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Key Motivational Principles to Help You Stay on Top of Your Studies


Key Motivational Principles to Help You Stay on Top of Your Studies



Why do you sometimes feel ready to tackle any study-related challenge—but at times, all you do is procrastinate, even when you realize that your academic future is at stake?

Understanding what drives you to study is key to summoning that motivation—and becoming more engaged in your study-related tasks. So, let’s break down the key motivational principles and how you can leverage them to motivate yourself whenever you need to.

Of course, these motivational principles aren’t a panacea to all your academic challenges. If those persist, no matter how motivated you are to study, platforms like can write papers for money and help you stay on top of your classes. That said, however, sometimes, motivation is all you need to become a more productive learner.

Not All Motivation Is Created Equal

Generally speaking, there are two types of motivation:

  • Intrinsic motivation comes from within. You read the chapter because you have something to get out of it, not because the professor assigned it to you. That something can be a sense of satisfaction from learning something new in a field that interests you, for example.
  • Extrinsic motivation is brought forth by external factors. You revise the material not because you want to but because you’ll get a bad grade on an exam if you don’t or because you’ll get scolded for not preparing well for the class.

Usually, motivation doesn’t boil down to exclusively intrinsic or extrinsic factors; it’s a mix of both.

Ironically, adding extrinsic reinforcements to intrinsic motivation can be counterproductive due to the so-called overjustification effect. Imagine you start rewarding yourself for finishing a chapter with a takeout meal. Your intrinsic motivation to read it is likely to diminish. Then, if you suddenly can’t afford takeout, mustering that intrinsic motivation to do the reading will be harder.

Intrinsic Motivation Principles

3 Intrinsic Motivation Principles

Internal factors tend to be more effective at motivating people in the long run. They also bring you a sense of gratification that simply makes your life more enjoyable in general. So, try to focus your self-motivation efforts on finding your intrinsic motivation.

Here are the three intrinsic drivers you can use to motivate yourself to study.

1. Autonomy

Autonomy is your sense of control over your choices. The more autonomous you feel in choosing when and what you study, the more likely you are to be motivated to engage in learning—and go beyond the bare minimum of the curriculum, too.

How to leverage: Set your own learning goals and decide on how you’ll work toward attaining them. Consider why you chose this class or major, too. If those choices were motivated by internal factors, like your curiosity or interest in the field, reminding yourself of why you study can help maintain or revive your motivation.

2. Purpose

Do you find meaning in the activity you’re trying to motivate yourself to engage in? If so, that’s an example of how the sense of purpose can motivate you to study—or do anything else, for that matter. For example, if you strive to become a doctor, memorizing the names of all the 270 bones in a human skeleton can be meaningful in relation to your goal.

How to leverage: Reflect on your life goals and think about how the task at hand fits into achieving them. Make sure that your goals align with your values and interests, however. (If you want to become a doctor only because of a high salary, this approach may not be as effective.)

3. Mastery

Do you want to become better at the task at hand or develop a specific skill with its help? If so, mastery is your motivation driver of choice. Do you write an essay to get better at writing in general or the subject matter itself? Do you solve organic chemistry problems to test your knowledge? Then, it’s all about mastery for you.

How to leverage: Think about what skills this or that assignment is meant to help you develop. Then, approach it with that in mind. You can also consider mastery in combination with purpose: how will developing this skill help you achieve your life goals?

3 Extrinsic Motivation Principles

As mentioned before, adding extrinsic motivation into the mix can reduce the strength of your intrinsic motivation. So, proceed with caution.

That said, external motivation is effective in the short run. So, when internal factors simply can’t motivate you to complete this or that assignment, the following three external drivers can be an essential aid.

1. Reward

The most common type of extrinsic motivation, reward, can refer to anything you can acquire once you complete the tasks. Think about the stickers you got at school: that’s an example of a reward. Rewards typically come from others, like a trophy for first place in a competition. However, you can also reward yourself with something to leverage this type of motivation.

