Study Skills – Motivation

Do you find it hard to start your assignments? 
Do you find it difficult to follow through on goals you have set? 
Do you feel unhappy about your grades but aren’t sure how to improve them?

The following tips and tools will help you to increase your motivation, work more effectively, and gain a more positive outlook on your school experience.


  1. What is motivation?
  2. Setting objectives and goals that keep you motivated
  3. Ten tricks to stay motivated
  4. Overcoming procrastination

1. What is motivation?

Motivation is a person’s ability to find the energy to achieve a chosen goal. There are two types of motivation:

Intrinsic - The desire to do something for the sake of doing it. Example: reading a book because you find it interesting. 
Extrinsic - Completing a task to receive a reward or avoid punishment. Example: reading a book because you don’t want to fail the exam.

These two types of motivation affect your choices. Is your desire to complete a university degree based on intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?

2. Setting objectives and goals that keep you motivated

Setting clear objectives is a key to success at university. But first, we must define objective.

An objective is a goal you expect to reach. It can be a short-term goal (within two years), a medium-term goal (two to five years), or a long-term goal (five years or more).

Tips to setting objectives that keep you motivated:

  • Be positive, think positively, and say to yourself: “I want to succeed in my calculus course” instead of thinking, “I don’t want to fail calculus.”
  • Make it personal: transform your objectives so that they become personal and specific to your needs and desires.
  • Be specific and realistic: use numbers and deadlines whenever possible (e.g., finishing one essay by Friday), and don’t set yourself up for disappointment by being unrealistically ambitious.
  • Make it measurable: it’s the only way you’ll know if you achieved your objectives. A measurable objective sounds something like this: “I want my final average grade in English to be above the class average.” Whereas a non-measurable objective sounds like this: “I want to do well in English.”
  • Make it stimulating: an objective should have an element of challenge.
  • Be coherent: your objective has to be coherent and logical with other objectives that you set for yourself.

3. Ten tricks to stay motivated

    1. Start with the easiest task. Review your class notes.
    2. Divide your work into small tasks. Divide a lab report into sections (summary, introduction, tables and graphs, discussion and conclusion).
    3. Spread out your study periods. Use the entire semester to study by reviewing your notes every week.
    4. Study when you have the most energy. Find the times of day you are the most alert and use those times to study.
    5. Set a goal every time you study. Make a review page for an entire chapter before you take a break.
    6. Write down what you have accomplished. Make a to-do list and check off the tasks you’ve completed.
    7. Use your imagination. Make a dull topic interesting by being creative. Study games or memory cards can help you study.
    8. Create a support network for yourself. Surround yourself with people that encourage you to stay focused and positive and help you stay on track.
    9. Re-evaluate your goals. Revise your goals if you get off track and begin to feel less motivated.  
    10. Reward yourself. After you’ve accomplished a task, reward yourself (give yourself a break or a treat).

4. Overcoming procrastination

Procrastination is the act of putting off until tomorrow what can be done today. Learning more about yourself is one of the key factors in understanding how to overcome procrastination. People procrastinate when they have to accomplish a task that can be repetitive, difficult, long, or stressful.

Procrastination can also come from:

  • overestimating the time you have to accomplish a task;
  • underestimating the time you need to complete a task;
  • believing that you will find your motivation as the deadline approaches;
  • being a perfectionist and spending too much time on details; and
  • thinking that you are unable to do the assignment or succeed on the exam.

Tips to overcome procrastination:

  • Organize your work environment.
  • Organize your time (weekly and monthly calendars, to-do lists).
  • Regularly set aside 30-minute blocks of time to complete your tasks.
  • After 30 minutes, plan another 30 minute period.
  • Whenever possible, schedule tasks when your friends are busy and you have nothing else to do.
  • Start working 30 seconds after you sit down.

Back to Study Skills to find other helpful guides.

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