tasks.

For example, memorize the arm muscles first, as these are most familiar to anyone. Then memorize the hand muscles, and so on, progressing to the hardest groups. Note that some people memorize other parts faster, so it depends on the person which starting point is easiest.

3. Reward Yourself

Rewarding yourself from time to time for small accomplishments is a great way to stay motivated. Every time we are rewarded, the brain releases the hormone dopamine, triggering feelings of pleasure and happiness.

After a given task, especially a hard one, reward yourself with:

  • A foot massage
  • Chocolate
  • 5 minutes of social media
  • Photos of your favorite sceneries
  • A two-minute chat with a friend

4. Set Fixed Schedules

Set a schedule and abide by it—it may be difficult at first, but once you get into a fixed routine, your mind will anticipate the times of the day that you study, and ease and relax into this routine.

5. Learn in Small Bites–Don’t Cram

People learn better in smaller chunks than all at once in one big chunk.

Substituting cramming with mnemonics is more effective, according to a 2019 meta-study of 214 research studies (Van de Lint and Bosman, 2019).

effectiveness of mnemonics in a hybrid introductory statistics course

6. Reflect

Reflection is “a process where students describe their learning, how it changed, and how it might relate to future learning experiences “ (Purdue University, 2021). Reflection is also part of learning because we can generalize the main ideas, principles, and abstract concepts from experience.

Reflection increases depth of knowledge, identifies areas that are missing or deficient, personalizes and contextualizes knowledge, and provides comparative references in learning (Chang, 2019).

7. Find a Good Teacher/Tutor

A good teacher is a great find. He or she could be a great lecturer, professor, or personal tutor. What counts is that he/she can explain difficult concepts accurately and simply. Also, they should be able to make you more self-reliant by giving you more self-confidence and self-autonomy.

In a meta-study covering 144 studies and more than 79,000 students, it was found that the number one predictor of students’ need satisfaction and self-determined motivation is teacher autonomy support. It is a stronger factor than parental autonomy support (Bureau, 2021).

As we grow in knowledge, a positive feedback loop develops. Actually, a sense of personal competence is the most positive predictor of self-determined motivation  (Bureau, 2021). 

evaluation of k-12 teachers' performance by parents

8. Find Study Partners

Finding people who are studying the same material and topics at the same time as you is quite effective, especially if you are not a good solo learner. Set study times with a classmate or two—keep the group small, and focus only on the topic at hand. 20- to 25-minute blocks would be ideal. Take a 5-minute break, and continue studying in 20- to 25-minute blocks.

9. Don’t Wait for Motivation to Strike!

We sometimes wait for the perfect time to strike to do what we need to do—the perfect hour, situation, or setup that will finally make us feel motivated. But this rarely happens, and if we wait too long, it may never come, or come too late.

Personal Factors

1. Acknowledge that You Have a Problem

The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that there IS a problem.

Be honest.

If you procrastinate, feel anxiety, have a lot of negative thoughts, feel depressed, or feel extremely lethargic, then there is a problem.

Fortunately, you can fix this by changing your mindset and owning the problem.

  • Acknowledge that you have a problem.
  • Identify the specific problem.
  • Analyze why you have the problem.
  • Take steps to minimize thinking about or being affected by the problem.

2. You Can Change Your Mind

Neuroplasticity is “a general umbrella term that refers to the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience” (Voss, et al, 2017). The brain is incredibly flexible and can be trained, especially at a young age.

Although older brains are harder to train, neurotherapeutic interventions targeting regulators of plasticity can effectively change our brains and mindsets (Voss, et al, 2017).

Thus, you can train your brain to get rid of negative habits and cultivate new and positive ones.

3. Locus of Control

One must realize that although there are many things we cannot control in our lives, there are some small things we can control and take credit for, known as our locus of control. This concept was originally formulated by Julian Rotter in the 1950s (Rotter, 1966). Developing one’s own locus of control is important and quite achievable. Being internally motivated comes naturally from analyzing one’s locus of control, and realizing that we do control most of our situation.

Identify, control, and own the things you can control. Be in control of your locus of control!

