It’s Sunday evening. You had a long weekend, and all you want to do is spend the night scrolling through social media or watching a movie on your favorite streaming service. Unfortunately, you have to study, but you don’t have the motivation to do so.

But don’t worry. Trying to find our motivation is a process that we’ve all been through. It’s difficult to keep motivated, but it’s not impossible if you follow the steps below.

Person sitting on the ground, leaning back onto a park bench with a text book over their face.
We've all been there - the 'blerg' feeling of 'I just can't studying right now'. But there's hope!

What is Motivation?

Before understanding why you might not have the desire to study, let’s take a moment to understand what motivation is. Motivation is one’s interpersonal drive. It is a process fuelled by goal-directed behavior, a process that drives you to act.

According to psychologists, the forces that drive motivation can be examined in two ways: whether motivation comes from the outside (extrinsic) or inside (intrinsic) of a person.

  1. Extrinsic motivation:

    This is when you perform a task because you want to gain a reward or avoid punishment. You will engage in the behavior because you expect to get something in return even if you don’t enjoy the current task.

  2. Intrinsic motivation:

    This is when you engage in a behavior because you find it rewarding. You are performing an activity for its own sake, and your own personal drive mainly powers it. Intrinsic motivation provides you with personal fulfillment when achieving a goal.

Motivation can come from having a clearly defined goal, a vision for the future, and celebrating personal successes. There’s actually a science behind the mechanics of motivation.

Motivation and Your Brain

Let’s begin our journey in the brain, where neurotransmitters spark chemical messages to keep us awake. One important neurotransmitter that plays an important role in motivation is dopamine, which will take on the task of interacting with different receptors inside the synapse. For motivation to work, dopamine must interact with the mesolimbic pathway.

Once in the mesolimbic pathway, dopamine will stop at the nucleus accumbens, triggering feedback for personal reward. Essentially, your brain realizes that a task is about to happen and the reward that will come with it; thus, dopamine will kick in to get the process of motivation moving.

Running Low on Fuel

But why do you have the feeling of being unmotivated when there are goals to achieve?

Often, you’re unmotivated due to a few causes:

  • Setting unrealistic goals
  • You’re stuck in an unfulfilling course
  • Having a lack of purpose
  • Forgetting the benefits and rewards

There’s a good reason behind this. Your mind will react to stress and uncertainty in two ways, explained by psychotherapist Lia Avellino, LCSW:

  1. Go all out and do things that will keep us busy
  2. Completely shut down your brain from work and enter the cycle of scrolling through social media or binge-watching your favorite tv show for hours

Lia Avellino explained that these are two ways of your mind dealing with an overload of tasks – it goes into ‘survival mode’ by doing familiar things. Even if you want to get out of bed and work, your brain will want to do what it’s familiar with because that produces the feeling of safety.

The problem with this is that it worked for our ancestors because repetition benefited survival. Now, repetition and security tend to hold us back from moving forward. The good news is, there are ways to reverse these thoughts.

Find Your Motivation

Your motivation will come and go like waves hitting the shoreline. Sometimes, you’ll feel driven to focus on the task at hand for hours, days, or even weeks. While at other times, you might feel like procrastinating for the whole day.

Even if you want to bury your head in Netflix all day due to low motivation, there are methods you can take to get back to studying:

1. Set a Goal:

This is an excellent way for you to set personal objectives you’d like to achieve. The motivation here comes from wanting something extrinsically, such as finishing a quarter with good grades, graduating with honors, or getting into your dream school. If your goals are set to be achievable, you’ll be more motivated to study to pass those exams.

2. Think Ahead:

Look at the big picture and think about how doing well in school will set you up for long-term success. For example, getting good grades can help you land an internship at your dream company which will look great on your resume. 

3. Build a Study Schedule:

Planning out a time to study can help you get to your homework. Why? Once a schedule has been created, there will be no debate on when you should get the work done.

4. Build a Checklist:

Checklists are a great way to see the big picture of your tasks. Some of us respond well to visual cues of our tasks. You can write a checklist or build a virtual one. Whichever works best for you.

5. Find your Passion:

If you’re passionate about what you do, you will have more energy, enthusiasm, and charisma. Find what you’re passionate about and take classes that you enjoy. You’ll feel less of a dread and more willingness to learn.

Get Up and Go

Motivation is crucial in almost everyday activity. When you make a decision, your choices are influenced by your motivational state. Sometimes you can be motivated by the fear of getting in trouble, jealousy that someone will be better than you, or gaining a financial goal. Whatever your motivation may be, understand how to activate it, then pull yourself out of bed and start working.