Whether you feel low or experience the flow: Both is part of learning. As motivation is an essential prerequisite when preparing for exams or when writing academic theses, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has compiled some tips and tricks for you that help you increase your motivation.
What is motivation?
Motivation is not a personality trait but the answer to the questions of ‘why’ and ‘what for’ regarding an action. Motivation becomes apparent through behaviour and action. The psychological process that initiates, controls, maintains and assesses goal-directed actions is called motivation. Through this description, it becomes clear that motivation does not only matter at the beginning of an action but is a fundamental element of the entire course of action.
On the one hand, motivation arises from the value that your goal has for you personally. This reaches from a personal passion for the topic and enjoyment of the action (which is also called intrinsic motivation) to external consequences like praise, success or reward (extrinsic motivation). On the other hand – and this is a lesser-known aspect – motivation is determined by your subjective expectation of being successful in what you are doing. It is, therefore, essential for your motivation to believe that you will achieve your goal.
- S specific: Your goal must be clearly defined.
- M measurable: Your goal must be measurable in one way or another. “I study every day until the exam”, for example, is not very specific and hardly measurable. The following phrase is more precise: “I study six days a week, three hours a day for the subject examination x taking place on xx/xx/xxxx.”
- A actively achievable or attractive: You are in control of and have responsibility for achieving the goal. For example, you can control to write or study for x hours, but you cannot actually control to get an “Excellent” grade for it. And, of course, the goal should be interesting for you.
- R realistic: Achieving your goal must be possible and realistic. Plans like “I will write my bachelor’s paper within one week” might be realistic in exceptional cases, but in most cases it is utopian. This also addresses your ability to assess yourself and the total extent of your project – something you will probably get better at every time.
- T time-bound: The goal must be achieved until a fixed date.
Define your goals on the basis of the SMART concept. Your studies, your thesis and upcoming exams are important projects which should be smart.
Tips for increasing your motivation
- Always keep your goal in mind. You might literally keep your eyes on it by writing down your goal and what you expect from it and placing it somewhere well visible.
- Imagine achieving your goal: Imagine you have achieved your goal: What has changed, where are you now? Look back on what you have accomplished, with all ups and downs, and write a letter from this perspective to your present-day self.
- See the big picture: Think about the meaning of the specific goal in view of your greater goals and projects. The changed perspective motivates you and creates a context of meaning for the currently necessary work. Every exam you pass takes you closer to your goal.
- Keep cool when a lack of motivation hits you: Nobody is always motivated in each of their projects. Feeling low is part of it as much as having uplifting experiences of flow. It is important to integrate a possible lack of motivation into the overall development and to contextualise or even qualify them in this way, and of course, to continue pursuing your own goal. Time management and structure can help you.
- Get to know your weaker self: Are you highly motivated when you start a project and do doubts and lack of motivation usually arise only during its implementation? Or do you stay on track until shortly before you achieve your goal and do not dare to take the last challenging steps? Take your motivation curves seriously and try to react to them – for example, by including buffer time into your work schedule for times when you “just cannot do anything”, by writing down your doubts and reluctance and sort of giving them a place and then getting back to your project, or by asking colleagues and friends to be your motivation buddies.
- Break down your goal into smaller sub-goals: It is helpful to break down a large goal, like writing a thesis or studying for a major exam, into small and manageable sub-goals. This supports you when you start to feel overwhelmed and, finally, celebrating the achievement of a sub-goal is also motivating.
- Be aware of your competences: If you have doubts about whether you can achieve the goal you have set, it is important to first determine which competences are necessary for your goal. Which are you good at? Which are you not that good at? Think of similar situations to recall how you coped with them. What do you need to compensate for your weaknesses? Who or what can support you in this regard?
- Use social contacts and networks: It has been proved that studying together, solving problems as a group, discussing subject-specific topics and feeling part of a community strongly increase motivation. Use offers for exchange, initiate study groups and network actively.
Last but not least: Many students experience their studies as a challenging phase in their life, which, in addition to a huge amount of work, requires a lot of self-organisation and self-management Self-motivation is the basis for this. The ability and the willingness to motivate yourself are fundamental for both studying and your future career.