Keep Calm: How to Motivate Yourself to Study (II)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Choo Shuen Ming (16A01E)

In this second installment of how to motivate oneself, Press takes a deeper look at motivation in an interview with counsellors Jeffrey and Mei Hui at the Underground.

In life, we’ll always have things we want to or have to get done. At the same time though, there’ll also be times where we find ourselves losing motivation along the way, or having trouble even getting started. How do we overcome all this and, well, do things with our lives? Being able to motivate yourself clearly comes in handy here. In the first article of this series, we covered some things you can do right away to get motivated. However those are just stop gap measures — in the long haul, we’d need a broader, more substantial approach to motivating ourselves. In this follow up, we present the case for building life skills to motivate yourself.

Self-control is a good way to start. In the end, the idea behind motivation is to accomplish some task. The trouble though is that a lot of the tasks we do, especially as students, pay off only at some far-off point in the future, meaning that our motivation ends up fizzling out along the way, and we fail to accomplish the task. We’ve all experienced this, creating well-laid study timetables only to not follow through with them, instead finding ourselves scrolling through Facebook, reading a Press article, chilling to music or just plain asleep. To keep ourselves on track, we need self-control —“this ability to delay immediate gratification for the long-term”, as Mei Hui shares. “It’s a life skill. For studies you do need to work hard, do practices, do tutorials, before you see the results, and the results may be ten months down the road. You need to persevere, basically.” Granted, it’s one thing to say that and another to actually do it (as many of us know only too well), but thankfully self-control is something we can work on. Self-control is like a skill; Mei Hui says that “the more you practice it the better you get at it, and the easier it comes. Much like all things in life.”

You can also keep yourself on track by giving yourself small immediate incentives to get you there bit by bit. As Jeffrey explains, “short-term yields could be like, if I finish this, I get the magnum,” or it might even involve negotiating with one’s parents to set up some kind of reward, such as a game you really want to try, or letting you go out with friends. On the flipside, you can also set negative motivators. “What pains do you get if you don’t complete something? So maybe if you don’t complete something you have to run ten rounds. You can get someone to help you hold yourself accountable to your goal, whether by positive or negative motivators,” Jeffrey suggests.

However, there are limitations to short-term motivators. While often small and simple to work towards, they may not stay effective for very long. The counselors explained that each time we obtain the reward, its draw decreases, and so over time short-term motivators motivate less. We need to keep this in mind and be careful not to over-reward ourselves when using short-term motivators.

Instead of relying on short-term motivators, we should consider finding for ourselves a larger meaning to work towards. As Jeffrey shares, “The best thing is to be intrinsically motivated, because that lasts a lot longer than any kind of external reward.” Mei Hui gives an example: “Let’s say you have a job and it’s extremely well-paying, but you hate the work. How long do you think you can work at that job before you call it quits? How feasible is lasting if you don’t have an interest or talent in something?” So as Jeffrey says, “Yeah, do some discovery and find some meaning, some passion.” That way, we would be fueled by a stronger intrinsic motivation.

We should figure out what we care about and want to do, instead of merely chasing external rewards.

Intrinsic motivation helps clear up decisions (universities, careers, what to spend the weekend doing), and more importantly, it keeps you going for the long-haul. As Jeffrey shares, “it’s generally true that if you don’t have a clear idea of where you’re heading, then whatever you’re doing at the moment has no meaning”. This lack of meaning is what causes us to disengage and lose motivation. Who among us hasn’t at some point wondered what all this homework is for, or why we force ourselves awake so early morning after morning? Without some larger sense of purpose, the weight of the pointlessness is crushing. Once we find that purpose however, we would know why we do what we do. Having a purpose would bring more meaning and focus to our day-to-day lives, keeping us going, getting us closer to our dreams each day.

If you don’t know where you’re going, every road will lead you nowhere.

Discovering what we want to accomplish is therefore key. However, this is precisely where most of us struggle, as too many things seem interesting and it’s difficult to know which to commit to pursuing. While there is nothing wrong with not wanting to limit ourselves, it can become a problem when our indecision paralyses us. To overcome this, Jeffrey advises that we simply pick one of our interests. “Pick anything that they are heading towards that will reward them as a long-term goal.” This way, we get over the indecision and at least start heading somewhere.

Another way to discover our passion is to get exposure and so gain self-awareness along the way about what we like, through trying things and gaining experience. By exploring, we create opportunities to uncover what drives us, what our passions are. In particular, Jeffrey suggests we “get out of the [Rafflesian] biosphere”. Exploration beyond our sheltered school life could bring fresh insights about ourselves as we go through new experiences. Get out of preordained destinies (lawyer- doctor -engineer) take a look at what else is around and you might find yourself rejuvenated. Be adventurous with your internships – be a lifeguard! Be a pre-school teacher!” Jeffrey suggests.

Some may worry that all this trying is risky, and it is – “it’s really just trial and error; you try something, it doesn’t work, try something else.” However, the risks aren’t as great as we think. “There’s a lot greater leeway to do this after you finish your A Levels and when you’re out in the real world. People change jobs quite easily, because a lot of jobs just require very general skills, like having a degree.” Mei Hui shares, so we shouldn’t be too worried about switching paths when things don’t work out.

Taken from Peanuts.
Taken from Peanuts.

Gaining self-awareness could also involve searching for different perspectives and sourcing for information there. For example, we could talk to peers in a different state and phase of life.

This could be seniors who have been successful, or have made major switches – “these guys graduates as lawyers but turn out to be scriptwriters, went into drama instead of law. Why do they do that? You may find things out from that, it’s a learning process.” Jeffrey suggests. Talking to those around you to get different perspectives on yourself is also a good idea, as others might be more aware of your strengths and passions. “Ask yourself what people ask you for help with.” Mei Hui advises. Biographies and autobiographies are handy too, as we learn from others’ life choices, and decide whether we wish to lead the same kind of life. “The Internet is also a wonderful resource”, Mei Hui points out. “I once had a student who wanted to become a doctor, and she would read blogs written by doctors about their job and their daily lives.” Jeffrey also brings up Elim Chew, the founder of 77th street, whom he suggests writing to “if you want advice on being an entrepreneur. She’s very open too, and if you write to her she will answer you.” Social media allows us to connect with these people so easily, we should take the chance to directly converse with them, and see what they have to say.

Besides the above, RGC also provides assistance in finding motivation. Students can make an appointment to speak to one of the counsellors, who have a series of tools and questionnaires that can help one discover their strengths and shortcomings. The counsellors can then help you do better in what you’re not motivated to do, and that mastery might aid in motivation. For example, Jeffrey says, “We can help you study smarter; if you’re not very motivated, for that limited amount of time you’ve budgeted for the exercise, how do you make the best out of it?”

Ultimately, we hope that somewhere along the discovery process, you’ll be able to find your dream. Once you do so, hold on to it, and keep it in your sights. As Mei Hui suggests, “print a picture, put it on your wall, bedroom, in your file, make it your wallpaper.” Your dream will then bring meaning to your day-to-day lives and give you intrinsic motivation. It’ll be a reminder of why you’re here, doing what you do, and why you keep going.

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