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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that there IS a problem.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Which ever ones they are, connect with them regularly.
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.
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.
Every 15 or so minutes, a little bit of stretching helps:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
Getting out of the house or dorm room can liberate you from thoughts of taking bed naps or feeling too relaxed.
This will force you to study.
The more we succeed in learning, the more motivated we will be to learn more. Here are some suggested learning techniques:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
Try out the following to make memorizing fun:
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.
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.
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!