How to Get Motivated to Study (and in General)

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Many students struggle with motivation. Most don’t find anything intrinsically exciting or glamorous about putting in hours to study. I certainly had this problem too. I could always find time to play videogames, watch TV or browse Facebook but I never wanted to study. After doing the research, I think I’ve found the key strategies on how to get motivated to study. They definitely have worked for me; let’s see if they can work for you too.

#1: Write down SMART Goals and Plan

How to get motivated to study always involves goals and a plan. Research shows that people who follow specific and challenging goals perform better 90% of the time. They routinely outperform people who are told to just “do their best” or set poor goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound. They bridge the gap between an abstract idea and a definable plan. An example of a SMART Goal and plan for students might look something like the following. You want to get a good enough SAT score to get into Northwestern University. You would start by looking up the average SAT scores for that school and by setting your goal to attain that score.

how to get motivated to study goals
Try harder than this!

If you take a practice test, score much below that benchmark, and only have a month to study before you take the SAT, you may need to readjust your goal so it is realistic. Maybe you can’t score high enough for Northwestern, but you can score high enough for Northeastern University, which has an 18% higher acceptance rate. Next, you would set a study schedule. You might say, “I will study 30 minutes a day on my weakest SAT subject and 15 minutes a day on my stronger subjects for a month until my test date. During my studying time, I will not check Facebook or Instagram because it will sap my productivity.” In this way you have a plan on how to get motivated to study.

#2: Start small

If you’re wondering how to get motivated to study, don’t start off by trying to study hours every day. One of the biggest barriers to motivation is that people try to go from very little activity to a lot of activity in a short time. Habits take a lot of inertia to build up, like pushing a cart. If you load up the cart with hundreds of pounds and attempt to push it, you will have to spend a lot of energy to get it moving at all. You may give up because the effort is too great. But if you begin with light weight and start pushing, your cart will accelerate quickly and as more weight drops into the cart, it will still move.

how to get motivated to study start small
Getting that cart rolling takes a lot of effort if it’s heavy

A goal to do ACT prep for an hour a day might be too much at first, so try starting to study just for 10 minutes a day. BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist, recommends that people floss one tooth a day for a week and then congratulate themselves afterwards. He finds that people who do that last longer than those who try to floss all their teeth everyday from the start. This is because negative emotional feelings bring out faster, more vigorous responses than positive emotions, discouraging people from continuing after a few failures.

#3: Get Accountability

How to get motivated to study? Try accountability. Accountability has helped millions of people recover from their addictions in 12 step programs. It can also work for you as a student. There are many reasons why. You can pick a friend or a tutor as an accountability partner and check in with them periodically to tell them your progress. For example, I know a student who checks in with a friend every time he uses the internet. He does this so that he can avoid addictive internet and technology use. It keeps him mindful of the time he spends online and helps increase his productivity and study time. If you choose a tutor for an accountability partner, they will probe and find out if you’ve been on task or not.

how to get motivated to study accountability
You don’t want this, though.

Also, accountability partners can create the sense that you’re on a shared journey with them. They can make difficult tasks seem more manageable. You could just pick certain days to study with a buddy. That way both of you will be more likely to show up and remain on task.

#4: Visualize

Did you know that you can make progress on goals and improve skills just by visualizing them? A study referenced here shows that participants who visualized lifting weights mentally but did not physically exercise showed a 13.5% increase in muscle strength over the course of the study. Additionally, a study from here  showed that basketball players improved 23% in their free throw accuracy after just visualizing practice.

how to get motivated to study visualize
Just like this.

You can take the lessons from these studies and apply it to your own studying and motivation. Spend a little time every day to imagine yourself sitting down, practicing problems and reading your textbooks. You will find that studying comes much easier when you do this. When you can picture yourself studying for hours without distraction, you will get closer to that ideal. You don’t want to just visualize the positive result of studying, like getting the good grade or test score. This can actually deflate motivation to achieve that goal. Focus on the practice itself. Also, try to imagine obstacles and challenges, and you will be more prepared for them. Visualization is how to get motivated to study in your free time.

#5: Build Willpower over Time

Willpower is like a muscle. It can be strengthened over time when exercise, and it can also be depleted over the short term. To build willpower, first you have to manage your stress. When stressed, habits win over willpower. Physical exercise, meditation, and green tea all can help reduce stress. You’ll also want to cut down on alcohol, sugar, and technology use.

how to get motivated to study willpower
One way to build willpower

Choosing the right phrases to say or think about yourself also makes a huge difference. A study referenced here shows telling yourself “I can’t” leads to self-control depletion. If you instead say, “I don’t do that bad habit”, you will break your bad habit more quickly. A famous study on delayed gratification with kids and marshmallows showed that the kids who delayed eating their marshmallows were more successful in life than those who ate them quickly. This shows you how important willpower is and how it relates to motivation.


Did this help answer “How to get motivated to study?” How to get motivated for school really depends on changing your habits and the way you approach life. Anyone can get motivated if they follow the steps. If you liked the post, share it! If you have more tips or comments, leave them below! You might find our Ultimate SAT Guide or Ultimate GRE Guide useful. Thanks for reading!


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