4. Connect with Your Source of Strength

What is your own source of emotional or spiritual strength? It can be one or more of the following, or you may have your own:

  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Mother Earth
  • Family
  • Special friends
  • Partner/spouse
  • Pets

Which ever ones they are, connect with them regularly.

5. Quieting Your MindPrayer / Meditation

To be completely focused on our learning tasks, we need to first quiet our minds and detach ourselves from outside worries and pressures. Close your eyes, and either pray, meditate, or otherwise just shut your mind off from the world. Draw upon the quiet to refresh your mind.

6. Exercise!

Exercise releases endorphins, allowing a feeling of relief and enabling us to get our “second wind” or a new burst of fresh energy when we are tired.

Lift some weights, have a short jog, or do some aerobics/Pilates. Light exercise wakes us up and helps us concentrate.

7. Stretch!

Every 15 or so minutes, a little bit of stretching helps:

  • Stretch your shoulders
  • Stretch your arms
  • Stretch your fingers and hands
  • It will help you feel better and improve blood circulation.

8. Laugh!

Laughter also causes the release of endorphins or the “feel good hormones.” Endorphins interact with opioid receptors in the brain, relieving pain and triggering feelings of pleasure (Manninen, et al, 2017). Just don’t overdo it or you won’t get anything done—short laughter breaks are ideal.

  • Read a joke
  • Read a meme
  • Watch a two-minute comedy video
  • Crack some jokes
  • Get back to studying

9. Watch What You Say–You Are Listening

The words we say affect us subconsciously to a great degree, whether we realize it or not.

Negative self-talk encourages anxiety, fear, depression, and procrastination.

Avoid this by replacing it with positive and compassionate self-talk. This will bring more peace, satisfaction, relief, and a feeling of positive energy that makes you believe you can do anything.

Note: Most negative self-talk is exaggerated or downright untrue. Practice encouraging yourself with past accomplishments, good interactions with others, and with things you did that genuinely helped others.

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help

If you find it nearly impossible to concentrate because of deep personal psychological problems, no amount of self-motivation will help you cross the bridge. The only option is to seek professional psychiatric help. Talking about some deeply-rooted memories may be the key to unblocking your psyche and help you regain control of your thoughts and emotions.

Your Environment

1. Sleep Better!

How many hours of sleep do you get on average? Not getting enough sleep can lead to many health disorders (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022)!

Some people need only 5 hours of sleep a day, while most need around eight hours. The quality of sleep is more important than the length of sleep.

Source: CDC, 2022

To sleep better, try the following:

  • Avoid blue light from electronics devices at night—turn off the screens of your phone, computer screen, and TV
  • Wear blue-light filtering eyeglasses
  • Set your computer monitor to nightlight mode (the monitor light adjusts to a warmer white balance at night)
  • Wear sleep masks that cover your eyes entirely
  • Play very soft classical piano songs while you sleep
  • Avoid caffeine after the late afternoon
  • Set your room to a cool temperature conducive to sleep
  • Don’t watch movies on your TV or computer monitor just before sleeping
  • Take a shower before sleeping
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom
  • Consider using dark mode for your computer operating system and programs

2. Clean Up Your Study Space/Workspace

A clear and uncluttered work or reading space is good. Ideally, choose a well-lit, bright space and white lights (LED or fluorescent lights) and avoid warm lights (they can make you feel sleepy). Place your books/devices within reach, but not cluttering your workspace.

3. Caffeine Helps!

Caffeine is a stimulant that wakes you up, enabling long periods of concentration. It affects people differently, though, so know your limits. For some people, caffeine causes drowsiness, so maybe stay away from coffee if this happens to you.

4. Use Background Music

Listening to classical music, particularly classical piano in the background, helps many people concentrate and feel relaxed while studying. A 2007 study in the journal Neuron stated that “Model-dependent and model-free analysis techniques provided converging evidence for activity in two distinct functional networks at the [music symphonies’] movement transition: a ventral fronto-temporal network associated with detecting salient events, followed in time by a dorsal fronto-parietal network associated with maintaining attention and updating working memory” (Sridharan, et al, 2007).

