Staying Motivated

Motivation is the key not just to getting through, but also to thrive in, university. It’s what drives us to achieve our goals and persevere through stressful times. Unfortunately, motivation is not always easy to find or maintain. At some point, we all have slow weeks where we can’t seem to get anything done. The following tips and approaches can help you get back to feeling positive, motivated, and driven to accomplish your goals!

1. Set small, attainable goals

Even just thinking about all of our upcoming assignments, midterms, and exams can be discouraging. It may seem impossible to accomplish all of the huge tasks we have on our plates – which causes us to procrastinate and postpone the tasks rather than try to tackle them. Approach large tasks by breaking them down into smaller, manageable portions, and make a plan to complete them one at a time. As you start crossing off those small items on your to-do list, the huge task will become much less overwhelming.
Let’s apply this tip to studying for final exams. I used to feel so overwhelmed at the idea of having to review all the course content from the beginning – I always felt like I had too much to do in too little time. However, when I actually broke down the material into smaller chunks and made a simple schedule to review a small portion each day, I realized that it was completely doable to study all of the content in time for the exam.

2. Celebrate your successes

Whenever you accomplish a task, reward yourself for the hard work you’ve put in. Promising yourself a reward once you achieve a goal will make it easier to work towards, especially if you’re starting to feel a lack of motivation. For example, at the end of a productive study session, I’ll reward myself by watching an episode of a TV show, treating myself to my favourite meal, or reading a few chapters of a book. Rewards are great tools to help you stay on track, but make sure that the reward matches the work you put in (i.e., refrain from giving yourself a one-hour Netflix break after 20 minutes of studying).

3. Don’t let setbacks get you down

It can be discouraging when something doesn’t go the way you expected, but it’s not the end of the world. Use setbacks to your advantage by learning from them so that you can do better the next time. For example, if you receive a bad midterm mark, reflect on how you prepared for it, then find ways to improve or change your study strategies for the next one. Or, try meeting with your professor to find out where you lost marks, and ask for advice on how you can do better in the future. No matter where you start from, there is always room for improvement as long as you don’t give up.

4. Take breaks

While it’s important to put in the effort to get the grades you want, working too much can actually be counterproductive – you’ll start to burn out and expend most of your energy. When it comes to studying, scheduling short breaks throughout a study session can increase your attentiveness and make it easier to focus on a subject for longer stretches. I like to use the Pomodoro technique – I study for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break to eat a snack or check my phone.

It’s just as important to take breaks in your personal routine and allocate enough of your free time for activities that you enjoy. For example, after I finish writing an important midterm or exam, I like to take the rest of the day to give myself a break and de-stress before I get right back into studying. My breaks are usually spent hanging out with friends, watching my favourite shows, going out to eat – whatever helps me take my mind off of school! After I’ve taken a break, I always come back feeling fresh and rejuvenated, which puts me in a better position to tackle the next big thing on my to-do list.

5. Keep the big picture in mind

Making the effort to sit down and open up a textbook or read your notes can be difficult. At times, studying can seem boring, pointless, or even frustrating. When you can’t find the willpower to study, remember what your long-term goals are – what do you ultimately want to achieve, and why? Remind yourself that all the hard work that you’re doing in university has a purpose: to reach your goal of completing your degree and setting yourself up for the future that you want.

6. Take advantage of your support network

A great way to find external motivation is to surround yourself with friends who will help you stay positive and hold you accountable to stay on track. Talking to friends, family members, counsellors or your student mentors when you’re feeling overwhelmed is a great way to find good advice and renew your motivation to accomplish your goals.

Clarissa - 2nd year, Biomedical Science

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