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The Science Behind Motivation

One of the most common problems students face is lack of motivation. If you feel unmotivated, you may find yourself delaying homework indefinitely. You may feel too tired or uninterested to go to class. You might hand in assignments that are only partially finished.

If this sounds like you, you may want to seek out a strategy to stay motivated in school. In college, fewer and fewer people are looking over your shoulder to check if you are keeping up. So for college students, motivating yourself is a necessary skill to learn.

How to figure out what motivates you

Psychologists distinguish two kinds of motivations, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivators are external rewards. These are examples of something you might say if you are extrinsically motivated.

  • I am spending extra time on this research paper because I want a good grade.
  • I am working overtime because I want the extra money.
  • I’m cleaning the kitchen because my roommate said she would pick up my groceries if I do.

Extrinsic motivators are great for pushing you to finish a task you don’t enjoy or a task to which you are indifferent. If you want to use extrinsic motivators to help you finish homework and other assignments, check out our guide on using self-rewards. We give you some reward ideas to help you figure out what works for you.

You may find yourself asking “What’s the point of going to class? Am I really getting anything out of this?” At Chipper, we want to help you see the big picture. Chipper is a study planner that offers smart suggestions for how to study and shows you the value of every task on your to-do list. When you check off a lecture in Chipper, you’ll see how much value you gain with respect to your lifetime earnings. Seeing that value will give you an extra push, an extrinsic motivation, to go to class and stay on track.

What about intrinsic motivation? Intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to do something, often related to your aspirations and goals for the future. If someone is intrinsically motivated to work on some task, the work is its own reward. Some say intrinsic motivation is stronger and more effective than extrinsic. These are examples of something you might say if you are intrinsically motivated.

  • I always do my biology homework first because I enjoy it. I see myself working in science in the future and I want to get better at it any chance I get.
  • I am going to the library to look up sources for my history paper because I care a lot about my topic and I’m excited to learn more.

How do you find out what motivates you intrinsically? That’s a big question! Ask yourself these questions.

  • What do you tend to study first?
  • Which class are you most excited to go to?
  • How does your chosen major relate to your ultimate goals?

One way to search out the answers is to develop a journaling habit. Journaling can help you put small life events and ordinary tasks into a bigger perspective. Studies show that those who journal about their daily lives, their work, and their studies see a great deal of success and an affinity for leadership. If you need some ideas for how to journal and what to journal about, check out this article from College Info Geek.

Don't call it a dream, call it a plan
Credit: Adventure In You

How can I apply motivators when I study?

To apply extrinsic motivators, you’ll need a list of manageable tasks, a plan for your study session. Then, you’ll need to pick motivators that work for you, and you’ll need to make sure they are proportional to the amount of work you have. For more help and ideas, check out our guide on using self-rewards.

To increase your intrinsic motivation, it can help to remind yourself of the big picture behind each of your to-do list items. You might even try surrounding your study space in your dorm with images of your aspirations and goals. Put your goals in front of you, visually.

Need more ideas for how to stay motivated? Whether you have clear goals or are still searching, you are welcome to post on our Facebook page, and we’ll help you stay motivated to achieve them.

Mike Lodato

Mike Lodato

Chipper Team Member & PhD student