Strategies to Motivate Yourself to Study

Posted on June 2, 2013 by Marie No Comments

Is the following scenario familiar to you?

You are sitting (ok slumping) at your desk, laptop open and papers and books surrounding you, giving the impression that you are hard at work but actually, when you try to research or write, your mind is either going blank or your eyes are glazing over when you try to concentrate on the screen (or both). You might be overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, and are waiting for your motivation to kick in so you might have the energy to do so. You might just be bored of what you are studying, or have too many other things on your mind. You may have somewhere between 5 and 10 windows open on your laptop with sites unrelated to study, and they are so much more appealing than the task that lies ahead…suddenly, it seems really urgent that you do some online shopping, or check the feeds of any social networking sites you are signed up to…similarly, any message you receive on your phone requires your immediate attention…by the time you look at the clock, you realise that 2 hours have passed and you have written a total of…1 paragraph.

One of the worst things about this scenario is the feeling that everyone else out there is either having a great time, or that, if they are studying, they are just pumping out their assignment/take-home exam/study notes and then going out and having a great time while you are sitting there procrastinating. But everyone, even the most motivated of students, experiences bouts of procrastination and finds it difficult to concentrate at various times. You may, like all students, have low energy times where you feel like you have hit a wall, and other, more motivating, high energy times when you feel like everything flows and you are smashing those assessments. The following tips should help you to get back to those times of “flow” (to read more about this concept in psychology, check out the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi):

1.      Optimise conditions for study

It is an obvious point to start with, but you have to study in the right environment. This is not the same for all people. Some people get more work done studying with others, while other people get distracted by this, and prefer to study on their own. Some people need to be at home, others in a library where it is motivating that people around them are studying, and others may prefer the outdoors to get some fresh air. Some people need to study in blocks of time (90 minutes is an appropriate cycle) broken up by exercise (and/or coffee or chocolate!) and some people find they need to sit down for an extended period, and then reward themselves with a break. Do you study better with music, or without? Can you put notes on your phone/tablet if you are finding it tedious to read everything? What time of day do you generally do your best study? Are you a structured person who does a little bit one week at a time, and need to plan ahead to implement this, or do you tend to leave everything until the last minute because you need your adrenaline to kick in before you start, and so need to block out the last few days on the calendar before an assignment is due (because, let’s face it, there is no other way)? Do you need to close down all windows (including email) on the computer so that you are not so easily distracted (try it, it’s very hard, but it does work for concentration purposes)? Find out your own personal best combination of these factors, and this will create the right environment for you to get the most out of your study time.

2.      Don’t wait for your motivation to kick in before you start

This is a very common misconception with study, that you have to wait until everything is “perfect” before you start (i.e. you have a whole day free with no distractions, you have lots of energy, and you really want to spend that whole day…studying??) – don’t kid yourself – how likely is it that to happen? Instead, use any spare 30-minute block you have to make a start, or to keep going. Even working out a plan for study is a great starting point, and might motivate you to take the next step. You don’t have to have all the energy to complete the entire project right now, you only have to have the energy to open your laptop, and make a start on anything that might be productive. The momentum will kick in at some point. Anyone who is a runner will understand this – when have you ever not ended up going for a run after putting your shoes on??? It would seem quite illogical to take them off once you have made that first step. So you start running…and keep running…and sometimes when you least expect to have a great run, because you are feeling really tired, you actually end up going further than you thought you would :) All you have to do is take that first step…things will get better from there.

3.      Take breaks where needed, and reward yourself

Don’t go too easy on yourself and finish before you’ve even started, but also learn to realise when you’ve had enough and that your body is giving you signals that you need to rest. Be healthy, get enough sleep, drink lots of water and eat nutritious food (some coffee and chocolate is ok) but don’t do dangerous things like drinking energy drinks – you’ll only experience a massive energy drop when you stop, if you push yourself too hard. Plan social outings, exercise, time outdoors, shopping and other enjoyable and healthy things around your study, so that you have things to look forward to. It is also helpful (even for people who don’t like list-making, but especially for those who do) to actually tick/cross off every section of your assignment in order to have a motivating visual reminder that you’ve made progress. It is a really small thing, but can make a huge difference to your levels of energy. Hopefully by using a combination of all the above strategies, you should be feeling like you can make a start to your next project, and then you can use all of that free time (you used to spend procrastinating) to go out and have some fun :)


By Lara Hardy

BA LLB (Hons)

Grad Dip Legal Practice

Grad Cert Careers Education & Development

Accredited Careers Counsellor with ACER 


© Lara Hardy 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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