Earlier this year, I made the rather spontaneous decision to take a sharp left turn and return to studying. I applied to Uni back in January and I’ve been accepted! I’ll be studying in London by the autumn and I could not be more excited. But I did have one slight concern… did I still remember how to study? Could I motivate myself to study? I’ve done qualifications that involved studying and exams since leaving college and in general, being the nerdy character that I am, I study a lot just for fun, but revising for big exams and learning full-time is intense.
So, as I do, I gave myself a new project to work on – learning a language. A dead language, in fact, that would go nicely alongside my uni course (Ancient History and Archaeology) when I start. I’ve been studying it now for about a month or so, and these are the study tips I’ve picked up and remembered in that time to motivate yourself to study. And I’ve tried to make these tips avoid the usual advice to give you some fresh, new ideas – you should know by now to turn your notifications off, dammit.
“Accomplishments don’t just fall in your lap, they first demand a great deal from you—things like study and learning; intentional, arduous work; steadfast determination; ongoing attempts despite failures; personal sweat, blood, tears; and moments of exhaustion. Accomplishments don’t just fall in your lap, the demand actual growth.” – Richelle E. Goodrich
Learn about your study style
This is the most important tip for how to motivate yourself to study! If you do nothing else from this list, learn how you study best. I don’t just mean whether you’re visual/kinesthetic/auditory, although that’s very helpful info, but also whether you study better in groups or alone, in the morning or the evening, whether you prefer to learn about situations or theory, repeating things aloud or on paper. There are so many ways that we each differ in our preferences when it comes to studying and finding the right way for you to study will help you fight with a lot less resistance.
Give yourself one thing to do at a time
Especially coming up to an exam season, with a seemingly endless amount to study and work through, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, turn heel and run straight in the opposite direction. Most of the time, this is where procrastination comes from too. Procrastion’s a devilish character, who’ll distract you in any way he can to scare you off from the task at hand (just because he’s pretty scared himself). Learning how to motivate yourself to study will challenge your procrastination.
So take on one thing at a time, do things slowly and give them your full attention. When your thoughts start wandering and you find yourself worrying about everything else you have to do, smile, tell your mind not to worry about that right now and bring your attention back to the job in front of you. It might sound silly and simple, but this is the same concept that mediation works on – that your mind is a muscle that you can train and that if you do it enough, you can teach your mind to stop straying from your task.
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Focus on the amount of time you have, not the amount of work
For those among you who have a habit of writing yourself a to-do list longer than your arm (guilty as charged), this one is for you. Sit down and figure out how much time you have to study and just get started checking things off – don’t determine how much you ‘should’ get done in that time, that’ll differ person to person, day to day. Work to get as much as you can done in that time in whatever state you’re in that day, then finish up at the time you said you would.
You can’t expect yourself to be at full capacity all the time. You can’t expect yourself to meet your expectations just because you set them. Kicking yourself for not running at 110% is like cursing the sky for ever daring to be cloudy.
Learn to work without motivation
You’re not always going to be blessed by motivation’s presence. The Romans had an idea that people were not a genius themselves, but rather ‘had’ a genius. I like to think of motivation with that same view, like it’s some little sprite that visits, sprinkles something sparkly over your head that gets you inspired about the task ahead and moves on – some days, he just doesn’t turn up – he’s a busy guy!
Some days, you might find he turns up halfway through your session – sometimes doing the task can be the source of your motivation, rather than the other way round.
Schedules, schedules, schedules
I could go on about schedules for approximately forever. But to keep it brief, here are my dos and don’ts:
DO schedule your study in advance
If you’re working towards an exam date or deadline, work backwards and break everything you need to study down into chunks and spread them out over the time you have. Not only is this a more effective learning method, but it’s also much pleasanter and less overwhelming. Forget cramming the week or even the night before – you can study in small, consistent chunks to get everything done. With your plan laid out in front of you, you can be confident you have it all under control.