5. Use App and Website Blockers

We can easily get distracted by friends posting their latest photos or videos on social media, and we need to shut these off.

App and website blockers are available for both your computer and mobile devices. Some examples are Focus, Zero Willpower, Mindful Browsing, and Cold Turkey, among many others.

6. Get Up and Out of Bed

Staying in bed while working in front of your laptop may seem efficient, but in less than an hour, you will feel quite sleepy and disengaged. Get up and out of bed—sit in a chair by a desk and do your studies from there.

7. Dress Up!

Participating in Zoom lectures in pajamas was fun at first, but maybe you noticed that you have become too relaxed and easily distracted. Try these:

  • Change into “working” clothes, jeans, a t-shirt, a dress, etc.
  • Wear socks. Put on a pair of shoes.
  • Dress up as if you’re going to an actual face-to-face class.

8. Get Out of Your House/Dorm and Go to an Outside Space

Getting out of the house or dorm room can liberate you from thoughts of taking bed naps or feeling too relaxed.

  • Go to the library.
  • Go to a coffee shop.
  • Go to a shared co-working space.

This will force you to study.

Learning Techniques

The more we succeed in learning, the more motivated we will be to learn more. Here are some suggested learning techniques:

1. Try the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique (Cirillo, 2006) is very popular among medical and pharmacy students.

Using a timer, block off 25 minutes with no distractions and do the following:

  • Learn a specific topic within 25 minutes of intense concentration.
  • Take a 5-minute break.
  • Repeat for the next topics.
  • After 20 cycles, take a 20-minute break.

2. Use Mnemonics

Mnemonic devices are very effective tools in memorizing lots of information (Mocko, 2017), popular among medical school and pharmacy students. Examples:

1) the order of precedence in mathematical operations:

– PEMDAS = Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally

= Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication / Division (left to right), Addition / Subtraction (left to right).

2) The 12 cranial nerves:

Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch and Feel Very Good Velvet. Such Heaven!

  • O: olfactory nerve (CN I)
  • O: optic nerve (CN II)
  • O: oculomotor nerve (CN III)
  • T: trochlear nerve (CN IV)
  • T: trigeminal nerve(CN V)
  • A: abducens nerve (CN VI)
  • F: facial nerve (CN VII)
  • A: auditory (or vestibulocochlear) nerve (CN VIII)
  • G: glossopharyngeal nerve (CN IX)
  • V: vagus nerve (CN X)
  • S: spinal accessory nerve (CN XI)
  • H: hypoglossal (CN XII)

reasons why students remembered certain mnemonics

3. Vary Your Learning Materials

We usually learn from textbooks and class lecture videos, but other learning materials may help.

Try out videos on YouTube—search for specific channels for a more targeted and focused approach.

If learning biology, go out and identify the scientific names of the organisms you see.

If learning physics, watch and follow YouTube videos that illustrate the concepts with actual activities.

A great example of this is the physics of swimming.

4. Use the Feynman Technique

Try the Feynman Technique (Cam, (2020). Explain what you currently know to a kid or to a friend who doesn’t know about the subject matter. You’ll be more motivated to try to study and learn more to answer their questions, which may seem very simple to answer but require us to comprehend the subject matter. It works both as a learning and teaching tool.

5. Use Music

Are you musically inclined? Do you like rhymes? Then make a song of your study material! It’s fun, intuitive, and allows for much better retention.

There are numerous resources you can use for inspiration.

If you prefer to just learn from other educators’ materials, look for their YouTube channels.

A very popular and highly-recommended channel is acapellascience – one of their most famous songs on physics, chemistry, biology, and math is “The Molecular Shape of You (Ed Sheeran Parody)”.

Another popular one on physics and String Theory is sung to the tune of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Some people also play loud music to pump themselves up—it’s not for everyone, but if it works for you, go for it! (Wear headphones, though).

6. Make Learning Fun

Try out the following to make memorizing fun:

  • Flashcards
  • Gaming applications
  • Online games
  • Puzzles
  • Concept maps
  • Crosswords
  • Software or mobile phone applications

7. Write Down All the Information You Know Three Times

Write down all the information you know three times on three separate sheets of paper. You’ll find that after writing it down the first time, you’ll start remembering. By the third time, your mental image of the information would have begun to crystallize and stored in your memory.

