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How to Motivate Yourself to Study in Tough Times

Posted Tuesday, Nov 17, 2020 by Altierus

2020 has been a year for the history books. For many people, it’s also been an incredibly difficult year because of the global pandemic. Even if the coronavirus has not directly affected your health or your job, it may have impacted you in other ways. You may be feeling isolated because you can’t visit family and friends. You may be struggling to work from home while your children are also home from school. You may also just be anxious about what you are hearing in the news.

If you’re trying to complete your college education during this time and finding it difficult, you’re not alone. In a survey published by researchers at Texas A&M University in September 2020, 71% of students reported feeling increased stress and anxiety due to the pandemic. 89% of students reported difficulty concentrating, and 86% reported that their sleep was disrupted.[i]

So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re experiencing tough times keeping up right now. Just keep going. Here is some advice on how to motivate yourself to study even when you’re tired, stressed or anxious.

Remember Why You Want to Study

One way to stay motivated to study is to remember your “why”. Get out a piece of paper or open a new note on your phone and write down a few of the reasons you started your college program in the first place. Whether you are studying to get yourself on the path to a more stable career, make your family proud, or to learn about a subject that is your passion, get your “why” in writing. Keep your “why” in a place where you can look at it regularly. Review it before every study session, or whenever you feel your attention drifting to the news.

If you like motivational quotes, you can also write down some of those and post them where you can see them. This one from the author Mark Twain might work: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Study in a Comfortable Place

The pandemic has forced a lot of people to stay at home or to move in with relatives during quarantine. For students like you, this means you may not have access to your usual study spaces, such as libraries and coffee shops. You can boost your study motivation by making a dedicated space for yourself that’s just for doing classwork.

This can be an organized office space in the corner of a room. It can also be a particular seat at the table in your kitchen plus your laptop, books, and a pair of headphones. As long as it’s your dedicated study space, going there can help boost your motivation to study.

Work Around Concentration Problems

Remember the survey statistic quoted above, where 89% of college students said they had difficulty concentrating? There are ways to work around that. First, block off distractions wherever you can. Put your phone out of sight if you don’t need it to study—in 2017, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that people who put their phone in another room performed better on concentration tests than those who had their phones on their desks or in their pockets.[ii] Use apps to block social media, Netflix, and other websites you tend to waste time on.

Next, plan out your study time and break tasks into chunks small enough for your reduced attention span. Plan for short breaks in between those tasks where it’s okay to be distracted for a few minutes. Studying in short bursts is still studying, and the more you can get done, the more motivated to study you are likely to become.

Use the Buddy System

Another way to stay motivated to study is to find an accountability partner. This is a classmate or friend you agree to check in with regularly to report on how you are doing with your study goals or your class assignments. Make formal appointments to touch base with this friend via phone or video chat.

To boost the effectiveness of this strategy, you and your accountability partner might also agree to teach each other a short lesson about something you each need to know for your class. In 2014, researchers at the University of California in Santa Barbara found that students who prepared to teach a lesson about a subject they were studying performed better on tests. Students who then actually taught the lesson showed better retention of the subject material over the long term.[iii]

As an added bonus, planning and teaching a lesson lets you exercise creativity and practice giving a presentation—an important “soft” skill worth improving.

Take Care of Yourself

The isolation and disruption of the pandemic have led people to sleep and eat poorly—stress-eating is a phenomenon psychologists have known about for years. If you’re tired from staying up to work after a day of home-schooling your children and relying on snacks or caffeine to keep you going, you may find it hard to maintain your motivation to study.

Wind down and put devices away before you go to bed. Plan more balanced meals, drink water, and get some exercise, even if that just means walking two laps around your block or following along with a yoga video for 10 minutes. Give yourself the care you need to perform well. Trust that you can get through this, and that you’re not a bad or weak person because you find things hard right now.

Whether it’s the pandemic or a personal crisis, the tough times will pass. When they do, you’ll be proud to say you made progress on your education even when it was hard to stay motivated to study.


[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7473764/

[ii] https://www.sciencealert.com/even-just-having-your-phone-in-view-reduces-your-brain-power-says-a-new-study

[iii] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0361476X14000022

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