Is it hard for you to get motivated to study?
Let’s face it…
It’s so easy to watch just one more YouTube video, or to scroll through your social media feed just one more time.
But your exams are approaching. They’re getting nearer by the day.
You have a rising sense of panic, but you don’t know where to begin. The more you panic, the harder it is to get to work.
If this is the situation you’re in, keep reading.
In this article, I’m going to explain 23 proven strategies that successful students use to motivate themselves to study.
Get ready to say goodbye to procrastination!
1. Discover why you procrastinate
Procrastination is a complex problem that can have many different causes.
Here are some of the most common:
- You’ve convinced yourself that your homework is beyond your abilities
- Putting off your homework is a way of rebelling against your parents or teachers
- You’ve decided the topic is boring
- You’re waiting for the “perfect” time to start
- The task has become so overwhelming that you don’t know where to start
Understanding why you procrastinate is a key first step to getting motivated.
Spend some time reflecting on what makes you procrastinate. This will enable you to identify which of the following tips will help you the most.
2. Break the material down into chunks
A major cause of procrastination is that the task ahead seems overwhelming.
That’s when you need to “chunk down”.
Break down each task into small chunks.
Assign yourself a certain number of those chunks each day. Suddenly, you’re no longer faced with a scary task, but rather a series of manageable chunks.
A chunk might be reading three pages of your textbook, completing five multiple-choice questions, or finding three reference articles on the Internet for your paper.
3. Reward yourself
Every time you complete one or two chunks, reward yourself with a short period of relaxation.
It could be five minutes on your favourite smartphone game, a short walk, or playing the guitar.
Rewarding yourself with short and enjoyable breaks is a key part of the “chunking down” technique.
4. Create a study routine
By nature, we’re creatures of habit. If it’s a challenge for you to get motivated to study, you can put this principle to work for you.
Habits are so powerful that once you develop a study routine, you’ll actually find it difficult to go into relaxation mode without studying.
How should you go about creating a study routine?
The first thing to do is to set up a study schedule (see Tip #14).
Be aware, however, that habits aren’t formed overnight.
Research indicates that it typically takes 20 to 30 days to form a habit. So you’ll have to put in some work before this technique pays off.
5. Be clear about why you want to get good grades
One of the best ways to get motivated to study is to be very clear about why you want to get good grades in the first place.
Make a list of the reasons you want to do well academically.
Here are some typical reasons:
- I want to learn more and develop myself
- I want to develop the habit of pursuing excellence
- I want to become a more focused and disciplined student
- I want to get into a good school or programme
- I want to have a meaningful career
- I want to provide well for my family and my parents in the future
- I want to know that I gave it my best shot
- I want to live with no regrets
Write down your own list of reasons for studying hard, and put the list at your study desk.
Then, when you’re feeling unmotivated, read the list one more time.
6. Use a mind map to organise the information
If you’re like most people, chances are you’ve been taught to use lists to summarise information. A classic example is to-do lists.
As such, it may seem natural to use lists to summarise the information you’re studying.
But there are times when mind maps are more effective than lists as a way of organising information.
Because mind maps mimic how the brain works.
When you create a mind map, you’re mapping out the way your brain has processed a certain topic.
This makes it easier to get a handle on the topic. It’ll also make it easier for you to retrieve that information when you need it.
7. Make a “boring” subject interesting
When you find it difficult to study because the subject is “boring”, ask yourself:
“Is the subject really boring, or does it seem that way because I have closed my mind to it?”
As G.K. Chesterton once said: “There are no boring subjects, only disinterested minds.”
If you think a subject is boring, try to engage with the subject by asking yourself questions.
When was this technique or theory developed?
Who developed it?
What problem did it solve?
How would the world be different today if not for this technique or theory?
If you ask the right questions, you can make any subject interesting.
8. Understand the topic, don’t just memorise it
One of the keys to effective studying is to develop an understanding of a topic rather than just memorising facts.
In some situations, rote memorisation may be required.
But, in general, the more years you spend in school, the more you’ll be expected to understand relationships and connections between different concepts.
