How do I stay motivated?

I’m back at college and loving what I’m studying. But I’m finding it hard to stay motivated. I know I should just do the work and I like the material I’m learning. But I sit down to work and want to be anywhere else. How do I translate the passion for my subject to motivation to work?

When chasing the roadrunner, don’t look down. – Animated wisdom

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Hello Diner. Often Diners ask us what their lives mean and where they need to end up. We Fortune Cookies merely signpost your path. Few realize that your final destination comes from the meaning you create out of the things you love.

But the journey is tiring. Passion lights your way, but it doesn’t make the climb any easier.

So how do you conjure reality from imagination?

Researchers found that how much progress you think you’ve made and how committed you feel toward finishing your goal influences your motivation. [1] The more progress you think you’ve made, the more likely you are to find distractions. The researchers also confirmed that the more committed you feel toward finishing your goal, the more dedicated you will actually be. [1] It seems intuitive, but now there is scientific proof–the trick is building that sense of commitment.

I used the words “feel” and “think” deliberately. Your perception influences your motivation and can therefore be reflavored. Here are some suggestions:

1. Avoid the slackers. If you have friends who are not as accomplished or motivated as you, being around them will kill your motivation. You will compare your friends’ progress to your own and feel way ahead. This is called a downward comparison, and making them will cause you to seek distractions. [1] Instead find a group of more driven and organized students. This is not to make you feel bad about yourself, but to encourage you to push yourself and catch up. It’s the same reason people find workout buddies.

2. Advertise your commitments. If finishing a chunk of work by a certain time is what you need to be successful, hold yourself to that. If you tell your friends that you will finish something by a certain time, you will be more likely to finish because you’ll have more accountability. This is another place where finding a strong study group will be useful.

3. Own your goal. Internalizing the goal will help maintain your motivation. Often people give themselves an “out” by not making that work ethic part of their identity. Until you consider yourself a motivated student, you won’t be. A writer writes; a musician plays music; and a student in your specific field striving for a career is a person who would study and do the work.

Life and distractions give people that instant hit of amusement. Reading words from a Cookie seems infinitely more interesting than plodding through homework. We think you’re spot on. As you would expect, your pleasure-seeking mind would not understand why you are spending all of those countless hours hunched over books and notes. But have faith that the work will be worth it in the end. It is, Diner. It is.




[1] Fishbach, A., Dhar, R. (2005). Goals as excuses or guides: The liberating effect of perceived goal progress on choice. Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 32, No. 3 (December 2005), pp. 370-377. doi:10.1086/497548