Keep in mind that rewards don’t have to be tangible objects like stickers or trophies. They can also come in the form of approval, recognition, and appreciation from others, and this type of reward tends to be more efficient than material objects or money.

How to leverage: Set rewards for specific milestones in your studies. For example, if you strive to get a 3.5 GPA this semester, choose a reward for yourself if you attain it (e.g., a trip abroad). You can also set rewards for smaller tasks, such as a delicious snack after reading a chapter.

2. Compensation

Compensation typically refers to pay and company perks. For example, the company motivates a salesperson to close more deals by giving them a cut of the deal as compensation. Pay raises and tips also fall under this category.

When you’re a student, you may think this motivation driver doesn’t apply to you. But it does: your compensation is the grade you receive for the assignment or the class as a whole. As you may guess from experience, compensation isn’t always a very efficient motivator, unless you have specific reasons to want it. That can mean wanting to earn more to provide for your family—or wanting good grades to retain a scholarship or get a good job later in life.

How to leverage: Compensation is typically not within your control—you can’t choose your grading rubric. However, you can tie your compensation with intrinsic motivation. Ask yourself: why do you want to get good grades?

3. Punishment

You can think of punishments as the opposite of rewards. While rewards are a form of positive reinforcement, punishments represent negative reinforcement. For example, your parents grounding you for getting into a fight at school is a way to motivate you to avoid fighting.

That said, punishments typically don’t succeed at motivating behavior in the long run - you’d probably get into another fight anyway. So, tread carefully here: it’s best to use the carrot instead of a stick in most cases.

How to leverage: Set a goal for yourself—and determine what you won’t do or get if you fail to attain it. For example, if you don’t finish reading that chapter, you won’t watch another episode of your favorite TV show as you were planning to.

Overcoming the Self-Efficacy Trap

Overcoming the Self-Efficacy Trap

What if you know you’ll enjoy the activity but still can’t bring yourself to get started? If this is accompanied by self-defeatist thinking (e.g., "My essay won’t be good enough no matter how hard I try"), you’re probably struggling with self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is your belief that you can complete the task at hand and do so competently enough. According to Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist, the sense of self-efficacy is crucial in motivating behavior: it drives us to take on certain tasks and set certain goals.

Improving your sense of self-efficacy deserves a separate blog post, but, in short, it all hinges on your perception. If you rewire it to expect successful task completion by default, it will no longer be an obstacle to your motivation.

Boredom vs Anxiety: How to Find the Middle Ground

According to one theory, we all want to maintain an optimal level of arousal (i.e., stimulation on the cognitive level) throughout our daily lives. If the arousal is too low, we’re bored—and we’ll try to find something to do to get out of boredom and increase our arousal levels. If the arousal levels are too high, we’re anxious, and we’ll try to reduce arousal with soothing activities.

In learning, this balance between boredom and anxiety determines the middle ground that motivates you to keep learning. If the material or assignment is too easy, you’ll be bored by it. If it’s too challenging, you’ll abandon it because it provokes anxiety. The trick is, therefore, to find that middle ground that works for you personally.

Besides that, keep in mind that different tasks require a different level of arousal. To be efficient at a simple task, your arousal levels should be relatively high. Complex tasks are best tackled when your arousal levels are relatively low.

In other words, simple tasks require you to be a bit more pumped, while complex ones are better dealt with when you’re relatively relaxed. (It’s known as the Yerkes-Dodson law.)

In Conclusion:

Motivation isn’t all there is to studying and getting good grades. When motivation fails to help you, you can fall back on self-discipline, like scheduling when you’ll be working on that essay—and sticking to the schedule. Self-organization and time management will also come in handy when motivation isn’t enough.


Bio: Content Writer Nicole Hardy is celebrated for her detailed and thoughtful journalism within the realms of education and the arts, with a special emphasis on performing arts education. Over the course of her decade-long career, Hardy has earned a reputation as a trusted expert in her field. Her writing is marked by thorough analysis and a captivating style of storytelling. She earned her Master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Arts, with a focus on arts and culture journalism.


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