Are you noticing that you do not feel motivated to sit down and start or continue your studies? Are your assignments accumulating? Are you feeling frustrated and concerned about deadlines?

It is not uncommon in the middle of the academic year to feel less motivated. It can be frustrating and worrying to notice deadlines approaching fast, and although you want to do well academically, it is hard to persevere with the work.
We cannot force ourselves to feel motivated. However, we can create the conditions to enable us to engage with our work.

What prevents us from feeling motivated?

Motivation is when we feel the energy to do things. There are many reasons why we may not feel we can follow through with our intentions.

If we do not feel like working, it may be because we do not believe we can achieve a good result, or that we are not clear about what we have to do. Perhaps, we are too focused on imagined adverse outcomes that we end up feeling stuck (Deci, 1995).

It is difficult to concentrate on a task when tired, especially when it requires sustained concentration and effort. We may shy away from difficult tasks because we are afraid of making mistakes, thinking that we need to get it right at the first attempt. We worry about negative consequences, and this reduces our motivation to persevere.

As we lose our interested and drive to get things done, it can affect our confidence in our ability to do good work.

Strategies to restore motivation

Build confidence in ability: Tap into your experience: “What similar situations may provide information for this task/problem?
To take action, we need to believe that we are capable, that we can make choices and decisions.

Researchers refer to it as having an internal locus of control: we can act when we feel we have chosen to work towards a goal, and we have the belief in our capacity to persevere with our efforts (Deci, 1995). 

Redefine the meaning of failureIt can be disheartening when we realised that we made a mistake. If we believe that errors indicate a lack of ability, it can affect our mood and belief in our capacity to do well. 

We can adopt a scientific approach, where we experiment to find out what works and what does not. Then, review the steps we took to identify what went wrong to adjust and continue experimenting to improve our work (Dweck, 2012).

Practice self-compassion: Being kind and understanding – giving ourselves a bit of time to take a break. Being understanding about our situation, like we do with our best friends.

Self-compassion means acknowledging that we can have a range of emotions such as frustration, anger, sadness, and disappointment is part of our human condition. Then, as we work through our feelings, we can manage challenges and find a way forward (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).

Giving space to our emotions, without judgment, can help us manage them, and see them as a sign that something of value is at stake. They will indicate what matters to us to find a way to improve things (Neff, 2011).

The first step is not to evaluate our work while we are working on it. We can be very self-critical when we make a small mistake, or if we start to compare with others who we think are doing it better. When noticing critical thoughts, it is beneficial to take a moment to remind ourselves that the priority is to make progress.

Then, take a break, and return to review our work. Leaving the task for a while allows us to create some distance, to evaluate it more objectively (Gilbert & Chidden, 2013). 

Identify what is meaningful: When we know why we are doing the work, we can connect with the larger picture and keep perspective. It helps to tolerate the day-to-day obstacles that get in the way. 

Be curious: We are curious individuals – we are interested in new things, what is different, and what stands out (Pink, 2009).

We can stimulate our interest in the task by considering different perspectives: “What other ways can I find to view this task or problem? What assumptions am I making? What evidence is there that supports/goes against my plan/action?”

Reframe the task: We can change how we view the assignment, not as something we are reluctant to do (an obligation), but as something we choose to do. It restores our sense of agency. We can then take a fresh look to understand the task: What makes it so hard? Do we need more information or guidance? Do we need resources? 

Visualise the goalTo maintain motivation for long-term goals, we can create mental representations of what we want to achieve (Baumeister, 1996). Our imagination can help us identify what steps we need to take, and the more detailed the steps, the more likely we will persevere with our efforts. And to strengthen our motivation further, we can imagine the sense of achievement after completing the task.


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engagement and creativity at work. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

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

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

Deci, E.L. (1995) Why we do what we do. Understanding self-motivation. New York:

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985) Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human
behaviour. New York: Plenum Press.

Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset. How you can fulfil your potential. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and
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Molinsky, A. (2017) Reach. How to build confidence and step outside your comfort zone.
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Pink, D. (2009) Drive. The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead