10 Tips to Ignite Your Motivation in 2023

10 Tips to Ignite Your Motivation in 2023

Feeling apprehensive and unsure about how to get back into study mode after the holidays? You are not alone.

It takes effort and courage to move out of our comfort zone and face our fears. Why is this so? Our human body and brain likes to save energy and do things that do not demand effort. It keeps us safe and protects us from having to deal with uncomfortable feelings.

During the holidays, we could let go of our work routine and take a well-deserved break after a busy term. We all need downtime to restore our energy as well as spend time with family and friends.

Studying for a degree is hard work, and getting back on track requires extra effort to overcome the resistance we feel when we know we have to work, but would prefer a more relaxing day.

Looking after your health is fundamental to have a sense of wellbeing and the the motivation to pursue our goals.

Here are some things you can do to make a good start to the year: 

Prioritise your health: It is essential for our health that we maintain our energy level to manage the demands of work and study, so eating well, doing some exercise, and connect with others are essential.

Focus on what matters: Keep in mind what you value, what you find meaningful and worth it. Focusing on what is important will boost your motivation and desire to move forward towards your goals.

Develop a structure: Create a flexible routine, so it allows for unexpected events or a change in your plans . Structure reminds us of the things we want to do in our day, keeping our priorities in mind, saving time and energy.

Set realistic goals: Identify what goals you want to pursue this term. Then, break them down into small steps. Identify the specific actions you will need to take to make progress. Noticing we have completed a task, no matter how small it is, will boost motivation to continue with the next one.

Be proactive: Do you notice how we say “I have to write an essay/write a report/work on dissertation?” It produces tension as it becomes a demand. Instead, ask yourself a yes or no question. For example, “Will I write a paragraph/read notes or go to the gym today? “ If our answer is “No, I will not go to the gym/write/study”, it feels uncomfortable because it contradicts how we see ourselves. Our behaviour is going against our goal. However, when we answer the question with a “Yes, I will go to the gym/write/study”, we make a choice. It increases the likelihood of us following through with our intentions.

View mistakes as part of the learning process: Often, we delay starting our work because we do not want to get things wrong and want things to be good the first time we try to do it. However, to do something to a good standard requires repeated efforts and accepting that mistakes happen during the process of developing knowledge and skills.

Be kind and understanding: As we are understanding of our friends and the people we care about; it is also important to be kind to ourselves. This is to acknowledge that we are human beings and that we get tired, frustrated, and worried.

Take time to reflect: When stressed, our body goes into protection mode. It is difficult to focus on alternative perspectives to problem-solve and find solutions. Take a moment to breathe and give yourself space to acknowledge your emotions. View the stress response as your body protecting you from a challenge. Mindful breathing is our body’s natural resource to restore balance.

Notice the good: When dealing with ongoing challenges, we tend to focus on what is wrong and anticipate negative outcomes. Practise the skill of noticing what is working, even the smallest thing. Noticing someone smile, or pausing to hear the birds sing, can give us a moment of relief and we can gain perspective as we pay attention to something in our environment.

Join a Life Tools webinar: In the various webinars, we discuss various topics that provide information and strategies to build knowledge and skills. When discussing ideas that are relevant to studies and life in general with others, it makes studying manageable and fun.

If you are not sure what to expect, here are some details to give you an idea:
They start with a presentation (on Blackboard), and students can comment on the chat or on Mentimeter (an anonymous audience participation tool). You can sit and listen without the pressure of assessments. You will soon notice the informal and relaxed environment where students ask questions that you can relate to and have a sense that what you are experiencing is shared by other students.

Here are a few comments of what students have said:

  “The Life Tools Programme exceeded my expectations.   (3rd year student)

  I work more productively in a shorter amount of time.  (1st year student)

  You can interact with international students… which makes you have more of an open mind.  (2nd year student)

  After the webinars I felt very inspired and motivated, which I loved! (1st year student)

 

Make a good start to the year

Make a good start to the year

UPDATE TALKS DURING WELCOME WEEK

The Life Tools talks have been moved forward one day. So the talks planned for Tuesday 20 September will run on Wednesday 21. The talks planned for Wednesday 21 September will run on Thursday 22 September, and the talks planned for Thursday 22 September will run on Friday 23 September. The times and location/rooms will be the same.
There is no need to book. You can just come along
. See you soon!