8. Don’t Multitask

Multitasking, or doing several things simultaneously, is not a good way to study.  With multitasking, one just covers several things shallowly, and never fully completes any of the tasks. It makes tasks less efficient  and error-prone (Cleveland Clinic, 2021).

Focusing on a single task at a time with intense focus is much better.
So, do just one task at a time.

You Can Do It!

The motivation to study will depend on you always, and what may work for others may not work for you. Try what works and find out why things don’t work, set your routine, always evaluate your progress, and stay positive. Remember your goals and your source of strength.

Practice mindfulness. Practice thankfulness.

You can do it!

 

References:

  1. Barrot, J. S., Llenares, I. I., & Del Rosario, L. S. (2021). Students’ online learning challenges during the pandemic and how they cope with them: The case of the Philippines. Education and information technologies, 26(6), 7321–7338. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-021-10589-x.
  2. Bureau, J., Howard, J, Chong, J., Guay, F. (2021). Pathways to Student Motivation: A Meta-Analysis of Antecedents of Autonomous and Controlled Motivations. Review of Educational Research, 92(1):46-72.
  3. Cam. (2020). The Feynman Technique. Retrieved July 27, 2022 from https://www.colorado.edu/artssciences-advising/
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Data and Statistics – Short Sleep Duration Among US Adults. Accessed  July 29, 2022 from: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
  5. Chang, B. (2019). Reflection in learning. Online Learning, 23(1), 95-110. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v23i1.1447.
  6. Cirillo, F. (2006). The Pomodoro Technique (The Pomodoro). Retrieved Jul 22, 2022 from http://friend.ucsd.edu/reasonableexpectations/downloads/Cirillo%20–%20Pomodoro%20Technique.pdf
  7. Gallup, Inc. (2022). IN DEPTH: TOPICS A TO Z – Education. Retrieved July 29, 2022 from: https://news.gallup.com/poll/1612/Education.aspx
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. (2022). The importance of stretching. Retrieved July 27, 2022 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching
  9. Manninen, S., Tuominen, L.,  Dunbar, R., Karjalainen, T., Hirvonen, J., Arponen, E., , et al. (2017).  Social Laughter Triggers Endogenous Opioid Release in Humans. Journal of Neuroscience  37 (25): 6125-6131; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0688-16.2017.
  10. Purdue University (2021).The Purpose of Reflection. Retrieved Jul 27, 2022 from: https://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/english/icap/assessment/purpose.html
  11. Rotter, Julian B (1966). “Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement”. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied. 80 (1): 1–28.
  12. Skills N’ Talents. (2018). Isaac Newton will help you swim faster. Physics of swimming part 2. [Video]. YouTube. https://youtube.com/watch?v=j3-4WTRA-FY
  13. Sridharan, D., Levitin, D., Chafe, C., Berger, J., Menon, V. (2007). Neural Dynamics of Event Segmentation in Music: Converging Evidence for Dissociable Ventral and Dorsal Networks. Neuron 55(3):521-532. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2007.07.003.
  14. The Cleveland Clinic. (2021) Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work. Retrieved Jul 27, 2022 from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/science-clear-multitasking-doesnt-work/
  15. Van de Lint, R., & Bosman, M. (2019). 69 Mnemonics versus Cramming. Learning Can Be Effective, Efficient and Fun. A Systematic Review Studying Memorization Techniques in Education. CNS Spectrums, 24(1), 212-212. DOI:10.1017/S1092852919000543
  16. Voss, P., Thomas, M. E., Cisneros-Franco, J. M., de Villers-Sidani, É. (2017). Dynamic Brains and the Changing Rules of Neuroplasticity: Implications for Learning and Recovery. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1657. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01657.
  17. Mocko, M., Lesser, L., Wagler, A., Francis, S.  (2017) Assessing Effectiveness of Mnemonics for Tertiary Students in a Hybrid Introductory Statistics Course, Journal of Statistics Education, 25:1, 2-11, DOI:
    https://doi.org/10.1080/10691898.2017.1294879.

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