It’s very nice to have a teacher or professor praise your work or performance, give you feedback, or reward success.

But what happens when you either lack such “mentors” or you need to do a lot of self-study, like in the case of distance learning? Well…then you’ll need to find your own reasons for studying and attaining high levels of intrinsic motivation.

A woman in a studio audience yelling,

What's motivation?

According to Merriam-Webster, it's “a motivating force, stimulus, or influence." In plain English, we’d say it’s the drive or reason to do something.

If there’s no one outside pushing you to do something, and you’re struggling with low levels of study motivation, you’ll need to find your own purpose and apply some strategies to succeed in your studies.

William Dafoe yelling,

1. Be aware of your learning goals

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Start by asking yourself these questions: What do I want or need to learn? And why?

Sometimes you want to know everything, but here's the truth: identifying the key information you need to complete your goals will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and stuck.

Recognizing why you want to complete these goals enforces their relevance. So, think of your needs. "Do I need to improve my French because I’m moving to Quebec?" "Do I need to pass this subject before the next semester?"

The International Career Institute suggests:

Write the reasons down on a piece of paper and pin them up on the wall. Whether it’s getting good marks, learning about a field, or becoming qualified for a chosen career pathway, your goals can drive you to persist in your academic work.

Borat saying,

2. Set achievable goals

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Once you're aware of your needs and general learning objectives, you should find a way to make them attainable. It’s very important that you:

  • Lay out your goals and objectives in a way that align with what the subject or teacher requires, or what fits your personal situation.

  • Break tasks into realistic chunks.

  • When possible, choose what you’ll study and leave any extra material for a later stage.

Wouldn’t it be nice to attain a “proficient” level of French before moving to Quebec? Yes, sure, but perhaps for the time being an “intermediate” level will do.

Your satisfaction will be higher when you notice you can reach your goals, and you’ll set others as you see you can do it.

A South Park character saying,

Breaking tasks into chunks

Suppose you have to master a certain topic in a given amount of time. You'll feel overwhelmed if there's a lot of information, so break the material into manageable tasks.

For example, establish in advance which chapters you'll read in a given time. Your intrinsic motivation will certainly increase as you successfully complete your realistic goals.


You're moving to Quebec in 4 months. What can you do to improve your French? Select the best options.

3. Set time to your tasks

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One way of breaking tasks into manageable chunks, as suggested by the International Career Institute, is to set time for your tasks.

 This can help you stay focused on the bigger picture and help you sustain your focus throughout the entire academic year...This creates a habit, allowing for consistency and building an association between certain times of day with studying into your day.

Seth Myers saying,

The Pomodoro® Technique

This time management strategy requires you to take short and frequent breaks while studying or working. There are even apps to help you with this!

Taking breaks lets your brain process and retain the new information, while helping you to stay focused for longer periods of time.

But you don’t need to download an app or pay a coach. All you need is a timer or stopwatch!🤭 Just make sure to take short breaks and have some small rewards, and you’re sure to improve your motivation levels.

Check out this Byte for more information: How can I manage large tasks with the Pomodoro Technique?

4. Track your progress

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Following the idea of setting reachable goals, it’s also important to track your progress. There are different ways you could do this:

  • Use a diary or agenda to tick units or levels as you complete them.

  • Make a list of the things you want or need to learn, and cross them out as you feel you have mastered them.

  • Use a highlighter or a bookmark to visually notice how far you’ve come!

  • If you do “practice tests,” take note of your results to see how you’re improving.

A graph showing a person's study habits improving over time. Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

5. Create a study space

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Whether you prefer to study in the dead of night, when it’s just you and your books locked in your room, or you don't mind sharing your desk with others, it’s important to have a study space — especially if you’re struggling to stay motivated.

Most experts suggest that your study space be “clean, quiet, organized, and comfortable." Of course, no distractions should be allowed, such as ringing phones, TV or music, games, people talking, and so on.

If at all possible, remove everything in sight that's not directly connected to your studies.

A neat desk with a laptop, course book, and a few lights and plants. Photo by Iewek Gnos on Unsplash


Your friend needs to pass three more exams to finish his undergraduate degree, but unfortunately he's feeling a bit demotivated. Which of the following pieces of advice would you give him? Choose all that apply.

6. Try a variety of methods and strategies

Flaticon Icon There are lots of other things you could try to maintain high study motivation and succeed in your studies. More ideas include:

  • Keep a study schedule, and respect it. It's a way of creating a habit.

  • Consider joining a study group, as working with others on the same subject is a great asset for motivation. Keep focused, though, as getting distracted is easier in a group!

  • Do self-reflection: every once in a while, sit and ponder over your progress; consider where you started and where you're now, and whether there's anything that should be changed.

  • Don't try to bite off more than you can chew...

    Productivity isn’t about doing more things — it’s about doing the right things.

    — Chris Bailey, author, The Productivity Project

Take Action

Flaticon Icon Learning how to keep a high level of study motivation will let you take on any task ahead of you. It's time to improve your motivation!


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