Congratulations! You’ve made it. To all new students, welcome to the University of Reading, and welcome back to all of you who are returning to continue with your studies.
Well done for your efforts and achievements to get to this point.

A new beginning
Starting life at university will bring many new experiences that will be interesting and motivating. Also, you may have moments when you feel unsure about what to do. Most people going through a period of change are likely to experience some of these feelings, particularly when they have invested a lot of resources, and made significant efforts hoping for greater opportunities for the future.

Transitions are times of renewal, and they provide an opportunity to make changes that bring us positive feelings and experiences (Bridges, 2004). Learning to manage uncertainty helps us to adapt and manage situations.

As human beings, we are motivated to improve and to have a sense of achievement. We feel good when we can have a sense of satisfaction at having done something meaningful. Maintaining a flexible attitude and focus on learning enable us to adjust and keep well (Dweck, 2008)

Whenever we move to live in a different environment, there is a natural process of reorientation, where we also go through an internal process of reorienting and discovering how we see ourselves and how we relate to others.

In order to adjust to the new situation, it helps to trust your experience of how you adapted to other situations before and focus on the present where you will find new and interesting opportunities and discover your strengths.

You may notice differences and perhaps may compare with what you are familiar. There will be new and interesting things to explore and discuss with others, and there may be a few awkward and uncomfortable moments. Keep in mind that these feelings are normal when meeting new people.

As you get to know more, and you begin to find your way around in your new environment, you will notice that things begin to feel more familiar and that you will to know other students who you can relate to.

Each day, look for what was good about your day, and what you learned. If there were some disappointing or frustrating experiences, decide what you can learn from the experience, and what you can do differently next time.

Tips to make a good start to the academic year

Develop a healthy routine:
Starting a new life at university will bring a lot of changes, such as being in a different room, eating different food, having a new timetable and, of course, meeting new people. A change of environment can have an impact on how our body reacts. For example, it may take a bit of time to adjust your sleep pattern.

Developing a routine is essential to maintain our energy level to adjust to the new situation and function well. For example, eating healthy foods, exercise to strengthen your fitness, which will help to have a good night’s sleep.

Focus on learning:
Whenever starting a degree or a new academic year, it will present new experiences and challenges. If something does not work out as we expected to deal with these setbacks, it is helpful to acknowledge the reality of what has happened and focus on what we can learn from the experience.  

For questions about your academic work, you can contact your Tutors and ask for advice. Also, check the Study Advice website where you will find useful information on study techniques and more. For other concerns, you can contact Student Services.

Explore and engage in activities:
You may already have explored the university website to find out what activities are available that you can explore, and where you can meet other students who are also looking to meet new people and make friends. You can check RUSU–the Students Union website, or go to their offices on Whiteknights campus to find out about what activities and services they offer.

Learn about academic standards:
It is exciting to get to what we have been planning for a long time. Starting a new course or making progress through the years to complete a degree is motivating. We can also experience uncertainty and self-doubt, which is understandable as we have not done this activity before.

While being optimistic and looking forward to starting your degree, it is normal to feel apprehension at first. You may have questions, for example, “What will the modules be like? Will the course be hard?” Notice your feelings and view these as signals that it matters to you to do well, and that you are living a new experience.

Make social connections:
Whenever we find ourselves in a new place, we hope to make new friends and establish relationships. Our natural inclination is to communicate with others, and where it is possible, to feel comfortable to talk and share experiences.

Perhaps it may take longer than you expected to make new friends, and you may feel the need to contact your family a lot. Give it a bit of time before contacting them, and initiate a conversation with a classmate or a flatmate. Then, when you contact your family, you can tell them about your new experiences.

At first, you may feel rather self-conscious about starting a conversation with other students. This feeling is normal as you are learning about them. In your previous environment, you knew the people around you and had established relationships with them so it felt more comfortable. Acknowledging this is a new situation will help to manage the initial discomfort.

The first time we are away from home can be challenging. Most people experience a mixture of excitement and apprehension because of uncertainty as we do not know how things will work out. However, accepting this is part of the process of adjustment, we can focus on exploring our new environment.

Feeling homesick is a normal reaction because of being away from what is familiar, where others know us and we feel comfortable because we know what to expect. In the new place, we need time to get used to how things work and get to know new people. It is a change process, and it takes time to adjust. You will get used to the new situation, and as you develop a healthy routine and contact others, these feelings will ease, and you will notice that you are becoming familiar with your new student life.

You can find more information in the Looking after yourself booklet

Communicating in a second language:
As you are absorbing significant amounts of new information, your brain is working hard to process it to understand and communicate with others. It can take time and energy to adjust to studying in a second language, and to build proficiency and confidence in your skills.

Even though you might feel self-conscious speaking in English, practice speaking the language as much as you can. Instead of trying to speak without errors, keep in mind that what matters is to communicate with others. If you are not clear about something, ask others to repeat so you can understand. After a while, you will build your confidence and will become more fluent.

We look forward to seeing you in our Life Tools talks and webinars.

Wishing you all a stimulating time and that you have rewarding experiences during this academic year.

References:

Bridges, W. (2004) Transitions. Making sense of life´s changes. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.

Dweck, C.S, (2008) Mindset. The new psychology of success. How we can learn to fulfil our potential. New York: Ballantine Books. 

Tierney, J. and Baumeister, R.F. (2019) The power of bad and how to overcome it. Great Britain: Allen Lane.

Are you waiting for results?

Are you waiting for results?

As human beings, we do not like uncertainty, so waiting for news can be challenging to manage as our brain anticipates possible outcomes to prepare for them (Feldman Barrett, 2018).

In our imagined future scenarios, we tend to focus on the negative consequences of not achieving the results we were hoping for. We may experience fear, disappointment, or embarrassment and worry about the future. These uncomfortable feelings can be difficult to tolerate.

We do not try out new things because of fear of failing. To master the fear of failure, we need to identify what we are afraid of to understand what prevents us from making progress. Once we identify the obstacles, we can explore ways of dealing with the situation. We also need to learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings to persevere with our efforts (Dweck, 2017).

Having doubts about our capacity to do the work may result from expecting a perfect outcome. An underlying drive for perfectionism may intensify the fear of failure. We will construe any setback as unacceptable, If the expectation is to achieve a perfect result, leading to a fear of making mistakes and feeling stuck. When we have this feeling, we are less likely to try out new things and avoid complex tasks, thus limiting our options for development.

We worry we may not meet our expectations and imagine the disappointment and the feeling we are letting ourselves and others down. Sometimes the fear of failure is due to worry about others’ opinions. When we attach too much value to external validation, it can have a negative impact on our confidence in our ability and our sense of self-worth.  Thoughts about what we should have done, or did not do, may dominate, causing distress. However, it is likely that multiple factors influenced the outcome.  Maintaining a flexible attitude enables us to navigate challenging times (David, 2016).

Regret is another uncomfortable feeling we get after we experience setbacks. We can have thoughts such as, “If only I had done something different”. When we think of it as something negative, we miss the opportunity of learning from our experience. Regret has a purpose, and it can highlight what is of value to us. It reminds us of what we want to do differently in the future. It is how we learn (Pink, 2022).

Tips to manage setbacks/fear of failure

Self-awareness: Take time to reflect and notice your thoughts and feelings and identify the situation that triggers the emotions. Ask yourself, “What is happening? How are you interpreting the situation? Then ask, what other alternative perspectives are there to interpret the event?”

Reframe the meaning of failure: Rather than seeing failure as a devastating event, interpret it as a challenge. For example, we can view it as an opportunity to learn and apply the new information in future situations. In this new definition, allow yourself to make mistakes. 

We do not make mistakes on purpose, and often they happen because we did not know or did not notice that we needed to do something different. Paying attention to feedback and focusing on what we can learn from these situations help us adjust and move forward. 

 Define the meaning of success: We often assume that to do well, we need to get things right at the first attempt, thinking there is only one correct answer. Instead, find meaning: reflect on what matters most to you, and ask yourself, “How will I know when I have achieved my goal? What will be different?” Having clarity of what you expect will enable you to identify the steps to make progress towards your goal. 

Adopt a realistic perspective: we imagine an ideal outcome when we set our goals, hoping to achieve our desired results. However, to increase the potential to achieve our goals, we need to identify the potential obstacles we might face to make things happen. The strategy called mental contrasting, identified by Oettingen (2015), can help us make progress. 

Our motivation reduces when we imagine an idealised version of our goal. Oettingen advises that, besides imagining achieving our goal, we also imagine the obstacles we might face. Considering the hard work involved will increase the likelihood of achieving our goal as it prepares us to deal with what happens when we work towards it.

Reflect on your work: to review our work, we can use metacognition – our ability to think about our thinking. This strategy allows us to identify what is working and what is not, so we can correct to improve our work.

We can identify mistakes early when we monitor our work as we go along. This way, we can make corrections and improve our work. Ask yourself: “Am I making progress?” “What can I do differently? What is not working so far?” “How will I know when I have reached my goal?

Think about setbacks as feedback: Observe what you are doing and reflect on what is not working. Then, make adjustments, or try something different and observe what happens. We all experience setbacks at some point. Sometimes, things do not work out as we hope, and we may feel disappointment, embarrassment or worry about negative consequences. When these happen, we can practice acknowledging the feelings and accepting they are part of our human condition.  Self-compassion can reduce negative self-talk, allowing us to make progress with the task.

Practice self-compassion: When you notice your imagination running ahead, anticipating negative scenarios, remind yourself that our brains are designed to predict potential problems to prepare for them. When we have “What-if” thoughts, it does not mean that we will fail. Instead, view these thoughts as just thoughts, not facts. Then bring your attention back to what you are working on, and focus on the next step. Self-compassion can reduce negative self-talk, allowing us to make progress with the task (Neff, 2011).

Maintain healthy habits: We need to maintain our energy to manage our emotions and persevere with our efforts. When we imagine the possibility of failure, it can trigger the stress response to prepare us to deal with the situation, so taking time to breathe and reflect will help manage the tension. Dedicate time to self-care by prioritising healthy habits to restore energy, such as protecting sleep time, eating healthy foods, taking breaks, and connecting with family and friends.

References

Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company..

David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.

Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Updated edition. New York: Ballantine Books.

Feldman Barrett, L. (2018) How emotions are made: the secret life of the brain. London: Pan Books.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Oettingen, G. (2015) Rethinking positive thinking. Inside the new science of motivation. New York: Current.

Pink, D. (2009) Drive. The surprising truth about what motivates us. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Pink, D. (2022) The power of regret. How looking backward moves us forward. Edinburgh: Cannongate.

Managing pressure during the exam period

Managing pressure during the exam period

We tend to consider exams difficult, adding pressure and concern as the outcome is uncertain. It helps to put exams in context – they are part of the learning process. It is helpful to reframe the meaning of exams and view them as assessments or learning practices, to manage the emotional reaction to the word “exam”.

Exams are a form of self-testing, where we recall content and write about our understanding of it. Imagine it as a process where you communicate what you have learned so far. Focus on sharing your knowledge, and although grades are essential to pass a module and get your degree, thinking about results is distracting. When you notice these thoughts, view them as a sign that exams are important to you as you want to do well in your degree.

When you notice worry thoughts that distract you, pause and breathe. It will help restore balance so that you can think and access the material you revised. The pressure comes from focusing on the results, and the more distant good grades seem, the more tension, reducing the ability to access the content and its meaning.

When thoughts are about possible negative scenarios, bring your attention back to the present, breathe mindfully, and drink a bit of water to restore balance. View them as just thoughts, they are not facts. Then, focus on narrating what you understand of the topic. Reducing tension increases your ability to access the material you have revised. As you are writing, think of it as a work in progress.

Being prepared is an effective way to deal with the pressure before the exam day. Create a study routine to manage your time and energy – revise consistently to get into a rhythm. As you study the material regularly, it will help to develop familiarity with the content. Keep in contact with your purpose and prioritise what matters.

If you notice it is difficult to persevere with revision, identify what prevents you from studying. For example, is it that it feels like too much work? Or are you worried about results? As you notice these feelings, acknowledge them and view them as part of the human condition. It is normal to experience a degree of unease and apprehension when dealing with a challenge and an uncertain outcome.

The human brain has a remarkable capacity to learn complex tasks. Connect with your learning experiences – you learned to read and write, and it took significant effort and practice to develop the skills. When learning new things, we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, so it will feel uncomfortable and frustrating, particularly when noticing slow progress or facing an obstacle.

We need to maintain our energy to manage our emotions and persevere with our efforts. It is helpful to maintain an optimistic attitude where we have hope and trust in our ability to learn.

Taking exams on campus

This year, some exams will take place on campus while others will be online as last year. Now that you are more familiar with online exams, you may be wondering about taking a timed exam in an unfamiliar environment.

It has been a long time since most students have taken exams on campus. It is normal to feel apprehensive about them as it is an unfamiliar situation. The pressure builds up when waiting to go into the room, and others start talking about what could be in the exam and what they studied, triggering a wave of distress when you cannot remember some of the content mentioned. It can unsettle and raise the tension you experience.

It is best not to talk about the exam content in the queue and focus on maintaining your balance through mindful breathing and reminding yourself that you have revised and prepared as much as possible.

When in the room, it can feel unsettling to wait for the moment to begin. Once you can open the booklet, take a moment to read the questions. If you cannot think of anything at first, remind yourself to breathe slowly, take a sip of water, and visualise yourself writing and telling your story of what you learned. Imagine you are writing a draft, so start writing anything that comes to mind related to the subject – as a warm-up exercise.

The idea is to begin to get a sense that you can remember something, and gradually you will be able to access the content you revised. Starting with a few ideas will begin to focus your mind. Train yourself to bring your attention to the moment and then start answering the question as if you were explaining the material to a friend. It will ease the tension, allowing you to access your creativity and problem-solving skills.

It is essential to look after yourself – taking breaks to replenish your energy. When we have a lot to do, we may feel guilty if we take a break because we have limited time. However, breaks are essential to restore energy. Healthy habits and a daily routine will allow you to maintain motivation and the ability to focus. Make a note each day of what you have covered – keep track of your revision to remind yourself that you have dedicated time to understand the content.

References:
Bandura, A/ (1997) Self-Efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Cottrell, S. (2015) Skills for success. Personal development and employability. (3rd Ed.) London: Palgrave, Macmillan Education.

Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Updated edition. New York: Ballantine Books.

Preparing for exams: maintaining motivation

Preparing for exams: maintaining motivation

In addition to having good study habits, we also need to manage our inner world to prepare well for exams. It is helpful to understand our emotions and keep in mind what we value to keep us focused on what matters most. Maintain a routine to manage your time and energy level. It will help strengthen your capacity to deal with the pressure and the uncertainty of how things will turn out.

Tips to maintain motivation and keep well during the exam period:

Prepare your mindset: When your thoughts run ahead, focusing on possible adverse outcomes, bring your attention back to the present. Often, our expectations increase tension – “it is too difficult”, “I cannot do well enough”, etc.  Instead, keep in mind you are capable of learning and view difficulties as challenges that can be overcome. Break the tasks down into small steps and work on one step at a time.

