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Having Trouble Staying Motivated? Try These Three Tips to Make the Most of Your Study Time.

  1. Identify behaviors of procrastination

We all procrastinate. Even the most organized and detailed of planners are susceptible to delaying the inevitable. Often these behaviors are learned from others, including family and classmates, and research has shown that many students will admit to putting off work they need to finish until the last moment. Procrastination is associated with lack of motivation, and is known to have detrimental effects on academic progress, increase levels of stress, and may lead to additional mental and physical health problems. Why then do we procrastinate if it harms us?

Many may attribute these behaviors to laziness or indifference. Instead, Wanda N. Walker, a time management consultant based in Brooklyn Park, believes that procrastination is about fear. "People fear they’re going to fall short...Perfectionism plays a role in procrastinating, too. People feel like they have to get something done perfectly, so they don’t get it done at all.”

In order to adjust our behaviors, it's helpful to identify why and how we procrastinate. Why are we avoiding our task? What are we doing instead? Most importantly, how do we overcome these behaviors?

A few strategies to try while combatting procrastination are:

1) working with classmates on assignments

2) maintaining a daily planner

3) taking frequent breaks while studying

4) completing homework in a more productive environment

5) establishing a more rigid daily routine.

Sometimes it takes some trial and error to figure out what works and what does not. The key to moving past procrastination is to accept that it is a human quality. It is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.

2. Taking care of your body

The world around us is filled with environmental, social, and economic stressors that take a toll on our bodies and minds. Our society is beginning to recognize the importance of our students’ mental health but has been slow to prioritize it. Minnesota school districts have faced budget cuts in recent years and the onset of a global pandemic did no favors to a system in which many students can already feel vulnerable or isolated.

If you’re finding motivation hard to come by, make sure to prioritize your mental and emotional health. Some students may find solstice in meditation, music, yoga, or sports. Others may prefer social media or video games. Although there is no one-size-fits-all for a healthy psyche, there are many simple strategies we can try, such as positive thinking and taking regular breaks.

Our mental health is also connected to our diet, sleep schedule, and exercise habits. A healthy body can lead to a healthy mind, and vice versa. Specifically, anxiety and depression have been linked to an imbalance of gut microbiota. The connection between the central nervous system and gut bacteria, called the “gut-brain-axis”, was suggested as early as 1826 by the French lawyer Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are.” There are many healthy changes we can make to our diets today.

Likewise, the importance of sleep on all facets of life cannot be overstated. Most health care professionals recommend that teenagers get between 8-11 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation is an endemic amongst teens, and in my anecdotal experience, I have met very few students that even approach these numbers, especially if they are involved in extracurricular activities. Some students may claim to feel rested after only a few hours of sleep but their academic performance is likely impacted.

Exercise is also known to improve mental health by reducing stress, improving self-esteem and cognitive function, as well as increasing energy and stamina. “Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.”

When we take care of our bodies, manage our stress in healthy ways, and create conditions for healthy habits, we generally feel happier and more motivated. Even small steps are important steps to take.

3. Utilizing reward systems

Positive reinforcement can lead to an increase in motivation. Some parents offer material rewards to their students for good grades, including money, clothes, video games, or streaming subscriptions. Other parents offer vacations, hanging out with friends, or screen time. Again, there is no uniform solution as everyone responds differently to stress and hard work. Some students may respond positively to these material rewards. Yet other times, unfortunately, there can be no changes in behavior.

In order for a reward system to make sense, students need to start by setting goals for themselves. These may be short term goals (i.e. tracking assignments with a daily planner) or long term goals (i.e. making the honor roll or pursuing college/career opportunities). When a student does poorly in school, it’s easy to point out their mistakes. Students also need to hear when they’re doing well. Verbal reinforcement can often be the most effective form of positive reinforcement.

It’s important to identify how we can push our students to succeed and stay motivated. The reward systems we implement need to start with the individual student’s needs and desires, and then adjusted based on results. Ultimately the reward systems that work best are those that utilize a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcement.


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