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Opinion: The Key to Staying Motivated

The struggle to stay motivated is an abiding challenge we inevitably face on a day-to-day basis. It is perhaps especially prominent in the lives of college students where procrastination thrives. As midterms careen themselves into our busy schedules, it becomes progressively harder to stay motivated and increasingly easier to succumb to the distractions around us.

When we lose motivation, we have a tendency to disparage ourselves. We begin to doubt our abilities to do something because we think we lack the capacity to do it. Resorting to this form of self-deprecation makes it difficult to find the enticement that helps us stay the course. In reality, we are more than capable of staying motivated. The key in doing so successfully lies in the strategies we use to reach a goal.

Maintaining a sense of motivation does not come effortlessly. On the contrary, it takes time and commitment. I certainty have not conquered laziness or deterrents of motivation. It is an understandable, habitual part of our lives as human beings. However, we can improve the ways in which we persevere.

How often have you thought to yourself, “If I finish this essay, I can watch T.V. for the rest of the night”? These if x then y assertions help motivate us in some respects, but restrain us in others.   

Our ability to stay driven extends beyond our academic lives. Many of us are involved in various clubs, sports and volunteer work that require the same commitment, effort and time. We want to be motivated to go to the gym or to consistently go to practice or stay engaged in a club we have joined. To do this, we instinctively gravitate toward quick solutions; incentives that will help us get our work done as rapidly as possible. While these incentives may satisfy our academic or extracurricular demands in their immediacy, they may not necessarily do so long-term. Applying these quick solutions makes us acquire a method of completing our work in a less meaningful way. Telling myself that I will get that favorite snack or get to watch Netflix are not examples of things we should rely on to consistently stay motivated, even if they quickly solve our immediate demands.  

Staying motivated in this fashion will quickly bring us back to where we started upon completion of the activity. Once that effort is rewarded, we look for the next tangible form of enticement to help us complete the next thing at hand. It seems our ability to carry out whatever task we have to do is contingent upon that incentive. Imagine if we remove these incentives from the equation. What else do you have to motivate you?

We are overlooking the most important force to be reckoned with when trying to stay motivated: ourselves. We constantly allude to external people or materialistic objects as motivators, whether it is our favorite treat, hanging out with friends or our favorite T.V. show, when the key to successfully maintaining motivation comes from within ourselves.

If we continue to live our lives with this conditional way of thinking, we will begin to think that these short-term rewards, while perhaps effective in the moment, compensate for the work we are doing rather than finding something about the work itself that is personally meaningful.

Sometimes we don’t see the greater product of what we are doing. In order to do so, we have to focus on our sense of progress, achievement and purpose in our efforts. We all know the feeling we get when we ace an exam, or played really well in a game. We get this high, this rush that lifts us up and makes us feel good about ourselves. If we look for progress and improvement in our own actions, it will inherently give us a sense of accomplishment and meaning.

The result of this will ultimately enrich who we are and give the product of our motivation a sense of purpose in the world. This is not to say that short-term rewards are ineffective and should be entirely avoided. Sometimes we need them, especially when we are limited in resources and time. But the next time you lack the motivation to do something, think about the internal value and meaning of what you gain from the experience and use that as your primary form of endurance.