Focus on learning: rather than thinking about results, be curious about what you are learning. It will help to increase concentration and help to maintain motivation.

Plan to revise each day. If you miss a day, get started soon as you can, even if you only do 10 minutes, and continue revising the next day. Remind yourself that it is a challenge and that what counts is to keep going. Regular practice boost confidence in our skills. 

Create a daily routine: identify a flexible pattern that includes periods of focused time and insert short breaks. Allow time to look after yourself: maintain healthy habits to keep well so that you have the strength to persevere with your efforts. 

For more information check this blog post and this one.

Move from intention to action: we often have the intention of starting our work to only be distracted from it by something that seems more interesting or less difficult. To follow through with intentions, we need to have a clear plan of the next steps we need to take – as if we could view a “how-to” video. Once we know what we need to do, we can focus our attention to persevere with our efforts.

Managing academic pressure and meeting deadlines

Managing academic pressure and meeting deadlines

Too much to do? Not sure where to start? These are common thoughts and feelings when having a demanding workload. A way to manage academic pressure is to pay attention to the present moment. Focus on what you can do now and remind yourself that you have met deadlines before. Learning requires perseverance and maintaining hope that you will progress with your efforts.

Here are a few tips to get work done and meet deadlines. 

Develop a beginner’s mindset: focus on your capacity to learn and tolerate setbacks and mistakes as part of the learning process. As learners, we are curious to find out new things. It boosts motivation and helps us persevere when we are unsure how things will turn out.

Develop self-awareness: Understanding our thoughts and feelings and learning to regulate our emotions through self-care and self-compassion, we are in a better place to deal with challenges and keep well as we get our work done. 

Develop a flexible attitude: keep an open mind and consider it is possible to improve work because of your efforts. Emotional agility helps to manage our frustration when working to a deadline (David, 2016). Keep in mind that academic work takes time, and it requires repeated attempts and corrections to drafts to improve our work. 

Tolerate uncertainty: Waiting to hear about results may trigger worry thoughts. However, it does not mean that these thoughts reflect what will happen. Bring your attention back to the task and focus on taking small steps and noticing your progress, without self-judgment (Gilbert, 2010).

work in progress

Think of work as drafts: Instead of expecting the work to be correct the first time, think of it as a work in progress. Do what you can and when the deadline comes, submit what you have, thinking it is a draft – something that can continue to be improved, but it needs to be submitted on time. 

 Notice the progress you are making: When very busy, it can feel like the end is too far away. Acknowledge the work you have done. Notice what you are learning and ask yourself questions about the topic. For example: “how does it relate to other subjects? How can it be applied in reality? Questions keep us interested and help to make progress. 

Be prepared to deal with setbacks: every piece of work can present us with obstacles. When these occur, review what you have done and identify what can be changed or done differently to improve it.

For more information, check this blog post.


References:

David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books

Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Distracted? Tips to increase concentration

We live in a world with a continuous stream of information from various channels demanding our attention. In addition, social media can be engaging – we scroll through photos and messages and find it hard to stop to get back to our work. Without realising it, hours can go by, leaving less time available to progress our goals. 

Studying requires focused time and effort. We need to be on our own to concentrate on our work, so it can be hard to do as we also want to connect with family and friends.

Academic work requires reading lengthy and more complex texts. It can be challenging to focus on one task for a set period when we are used to scanning websites and reading content online presented in a bite-sized format. 

What to do when distracted?

Notice when you are not paying attention to the page you are studying. Pause, then, without self-judgement, gently bring your attention back to focus on the task again.

Do one task at a time:  we like to think we can multitask, moving quickly from one

task to another. However, every time we switch from one task to another, we

need to refocus (Goleman, 2014).


It requires time and energy to control our impulse to do 
something different and refocus again. It is best to focus on one task to engage with it and learn the content. It will save energy and help get things done. 

Be patient: learning requires time and effort. We can feel impatient when we are dealing with a difficult task. Practise tolerating frustration and view the task as a manageable.