This will require you to apply principles to a given set of facts, or to draw conclusions from a given set of facts.
Understanding a topic is far more rewarding than memorising it. So this approach to studying is not only more effective – it will keep you motivated.
9. Look for gaps in your understanding
Try giving a mini-presentation on a topic to a friend or relative. You can do this in a formal way, or you could simply talk to them about the topic.
By doing so, you’ll deepen your knowledge.
But you’ll also realise quickly if there are gaps in your understanding of the topic.
As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
10. Study in short bursts
Research shows that we learn better when we study in short bursts.
It’s called “spaced learning”, and the theory behind it is that learning involves the creation of memories.
Memories are formed through links between neurons. In order for these memories to become embedded, the neurons have to be left undisturbed for a period of time.
That’s why we learn better in short bursts of studying. This approach gives the neurons time to “lay down” these new memories.
Read on to Tip #11 to learn about how to put this tip into practice.
11. Use the Pomodoro technique
If you want a system for studying in short bursts, try the Pomodoro technique.
Francesco Cirillo invented the technique in Italy in the late 1980s.
Using a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato (“pomodoro” means tomato in Italian), he found he could concentrate better by studying in short stretches.
Here’s how to apply the Pomodoro technique:
- Decide on the task that you’ll work on
- Set the timer for 25 minutes
- Work on the task
- Stop working when the timer rings
- Put a checkmark on a piece of paper
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a 3- to 5-minute break, then repeat from Step 1
- After four pomodoros, take a 15- to 30-minute break
- Draw a line through the four checkmarks and start counting your checkmarks afresh
There are lots of apps to help you apply the Pomodoro technique. Here are some of the best ones out there.
12. Don’t expect to feel motivated all the time
Strangely enough, one of the best ways to deal with a lack of motivation is to stop expecting to feel motivated all the time.
The fact is that no one feels motivated all the time.
So don’t rely on feeling motivated in order to get the work done.
Sometimes the motivation just won’t be there.
That’s why you need a study routine and study habits, because systems always beat motivation.
13. Exercise your brain
To get motivated to study, you need to train your brain. Think of your brain as a muscle.
Developing your ability to focus is like training to be a world-class sprinter.
It’s all about consistency and making gradual progress.
Continually exercise your brain, even when you’re not studying.
You can do this by reading, thinking through challenging world issues, doing puzzles, or journaling.
The greater the variety of ways in which you train your brain, the stronger and more flexible your brain will become.
There are also various websites with exercises designed to train your brain. Here are three popular ones:
Just as with a physical workout, a key part of training your brain is rest and recovery. So make sure that you get at least 8 hours of sleep a night (many students even need 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night).
Nutrition is another important aspect of training your brain.
The brain needs certain fatty acids in order to function optimally. You can get these fatty acids from eating nuts, avocados and salmon. Other brain foods include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pomegranate juice
- Dark chocolate
14. Organise your time
The act of creating a study schedule is a form of commitment, so it will help you to stay motivated.
Here are some useful steps in creating a study schedule:
- For each subject, make a list of the tasks you need to complete in order to be ready for the exam
- Download a study schedule template and block out the times you have available each day to study
- As far as possible, choose blocks of time that are the same each day (e.g. 3:30pm to 5:30pm) so that your study schedule is easy to remember
- Create a daily plan which lists the most important tasks to be completed for the day
Review your study schedule at the end of each week.
Assess whether you’re on track to reach your study goals by exam time. If you’re not, adjust your schedule by finding additional blocks of time for studying.
15. Study in a group
Many students find it motivational to study in a group.
Of course, it’s crucial that you find the right students to join the study group. These students should be focused and disciplined.
I also recommend that the study group have no more than four students. If the group is larger than four, it tends to become distracting.
Studying in a group is not only fun. It also gives everyone in the group a sense of accountability.
When you study in a group, you can make commitments to each other related to new habits you want to develop, or bad habits you want to break.
But the benefits of studying in a group don’t stop there.
When you study in a group you can pool your notes together and get much better notes than any one person could possibly produce.
