Motivation to Study

After working with so many students around study and time management skills, I have realized that these two topics actually encompass numerous other skills that often overlap. So I can’t talk about study skills without talking about time management, and I can’t talk about time management without talking about motivation.

What is Motivation?

Motivation refers to your desire to do something. It refers to being able to get to work on something in order to meet a larger goal, even if you don’t feel like working on that exact task at the moment.

How Can I Feel More Motivation to Study?

There are ways to do this. First, remind yourself of your end goal. Visualize it and think about why you want it. What will it feel like to increase your grade in a particular course? What will it feel like to show up at your graduation ceremony and walk across the stage? What will it feel like to start your career? What will it feel like to have a regular paycheque and no homework?

You can also try to motivate yourself extrinsicly – this means finding a way to celebreate completing something. It could be a snack, or a social event, or a tv show. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation will only get you so far, so you will want to find other ways to get yourself studying.

I have previously written on motivating yourself to study here:

Your studies will consist of tasks you enjoy and tasks you do not enjoy. You can try sandwiching the ones you dislike in between the ones that you like more. That way, you do something more enjoyable, and then you do an awful activity, and then you go back to something you like more. One challenge with this is that you may not always have enough tasks in the “more fun” category to balance the “less fun” things.

You can also “eat the frog,” a concept taken from a quote from 19th-century author Mark Twain. The idea with this is that if you have to do some task you consider horrible, like eating a frog, you get it done first thing in the morning so it’s over. Then you can move onto more pleasant tasks once you’re done eating the frog.

But sometimes, you just won’t be motivated, and you might not be able to change that. Sometimes you have to get it done even though you don’t want to. This is where self-management comes in.


Self-management is about leveraging several skills in order to get things done – and this includes doing things you don’t necessarily have a lot of interest in doing.

Self-Managment vs. Self-Discipline

I prefer the term self-management over self-discipline for two reasons. First, as I mentioned above, it refers a set of skills – and self-discipline is just one of those skills. Self-discipline is narrower. Secondly, self-discipline conjures thoughts of militaristic rule-following and unnecessarily unpleasant and pointless tasks. It also makes me think that there’s punishment if you don’t do it. I don’t think anybody should set themselves up for pointless tasks, unpleasantness, or punishment!

Skills of Self-Management

  • Time management: The ability to get work done on time.
  • Organization: Knowing what you need to do, and when you need to do it.
  • Prioritization: Understanding what is most important and adjusting your workload to get it all done on time.
  • Self-discipline: Doing things you’re not interested in at the moment because you see the bigger picture of how they are important.
  • Motivation: Finding a reason to do something and bringing energy to it even when you don’t feel like it.

These are all transferable skills, which you can learn more about in this post.

I have also previously written about time and priority management, so make sure you check out that post for more information, too.

Building Habits

Sometimes your motivation will fail you, and in that situation, self-discipline and habits can help you out.

For example, let’s look at teeth-brushing. Most kids aren’t very interested in brushing their teeth. they also don’t really have a concept of the future benefit. They don’t care about dental bills, and don’t really understand what it will be like to have dental problems. They can’t imagine the discomfort of a dental procedure. There’s not much motivation for them. But we all grow up to brush our teeth a couple times a day (well, for the most part). How? Becuase we built the habit of doing it. Our parents made us brush twice a day as a child, and eventually when it becomes habit, we just keep doing it.

You can create habits around studying, too – just like your parents got you to do when you were learning to brush your teeth.

How to Build Habits

There are loads of different ways to build habits, so I’ll just cover a couple here that have worked for me:

You can pair a new habit with an existing habit. So, if you like to listen to podcasts while you’re at the gym, maybe you could listen to an audio recording of a textbook instead. Or if you’re like me and you like to have a coffee and read or write in the morning, you can switch that reading and writing over to class material.

You can also pair a habit with a cue. So, for example, set an alarm for an hour after you get home from your part-time job on Saturdays. Then you can take that hour to relax, go on social, read a book, watch tv, whatever, but when the alarm goes off, you get back to studying.

It can also help to have the same time and location for studying. If you know that on Tuesdays, you get up early and head to the library to study before class, then that can become a habit in a few weeks.

Conclusions on Study Motivation

Motivation to study is great, and you should study when you feel motivated to.

But when you don’t feel motivated to study, you need to be able to study anyways.

Building habits around studying is a great way to get work done when you don’t feel motivated.

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