Persevere with your efforts
: being consistent and maintaining a routine helps develop our skills and gradually strengthen our capacity to do more complex tasks. And when things do not work out as you hoped, reflect on what you can learn from mistakes and apply the knowledge to improve your work.

Identify distractions: Before starting to study, identify what things distract you. Then, plan what you will do to manage the distraction and continue your revision. Having the phone in view makes it harder to ignore the notifications. One strategy is to keep the phone silent and out of sight to prevent being interrupted when studying. It will help reduce being distracted to check social media and increase your capacity to focus on a task.  

Take short breaks: it is essential to take breaks to restore energy: pause, practice mindful breathing, to help focus on what is happening now. Letting our mind wander for a bit allows our brain to connect different contents nurturing our creativity to develop our work (Baird, et al, 2012).

Disconnect from digital devices:  Our eyes need a break from screens, and we need to move after sitting for a while. It will restore energy and our ability to manage distractions when we get back to our task. Repeated practice will help to increase our capacity to concentrate on a task. In addition, turn off all digital devices about an hour before bedtime as part of your sleep routine.

Be curious: Our concentration improves when we are interested and adopt a flexible attitude. When we are open to new ideas and are willing to consider other possibilities, it improves our concentration and motivation.


Pause and be kind:
 When distracted by external events or negative thoughts, acknowledge these, and then bring your attention back to the task you are working on, without self-criticism.

Look after yourself: When we are tired, it is more challenging to manage our emotions and maintain our focus. Maintain healthy habits to keep well and have the energy to persevere with your work.

References:

Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Mrazek, M. D., Kam, J. W. Y., Franklin, M. S., & Schooler, J. W. (2012). Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation. Psychological Science23(10), 1117–1122. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23355504.

Goleman, D. (2014) Focus. The hidden driver of excellence. London: Bloomsbury publishing.

Hari, J. (2022) Stolen focus. Why you can’t pay attention. London: Bloomsbury publishing.

Styles, E. (2006) The psychology of attention (2nd edition). London: Routledge.

What are the benefits of resilience, and how can we develop it?

What are the benefits of resilience, and how can we develop it?

Being resilient means that we trust ourselves to deal with challenges and have hope that things will work out in the end. It does not mean that we do not feel frustrated, disappointed, or upset. 

It means that even when setbacks occur, or we make mistakes, we can tolerate the discomfort these cause by acknowledging our feelings and taking time to reflect and restore our energy. 

We can develop our resilience just like any other skill. We can practise tolerating self-doubt and focus on what we have learned from past challenges. It will boost our confidence to deal with setbacks.  

Here are strategies to develop resilience:

Focus on what you can control: be present and notice what is happening. Then identify within your control and think about what you can do right now to move forwards.

Learning to trust ourselves boosts our confidence to experiment with possible solutions even if we do not know how things will work out. It is the skill that helps us grow and adapt to new situations.

Maintain a healthy routine: Identify your priorities and create a structure for your day to help plan your work and when you can take breaks away from screens. Also, allow time to go outdoors for a walk or exercise to boost your motivation and improve concentration. It is essential to take care of ourselves to maintain our resilience. 

Take time to pay attention: noticing how we feel and acknowledging when feeling uncomfortable and distressed. Being kind and understanding – we are human and can make mistakes.

Then, we can start to explore what we can do to manage the situation.

Practise gratitude: It helps to redirect our attention to what we value and find meaningful. It helps to manage our emotions and be hopeful that things can change for the better.

Connect with others: When facing difficult situations, sometimes we hold back and do not talk to others about our concerns. Perhaps we fear they might not understand and feel alone. We can speak with a trusted family member or friend. They can act as sounding boards and can provide a different perspective.

Keep active: Doing some exercise every day is essential to maintain our physical and mental health. It helps to manage our emotions, energy and to maintain balance.

For more information check this blog post and this one. 

References:

David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Books.

Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Neff, K. (2011) Self-compassion. Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Imperfect perfectionism

Imperfect perfectionism

Do you notice that you want to make progress with your assignments or dissertation but wonder if your work is good enough? Are you dissatisfied with your work? Do you worry about feedback? 

It is common to experience these feelings when we care about doing well in our work.

Sometimes, these feelings may be due to wanting to avoid mistakes, but as these happen, we lose motivation and wonder if our work will ever be good enough. As a result, we can experience more pressure (and stress symptoms) and take longer to do things preventing us from meeting deadlines. 

Here are a few strategies to make progress:

Reframe negative thoughts: Notice when you have negative thoughts about your work, yourself, or anticipate negative outcomes. Then ask yourself: “Is this thought helpful?” and then ask: “what one thing can I do now to move forward?”

Expect that it may take time to achieve results. Several trials and errors may be necessary to understand a concept or result in an experiment.

If it does not work on the first attempt, it does not mean you cannot get a positive result later (Dweck, 2006).

Focus on making progress: often, we have a definite idea of how things should be, pursuing unrealistic standards. We do not realise that our expectations add pressure and paradoxically prevent us from doing good work. Instead, focus on making progress and working on what supports your goals. 

Reframe fear of failure: Because we care to do good work, we worry about mistakes. We may believe that we should not make mistakes and view them as a sign of our lack of ability. Instead, view errors and setbacks as part of the learning process, and with practice, we can master new knowledge and develop new skills (Ben-Shahar, 2009).

Practise self-compassion: It is about being aware that you are human and that sometimes mistakes can happen. Treat yourself with kindness, like you would behave towards your best friend. (Gilbert, 2010). 

Take a moment to pause and redirect your attention to the present moment. It will help to ground yourself, reset and find balance.  

Give yourself time to restore your energy. It also provides you with an opportunity to step back from your work. This way, when you return to it, you can look at it with fresh eyes. Often, just a few minutes can allow you to notice what you can edit or correct to get unstuck.

For more information check this blog post and this one

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” (Voltaire)

References:

Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect. How to stop chasing perfection and start living
             a richer, happier life. USA: McGraw-Hill.

Dweck, C. S. (2006) Mindset. How you can fulfil your potential. New York: Balantine books.

Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Starting a new year – getting back into a study routine

Starting a new year – getting back into a study routine

Welcome back to the Spring term! Starting a new calendar year tends to be when most people make New Year’s resolutions, hoping to make positive changes. A new beginning provides an opportunity to make a fresh start. It is like opening a notebook and having a blank page to write a new story.  

The start of a new year is a good time for reviewing our priorities to decide where we want to spend our time and energy. As we take time to reflect on what is important to us, we can identify a direction in which we want to go. However, we may be too ambitious and start with grand plans which we may not follow through. It is best to align our goals with what matters most to us and break them into small, realistic, and achievable goals. As we notice progress, it will motivate us to persevere until we get to where we want to be.

Getting back into a study routine can be challenging at first. Perhaps, you find yourself looking back, wondering if you could have done better last year, which can be distracting and have a negative effect on your motivation. To get into a positive mindset, start by acknowledging these feelings, then focus on what you did well and consider what you could do differently to make progress in those areas you feel you want to improve.  

Here are a few strategies to maintain motivation and keep well:

Practise gratitude: Reflecting each day and identifying what we are grateful for can redirect our attention to what matters most. It can be energising and motivating. 

Get into a routine: having a flexible structure will help manage energy to plan when we will do our work and manage our time. It will also support our health and wellbeing. 

Get out of your comfort zone: especially after the holidays, we are more likely to be reluctant to discipline ourselves and get on with our work. Acknowledge this feeling, and then focus on what you want to learn and the skills you want to develop. It is helpful to think about where you want to be by the end of the year. Then, consider what you would need to do to get there. Identify concrete steps or goals you can take to start now. 

For more ideas and strategies, check this blog post and this one. 

“Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way. Stay away from what might  have been, and loot at what can be.” (Marsha Petrie Sue)

Best wishes for your studies!
Keep well and keep learning 

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