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One of the best skills you can have under your belt as a college student and in life, in general, is self-motivation. It can be extremely difficult to motivate yourself, which can result in missing assignments, sloppy work, stress, and more. Self-motivation is essential to not only succeeding but to set goals and values in which you want to succeed. In this article, I am going to provide some of my favorite ways to establish self-motivation and other methods backed by psychology. As a college student who has a full class schedule, a job, and now an internship, I have had to train myself into some serious self-motivation. It can be challenging, but it is so rewarding at the end of the day. 

Organization

While being organized can be entirely separate from self-motivation, I personally find that when I am more organized, I can better motivate myself to achieve small-term goals. My sidekick during the semesters is without a doubt, my planner. I start by filling out big deadlines from the syllabi the first week I get them. If I have the outlines or rubrics for those big assignments, I try and figure out how long it may take for me to do it. 

For example, last semester I had a really big paper that was going to take a lot of research. What I had done was make small goals for the paper, such as gathering the research maybe 2 months in advance, then brainstorming 6 weeks in advance, having a rough draft 3 weeks in advance, and then editing and finalizing details until it was due. These smaller goals made me more motivated to complete the goals.  

I also have a slight obsession with Post-It notes. Typically every night I will fill out a Post-It note that lists academic, work-related, and/or personal items that I absolutely need to complete the following day. Before I close my computer for the night, I make sure to put the Post-It on my computer so I won’t forget or ignore what I need to get done that day.

Some may call it extreme measures, but ever since I was young I loved schedules. I will make a mental (or physical, depending on my mood) schedule for the week. I’ll account for my work hours, internship hours, and class times first. Then I add in times that I know I will be hunkered down at my desk working on assignments but also add in times for breaks. I also try my best to stick to a certain cut-off time for working each night, which is typically 2-3 hours before I go to bed. I also like to time my breaks, because it helps me stay on track personally. I admit that I can spend at least an hour or so scrolling through TikTok. However, if I set a timer for 15 minutes for my break, it’s easier to cut myself off and get back to my work.

Rewards

Behavioral psychology is no stranger to rewards. As humans, we crave rewards in response to our performance. It’s not greedy, but rather human nature. Therefore, I love to set rewards to ensure I stay on track. These rewards could be small or big, depending on what I really want. Maybe I saw a new makeup product I really want. What I sometimes do in this situation is tell myself, if I complete all my assignments by Friday night, I will go and get (or order) the makeup product I want over the weekend. Not all rewards have to be materialistic! Sometimes I see a really good movie I want to watch, and I will set up an ultimatum for when I can watch the movie. So think of items you want or things you want to do, and set up timelines as to when you need to complete the work or goals, in order to receive the reward. I find this method to be one of the biggest ways to stay motivated.

Prioritize

Prioritizing your goals can be extremely challenging in any aspect of life, but can be particularly hard when you are a college student. Of course, you want to be part of that club or go to that awesome party everyone is going to. On the other hand, that really important paper you have is due Monday, and you have barely started. There is always going to be another time that you can go to a party or a club event, but that paper can make or break your grade. While completing the paper in time may be a short-term goal, it plays a key role in achieving long-term goals, which likely include graduating college with good grades. While you should allow yourself to have fun and succeed simultaneously, sometimes it is important to realize you may have to give up small opportunities to achieve success. 

Mindset

I can’t recall the specific article, but I read a piece back in high school that really stuck with me. Most of the time, when people lose motivation they see it as a failure. However, there is a huge aspect of the word failure that people lose sight of. There are actually two types of failures: imagined failure or real failure. A real failure could be bombing an exam, which happens to the best of us. In cases of real failures, you need to alter your behavior. Change your study habits, your environment, etc. An imagined failure would be telling yourself you’re going to bomb the test. The issue here that needs altering is your mindset and thinking. A huge part of the motivation is believing you can achieve the goals you set forth. Keep the mindset that if you really study hard, or go above and beyond in your workplace – you can and will succeed. Only if you are really trying and fail to meet your goals, is when you need to change your strategies. Coming from an extremely Type-A person, I know this is difficult to do sometimes. Although once you change your mindset it is not only helpful but refreshing!

Also, take it easy on yourself in the long run. Burn-out is a real thing, and it can be difficult to notice when you’ve reached that point. While self-motivation is so important, it shouldn’t run your whole life. Being burnt out can show itself in a lot of mental and physical ways. If you have these goals and rewards in place and were doing really good, until you weren’t… you’re likely burnt out. If you can’t focus anymore and you’re constantly tired or feeling run-down… you’re likely burnt out. If and when you experience burnout, take a step back, close the book, log off the computer. If I am feeling extremely burnt out, I will stop for the day. If I just need a pick me up, I’ll take a nice shower, do my makeup, go to the gym, or do absolutely nothing. Whatever will help me feel better, I do! Personally, I usually time those “burnout breaks” but that is up to your discretion and mindset at that point in time.

Work on your confidence!!! I cannot stress this one enough. If your paper is done, and it aligns with the requirements, you’re more than likely done. Stop going back and changing every other word because you fear it’s not good enough. If that scenario sounds super specific to you, join the club. Motivation can cause stress if you’re a perfectionist, but it can also help you grow confidence in your performance. Don’t overwork yourself because you’ll just burn yourself out. Be confident in your achievements and work, and motivation won’t seem as daunting. 

If you are lacking motivation despite your efforts, it may be helpful to speak to someone. Always remember that Coastal Carolina offers free counseling services in-person or online!

Kaitlin Serad

Coastal Carolina '23

Kaitlin is a Psychology (forensic concentration) major and she minors in Intelligence and National Security at Coastal Carolina University. She also was a part of Students Against Sex Trafficking at CCU. Kaitlin currently works at a local restaurant owned by her family. She loves true crime, binge-watching TV shows or movies, and spending time with family and friends.
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