You ask your parents and your teachers and your friends and the answer always comes down to “JUST DO IT LA” or “study lorh”. But how do you want to get yourself to be motivated?
When it comes to studying, we students often categorise our working styles into two different workflows: either we wait for the sporadic burst of motivation to ‘feel like studying’, or are ideal disciplined individuals that study regardless of our changing moods. However, what we often forget is that building motivation and discipline come hand-in-hand.
For example, when we ask a person who gyms regularly how he or she gets himself to the gym, we’re actually asking the wrong person on how to gain such discipline. This person has already gotten into the state where discipline and emotional motivation are intertwined, responding: “if I don’t go, I just don’t feel right.” Here, motivation and discipline are linked together. The ‘if, then’ mentality has been already been hardwired in the person’s brain: that if he/she goes to the gym, then he/she feels good. This is, ultimately, how our brain links certain actions to certain emotional consequences, and in short, how we build habits.
Hence, rather than bulldozing and forcefully getting ourselves to study, we should take into consideration our emotions when we want to build discipline to study. This article touches on how to build a simple system surrounding attaching emotions to studying. Below I’ve broken it up into three parts: getting yourself to start working, maintaining your workflow and long-term emotional support.
1. Getting Yourself to Start Working
The Pomodoro technique is available on thousands of apps, websites and services. It’s very simple: focus on a single task for twenty-five straight minutes, and after that you get a short ten minute break. After every four sets of these 25/10 minute intervals, give yourself a longer break.
Often times it is just getting yourself to start that takes the longest time; the Pomodoro technique allows yourself to jump into your work by making the task appear simple and short. You can also re-adjust the interval timings to what you deem best for yourself. If 25 minutes is too long, what about spending just five minutes on trying to tackle a single Mathematics problem?
The trick here is to start getting yourself to do work because the sense of commitment is low, and that allows yourself to get yourself started on doing your work. Moreover, instead of making yourself feel like you need to finish an entire paper – an indefinite investment of time, energy and effort – you give yourself a way of feeling accomplished and good in a more quantifiable and definite manner.
Of course, the Pomodoro technique was initially created after studies on our average attention span to do deep, productive work. So studying in this pattern also helps you keep yourself more productive and with better energy levels.
On the other side of the commitment spectrum, you can create high commitment levels for yourself to get yourself to do work. Usually, there is little at stake in the immediate future when we don’t study, and that is why we don’t do our work. A commitment device is one of the strongest external motivators we can use to instantly attach emotions to our studying routine.
Let’s say you want to review lecture material gone through at the end of each day. If we add our own ‘if/then’ situation to the commitment, we can create those ‘if/then’ links in our brain deliberately.
First, find someone who can hold you accountable, truly accountable, to the task at hand. It could be your coach, parent, teacher, trusted friend or sibling. Then, commit by giving that person something BIG, prior to undertaking the activity.
This is important to create the sense that things are truly at stake. For example, you could give your best friend a hundred dollars after you say goodbye to him/her after school. If you didn’t review your lecture material on that day, she/he gets to keep it the next day, permanently. You can also commit pocket money to your parents, or ask them to keep your phone for a week if you don’t finish a certain task by a given time. Think of something that you know matters to you, and commit that. If you cannot commit prior to the action, ensure your commitment device is someone who will really take your commitment seriously and diligently.
If you don’t know anyone who you can trust as a commitment device, there are phone apps available you can use such as Beeminder and Stickk that take money away from you when you don’t commit to what you are doing. Stickk also has the option of donating to an anti-charity (a charity that you do not support) to discourage you from not following through your commitments.
2. Maintaining Your Workflow
Give Rewards for Completing Smaller Sub-Tasks
We often put off studying because it is a long, arduous task with highly delayed rewards. There is no sense of gratification or accomplishment that is given to daily studying, since major examinations are only two to three times a year. Hence, we find ourselves doing other things that aren’t as productive as we’d like, but give instant gratification to our brains.
By breaking down this lofty idea of ‘studying’ into smaller concrete sub-tasks, we can give rewards to studying in smaller intervals and speed up that sense of gratification. For example, we can break down down “finish tutorial” into “review chapter”, “finish the first five questions” and “finish the last three questions.”
By doing so, we give ourselves the opportunity to reward and give positively reinforce such habits in smaller intervals of time. This helps in hardwiring the brain that studying is good. Moreover, by breaking down each task into individual sub-tasks, ‘studying’ becomes less of a hurdle but more specific and manageable pieces such as ‘finish highlighting Hamlet Act I Scene I that describes the ambiguous nature of the Ghost.’
Take Breaks that Help Your Energy Levels
It’s often enough we catch ourselves scrolling through Instagram or YouTube for three hours, and on top of that, no longer in the studying mood. Taking the right kind of break is more important than taking a break.
A right kind of break must be specific: you have to know what you are going to do during that time, or you will end up doing what you do on default: check your phone, check your computer, start on that next Korean drama episode…What I would recommend are breaks that keep your energy levels up, while at the same time taking your mind off work completely. Remember, a break is meant to be a rest from work so you can work again later. A break is not supposed to make it harder for you to get back to work.
Scientific American mentions that exercising, taking nature walks and napping are all great ways for your brain to recharge, have its downtime that it wouldn’t get while scrolling through your phone, and let you do more afterwards. Other research states that exercising also helps stimulate the hippocampus in the brain, responsible for memory and learning.
If you really do enjoy going on social media platforms, or like to chat with your friends, you can also download these apps that help you control your usage of your phone. For your computer, you can use extensions specific to your web browser to limit time usage, or even extensions that limit computer usage entirely (gamers anyone?). No need to get too fancy, most devices let you use Parental Controls to limit your usage of the entire device. The Art of Manliness has an entire article dedicated to limiting gadget usage. Alternatively, keep the gadget with someone and request that they return it after a certain time once your break is over.
3. Long Term Emotional Support
Give Rewards that Reinforce your Main Goal
While in the short-term you can reward yourself with walks, candy or a disciplined amount of time on social media, in the long term you should try to give rewards that reinforce your main goal of studying.
Here’s an example: a lot of us reward our gym goals…by ironically going for buffets or eating junk food. Rather than reward counterproductively, this person would buy pants that were his current size as well as a few sets that were one size smaller. This reinforced his main goal of losing a certain amount of weight by motivating himself with smaller sized clothing, pushing him to continue on his journey in exercising regularly and living a healthy lifestyle.
For studying, rewards that reinforce your main goal might at first glance appear to be buying pen refills or buying extra fancy stationary. However, you can reinforce studying by treating yourself to a study date with your friends at a place you’d normally not go to! This is what called adjusting the sense of ‘novelty’ of an experience – by bringing yourself somewhere that is not routine every now and then, you can reinforce your study goals by generating a sense of emotional novelty to the experience.
After reading all these tips, I hope you can start building a system for yourself to do the things you need to! Remember to customise your rewards and work-break intervals to match your own needs, and incorporate emotions into your work to deliberately create motivation. Below is a simple summary on all the tips mentioned above – and happy studying!