Have you ever found yourself completely unmotivated to start studying? Like it is the hardest thing in the world?
Well, I have, multiple times. I can’t even begin to count all these days that I promised myself I would study, but eventually didn’t do anything even remotely close. Countless times staring at a closed book or notes, trying to persuade myself to just start! To be honest, most of these times, I actually failed.
Sometimes, though, this is not acceptable. I’m known to have been an immense procrastinator, so a lot of times I eventually underperformed, as I didn’t start studying early enough (or didn’t even study at all). For occasions like this, you need to have some techniques to motivate yourself to study. Let’s dive into some of the things you should work on beforehand, and some techniques you can use on the spot, to get past that initial state of procrastination.
A few words on procrastination
The most important thing to understand, if you want to motivate yourself to study, is procrastination. Procrastination can be defined as the process of postponing a task perceived as unpleasant by your brain in favor of a more, temporarily, pleasant task. The problem is, as research has found out, that when you are ready to start a perceived-as-unpleasant task, the actual pain centers in your brain light up.
Instead of analyzing procrastination fully here, you should read my full article on procrastination. There you will learn more about what procrastination is and what you can do about it. Briefly, the steps you need to take to beat procrastination are the following:
- Accept that you are procrastinating.
- Identify when and why you procrastinate.
- Work on the elements of a habit, like the cues that make you procrastinate, or the rewards you give yourself for a job well done.
How to motivate yourself to study on the spot
Change your environment
One of the best techniques I’ve utilized to find the motivation to study is to actually change my environment as radically as possible. Obviously, I don’t mean tearing down walls at your house. Instead, every time I was struggling a lot with study motivation, I’d take my notes and go to the nearest coffee shop that was quiet enough for me to study.
That shift puts your brain immediately in a different mode. It’s like saying, ”now I’m going there to study, not to play”, and your brain happily follows your lead. This is also why most people are productive when they are at the office, as they associate that place with work.
This technique can be extremely effective when you usually study where you also play and have fun, like at home on your desk, where you also play games on the computer, for instance. By making this shift, you actually remove many cues that would actually put you into play mode, like seeing a particular icon on the desktop or something on your desk.
Rewarding yourself after a job well done is the best way to actually build and retain good habits. Studying is no different. Therefore, when you successfully study, it is very important that you reward yourself appropriately.
In addition to that, promising yourself rewards is a great way to persuade yourself to get started. You can schedule your rewards by time (e.g. 1 candy every hour of studying), or by material (e.g. 5 minutes of web surfing every 5 pages). By using these, you get yourself motivated to study, and at the same time help your brain associate studying with good things. That, in turn, is what makes it easier for you to create a habit out of studying as time passes.
Examples of rewards could be:
- Food or drinks, like sweets or something else you really enjoy
- Distractions, like surfing the web or watching a video on YouTube
- Taking a walk
- Time on your hobby, like playing the guitar
Make sure to adjust the reward based on the achievement. If you complete a whole semester class successfully, reward yourself with something bigger, in order to match the effort you’ve already put in.
Something you absolutely need to do is remove all distractions. Even if you manage to get started, the motivation to study can very easily be lost if you get distracted. Here are some things you can do to remove potential distractions from your environment:
- Put your phone on silent mode, or even better, turn it off
- Turn off your PC, if possible
- Stay far away from the TV
- Find a quiet place. If you study outside, make sure the surrounding noise is not loud enough to distract you.
- If you study outside, avoid going somewhere where there is a chance to meet friends.
Force start, but start small
One of the greatest ways to start studying is by just forcing through it. But, if that were easy, then we wouldn’t need all these techniques described in this article. A great way to achieve this is by using the Pomodoro technique, which suggests studying in 25’ sessions followed by a break. This is a great way to get started, as you get to focus on the process of doing just 1 Pomodoro, instead of focusing on the product (how much you study).
To be honest, though, many times in the past I still couldn’t force myself to begin studying, even if I promised myself that I would do just 1 Pomodoro. It took me a long time to actually try a smaller interval. What I noticed is that I was much more likely to start if I said I’d do 5 minutes instead of 25.
The thing is, that the pain centers that light up when we don’t want to start a task actually stop doing so a little after we start, approximately 5 minutes. So, if a Pomodoro feels too long to you, force yourself to study for just 5 minutes. If you don’t want to go on after that, then that’s ok. But, chances are, you are going to start getting on a roll, and you will continue studying at least a little bit further.
Another great technique you should utilize on the spot, when you don’t find the motivation to study, is to move. That means, to actually get your body moving. Changing your physiology on the spot is considered one of the best ways to increase motivation & productivity immediately, and to actually get things done that you feel like you don’t want to.
Some ideas for a physiology change are:
- Doing some jumping jacks
- Doing some push-ups
- Dancing to a song you really love
- Going out and running a sprint
How to motivate yourself to study beforehand
The state of your body matters
You already know that exercising regularly is immensely important for learning and all cognitive functions, so I’m not going to dive into that here. Still, there are some things you can take care of before you start studying, from a physical aspect, that will help you be more energized and motivated to study.