Also, studying in a group takes advantage of the fact that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. If there’s a concept you don’t understand, chances are that someone in your group will be able to explain it to you.
16. Make learning active, not passive
Passive learning is where you try to absorb information and knowledge. It’s based on the idea that you’re an empty vessel waiting to be filled.
But research shows that this isn’t the best way to learn.
We actually construct knowledge by integrating the new material with what we already know and have already experienced.
So if you want to learn a new topic quickly and effectively, use as much active learning as you can.
Examples of active learning are:
- Finding applications of the new topic in your own life
- Doing case studies where the new ideas or theories are put into a specific context
- Doing group projects
- Reviewing and commenting on the work of your friends
- Thinking of ways to apply concepts to problems you come across
17. Schedule relaxation
This may seem obvious, but when your focus is studying for an upcoming exam, it’s easy to forget that you need time to relax.
Remember Point #10 and “spaced learning”?
We learn new information by creating memories. But those memories need time to be formed. That means having gaps between learning spurts.
In short, you need to schedule relaxation to recharge and learn better.
18. Exercise regularly
When you’re focused on studying for a major exam, it’s common to overlook exercise.
But, as far as possible, get 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
This is because regular exercise is vital if you want to study effectively and stay motivated.
Aerobic activity, such as swimming, jogging or walking, sends oxygen, blood and nutrients to your brain.
This helps you to think and concentrate.
Research even shows that short periods of light exercise immediately after studying improves the recall of new information.
19. Visualise yourself doing the task successfully
If you’re having trouble with a particular task, visualise yourself completing that task successfully.
Sports psychologists have long known about the power of visualisation as a technique for accomplishing difficult tasks.
Visualisation uses the “theatre of the mind” to mentally rehearse completing challenging tasks.
It works by laying down neural pathways in the brain. When you repeatedly visualise yourself completing a task, it makes it easier to perform the task in reality.
So spend a few minutes every day visualising yourself successfully completing your various study-related tasks – especially if you find them daunting.
20. Remind yourself that this won’t go on forever
Studying for exams can seem like an endless marathon, but it does have an end date.
Remind yourself of this, particularly on days when you feel overwhelmed or unmotivated.
Telling yourself that “this won’t go on forever” will allow you to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.
But it will also make you study harder, because you know that you have urgent tasks at hand.
21. Focus on the process, not the result
When you’re studying, it’s often difficult to see the fruit of your labour, especially at the beginning.
That’s why you should focus on the process, not the result.
Did you complete most of your planned tasks today? Congratulate yourself.
Did you stick to your study schedule in general today? Maintain your focus.
Did you put your phone in another room when you were studying, so you wouldn’t be distracted? Keep it up.
Remember, it’s habits that you’re trying to form.
If you get the process right, the results will follow.
22. Get rid of distractions
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many students try to study with one eye on their textbook and the other eye on their social media feed.
It’s almost as if they want to be distracted.
List all the common distractions you face when you’re studying. Do your best to eliminate every single one of them.
For example, you could:
- Turn off your Internet access
- Put your phone on flight mode
- Put your phone in another room
- Mute your group chats
- Use earplugs
- Delete all the games on your phone, tablet and computer
23. If you don’t feel like starting, set a timer for 5 minutes
Sometimes, the hardest part of anything is simply starting.
But the fear of doing something is almost always worse than the actual doing. Once you start, you’ll find it wasn’t as bad as you thought.
So if you don’t feel like getting to work, set a timer for 5 minutes.
You can tell yourself that once those 5 minutes are up, you can stop work.
But, in all likelihood, you would have got some momentum going, so you’ll continue.
I hope these words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe will inspire you:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
The keys to getting motivated to study are organising your time and work, and knowing how to use your mind effectively.
That’s what I’ve shown you in this article: 23 tips for organising your time, developing the right mindset, and using your brain in the most efficient way possible.
(Download the free PDF below to learn 7 bonus tips.)
Follow these tips for studying smart – not hard – and you’ll soon be on your way to becoming a successful student who doesn’t procrastinate!
Like this article? Please share it with your friends.