DO include some wiggle room
No schedule is ever going to go to plan. Whether something happens in your life that starts absorbing time, whether you take a lot longer on one section than you thought – whatever else life decides to throw at you, make sure your schedule can handle it. Give yourself much more time than you need so you don’t have to panic if things go wrong.
DO include breaks and fun
Give yourself milestones to look forward to! Include fun events and plans on your calendar, right next to your studying so you have something to look forward to and work towards. Plan something nice for yourself at the end of a heavy week and include breaks around every study session.
DONT overwhelm yourself
We can have a tendency to be a little overzealous when planning something new (if you’re anything like me, you’ll be all pretty pens and over-excited) so make sure to double-check that your plan is realistic. Can you revise for eight hours, eat, sleep, clean and work a shift at work all in one day? Probably not. Having a plan that won’t burn you out is really important if you genuinely want to achieve your goal.
Remember why you care
Ah, the power of the ‘why’. When we feel demotivated it’s easy to huff and ask “what’s the point anyways?” so prepare an answer for yourself. Write a note to yourself reminding yourself why you started on this journey, your dreams about where it could take you, the reasons you love it, what got you interested in the first place and anything else that will motivate you to get stuck back in.
Visualise being motivated (and hype yourself up)
Maybe this won’t work for everyone, but as I’ve said a million times, my inspiration can work pretty well solely on aesthetics so visualising myself sitting down to study, cosy cardigans and candles galore, is sometimes enough to set me up. Equally, if you’re coming home to study, spend the journey getting excited about studying. Think about how good it’ll feel when you’ve done it, how interesting the content is, how much you love the subject. You may roll your eyes, but this is one of those things that just might work if you let it.
Give yourself a fighting chance (sleep, food, hydration)
Sleep, hydration, good food, socialisation and exercise are essential to keeping your body happy so make some time to keep these things well looked after. Studying can be quite a physically demanding task so the better you treat your body, the happier it will be to let you use it.
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Find somewhere new
At college, I discovered a couple of spots in the library that felt good for working in and this was enough to be a little boost to motivate me to study. As you’d expect, if you’ve read any of my other blogs, they were quiet, cosy places that gave me a studious/dark academia vibe, but that was all it took to get me studying. I need to feel in the mood (I accidentally wrote moon here the first time – that too is a mood) to switch to my studying hat.
So find a place that feels right to you: the library, a coffee shop, the kitchen, make a special space in your room where you only ever study. Having a set place to study will help your mind click into study mode as soon as you arrive. If you try and study in bed, not only are you going to want to sleep when you’re studying, but you might find yourself struggling to sleep when you try.
Active learning vs passive learning
Try to actively learn, rather than passively – this will really help you motivate yourself to study if not because it’s more effective but, simply because it’s just more fun. Imagine playing catch, where active learning is a person jumping around to catch the balls and passive learning is a brick wall. Maybe you could get the ball to sit on top of the wall, but it’s time-consuming, not much fun and some pesky seagull is probably going to knock the ball back off again.
Ideas for active learning:
- Find applications for your own life and start using/talking about the concept in your everyday life
- If the idea can’t be applied to your life, write case studies about how it might apply to a business or mission
- Do group projects – working with other people can often be a lot more hands-on, with more discussion, debate and practical use than studying alone
- Review friends’ work
- Take a practical issue, apply your theory to it and see how everyone’s application differs
- Find ways to link the theory you’re learning to things you already understand
These methods will allow the idea to become more deeply embedded in your brain, having created more connections and been repeated over again and again.
Remember that studying is hard
Keep this in mind at all times and be really kind to yourself. Any studying worth doing is going to be challenging because you’re expanding your knowledge and your capabilities. Learning how to motivate yourself to study is also about motivating yourself to change and grow. That’s a lot for a brain to do, so pat yourself on the back often – what you’re doing is really quite incredible.
Fill your brain with all you can get your hands on. Love, Ella-Rose xx