- Probably the most important thing is to stay hydrated. Being well hydrated helps our brain work at its maximum, and it also eliminates any distracting feelings, like drowsiness or thirst. Make sure to prepare water before you start studying, so you don’t have to get up to go get it, as that will distract you later in your session.
- Don’t try to study with a full stomach. If you eat a big meal before you start studying, it’s almost certain that you will feel drowsy and won’t be able to persuade yourself to study. Instead, try to keep the balance. You shouldn’t be full, but you shouldn’t be hungry either, as that can be equally as distracting.
- Avoid sugary foods and/or junk foods early in your studying session. When you consume such foods, you get a brief, but strong, energy high, and then you go on what’s called a sugar crash.
What I usually tend to do, based on the above rules, is eat as much as I need to not be hungry (but also not full), and then I maintain that with small snacks throughout the studying session. I also drink coffee when I study, but I limit it to just one, as, if I drink more, I get jittery and I can’t focus that well. Close to the end of my session, I eat something sweet, which gives me an energy high to finish strong. As soon as I start feeling the sugar crash, I immediately end my studying session.
Break it down
I’ve often found myself unable to start studying because I was feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material I had in front of me. The best way to beat that feeling is to actually break down your studying into manageable chunks, which you should then complete one at a time.
This also works great with enforcing some small daily action that will get you where you want to go. For instance, if you have a 50-page paper to write, you can break it down by chapter or by page. If you then commit to writing half a page every day, for instance, then the whole paper will be complete in just 100 days (which is quick for such a paper, even if it doesn’t look like it). This also ties in with the concept of mini habits in learning.
Set goals and visualize outcomes
Another technique that works great for study motivation is to actually set goals for your studying. What is it that you want to achieve? What grade do you want to get? Setting these from the beginning will immediately give you a sense of purpose, which you can then refer back to for motivation when struggling to start studying.
Building upon this, a technique that I’ve seen mentioned a lot of times is to actually visualize what will happen if you do study. The feeling of success, the feeling of getting a good grade, or the feeling of learning something new can create a lot of motivation to study. Personally, I’ve never utilized this technique, as for me what works best is more actionable steps. But this seems to work for a lot of people, so make sure to discover if it works for you as well.
Another thing that works is studying with others. Personally, I’ve found this to be one of the best ways to study, as being there with each other increases accountability and makes it less likely for you to have a hard time starting. It also allows you to bounce ideas and insights back and forth, which will immensely improve your understanding of the subject.
Just make sure that you don’t turn the studying session into a session for coffee. Go to study with people who are serious about learning and studying, and keep in your mind that you are there to study, not to socialize. Also, I believe that more than 4 people are too many, so make sure to keep it somewhat tight, as, otherwise, it might easily turn into a social situation.
Make your learning more fun
There are various ways to make your learning more fun. If you utilize them, you can make it much more easy to get started, as you need less motivation to do so. Some of the techniques you can utilize are:
- Solving problems and answering questions instead of passively reading. Active learning is much more effective than passive learning, and it is also way more fun and enjoyable. Discover problems and questions you can go through to learn, and try to avoid just passively reading through. If you have enough material, you may be able to skip reading through a boring textbook entirely.
- Learn from new sources. For instance, let’s say you have to learn math. Reading through a math textbook can be very, very boring. To make your learning more fun, go to YouTube and search for videos to learn from. There is a great chance that, regardless of the topic, the instructor will be pretty good and you will enjoy learning much more than just reading through the book.
- Use a mind map. Instead of taking plain and linear notes, go ahead and draw a mind map of the concept you are learning about. It’s more fun to create, and much easier to review later on.
- Listen to music. If you like listening to music when studying, go ahead and do it, as it’s a great way to make learning more fun. Be careful, though, because music can be distracting. Find music without lyrics on the genre that you like, and enjoy the background music while studying.
Create a habit
The most effective thing you can do is to actually create a habit out of studying. To do that, the first step is to actually schedule beforehand when you will study. If you keep it at approximately the same time every day, then quickly you will find yourself easily sliding into studying mode when that time comes.
The second thing you need to do is to create rewards to associate this habit with. The more that you repeat this process, the easier it will be, until eventually studying will be so normal for you that you won’t need posts like this anymore. To learn more about the anatomy of habits and how to utilize that for yourself, read my post on procrastination.
Learning how to learn will help your study motivation
One of the most important aspects of motivation is seeing results. By devoting time in order to learn how to learn, you will be able to immensely improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your studying sessions. Those wins can have an amazing effect on both your self-confidence and your motivation. The better you study and get results, the more willing you will be to study more and learn more things.
Once you learn how to learn anything, you will want to learn everything.
To achieve that, consume as much content here as you can, as this blog is dedicated to learning how to learn. If this is your first time here, and you don’t know where to start from, subscribe to my newsletter below. By doing so you will get my free cheat sheet, which includes all the fundamental concepts and techniques you need to get started with learning how to learn. Of course, if you need more guidance, feel free to contact me directly!
The concept you need to always remember is that not everything works for everyone. Try any of the techniques in this article that appeal to you, and figure out what works for you. The reason I can actually motivate myself to study nowadays is that I’ve experimented a lot. By doing that, I’ve gathered a lot of insights on what actually works for me, and I use this knowledge to my advantage any time I can.
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