Some days, you’re on fire. You tick off your assignments one by one, and you’re proud of the quality of work you’ve produced. Everything seems to flow. You’re in that elusive zone. Other days, though, something seems off. The words won’t come. You can’t seem to focus. Everything is a struggle.
Motivation is a very complicated subject with many dimensions. A simple way of looking at it is in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic factors are about personal satisfaction or achieving a goal. Extrinsic factors are tied to rewards and punishments.
A very basic example would be keeping your room tidy. You might be motivated by the accomplishment of living in a clean and well-organised space (intrinsic). Or you may be motivated by the pocket money you receive at the end of the week, or by knowing that you won’t be able to see your friends on the weekend if your room is a mess.
At first glance, you might think that intrinsic motivation is better, or even more noble, because it doesn’t relate to a system of reward/punishment. However, much of the world operates on a system of extrinsic motivation. How many people would go to work if they weren’t paid? In fact, most people need both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in their lives.
So, the question is, how does knowing about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation help with your study plans when you just can’t seem to make a start?
Firstly, you need to understand why you feel motivated to complete some tasks and not others. Clinical psychologist Dr Shefali Tsabary has explained that perceived control is the highest indicator of motivation. This means that if you feel as though you understand something thoroughly and can complete the task relatively easily, you’ll be more motivated to do it. If you’re given a choice on your essay or text, consider your options carefully. Where possible, choose something that’s interesting and stimulating.
Okay, that was the easy one! But what if you have to do an assignment, or even do a whole subject that you dislike or have little interest in? This is where extrinsic motivating factors come into play.
What does organisation have to do with motivation? This is really about extending your control over the situation. When you block out your study schedule, don’t drop all of your least favourite tasks on the same day. Balance your schedule so that you have some easy or interesting tasks mixed in. Certain time management experts suggest undertaking the tasks you don’t like first. Then, the rest of your study plan is easy by comparison.
When I was in high school, I had to read a novel that I found painful beyond measure. I couldn’t invest myself in the characters or the plot. I literally fell asleep quite a few times while reading. And English was my favourite subject! The only way I could get through it was to make a deal with myself: I’d set the timer for a reading block each day. As soon as the timer started, I was committed to reading. Then, once the alarm sounded, I didn’t have to read the novel again until the next blocked-out interval.
This is extrinsic motivation at its most basic. We’ve been trained in this since we were little children. Were you ever told that you could have dessert if you ate your vegetables? That’s a type of extrinsic motivation. The same idea applies to adults. You need to think of ways you could reward yourself once your study session is complete. However, and this is important, the rewards must be in keeping with a healthy lifestyle. Otherwise, you’re just creating other problems! A reward could be as simple as taking a break after studying for a block of time. Going outside and enjoying the fresh air could be a massive motivator.
Get some help
Let’s face it – we all have our own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to school subjects. We might not click with some topics as easily as others. Struggling with a subject and not knowing where or how to get help is incredibly demotivating. This is where a good tutor can be so valuable. You can ask questions in a low-pressure atmosphere, without judgement. Private tutoring is an opportunity to understand where you’ve previously made mistakes and to learn how to improve your future performance. If you have the knowledge and skills, you’ll be motivated to demonstrate them.