Getting Motivated to Study

Finding the desire to study is difficult on its own. Being excited about doing it is nearly impossible. But, like most things requiring motivation, it’s usually all about the inertia. An object at rest will tend to stay in that state, absent an outside force. Usually, that outside force is just a subtle or not-so-subtle push from our parents, girlfriend or editor to stop whining and get to it.

For some, studying is fun and rewarding. For most, though, it’s a grind, and the most arduous thing about it is that it’s necessary if one wants to enhance their understanding of the world.

Becoming enthusiastic about studying something is difficult, because no matter how excited you might be – about anything – after a short amount of time, it becomes commonplace; it becomes work. There are several steps that can be undertaken in order to maintain both the level of interest in the material, and the work ethic to continue doing it, despite the nagging voice telling us that video games or Netflix are going to be much more fun and less mentally taxing.

First, you’ll need an impetus to study, and it should ideally be something more personal than just to pass the test. Knowledge is usually its own reward – it’s just a matter of finding the right perspective. If history seems boring, try treating it as a fiction story, and you want to know what happens next. In the case of math, try finding practical applications in your life. While it might not seem so at first, knowing how to take a derivative can help figure out how to keep your curve ball from breaking too soon. Give yourself some sort of practical reason for learning the information, and make sure it’s personal and important to you. The more intimately bound in your life a piece of knowledge becomes, the more likely it is that you’ll retain it.

Second, you’ll need to be able to study for more than fifteen minutes at a time. But don’t overdo it. It’s hard to maintain focus or enthusiasm for more than an hour or two at a stretch. Even the best movie in the world starts to wear on most people after three hours, and that’s purely a passive endeavor. In something active, like studying, the brain is being much more heavily taxed. This can lead you to feeling frustrated, anxious or even disheartened. Ignore those feelings, and focus solely on the information. Learn it as best you can for sixty to ninety minutes at a stretch, and then move on to something else for at least a few hours. If you haven’t learned everything in one session, don’t worry. Do it again the next day. And then the next, and so on. For most people, learning pages of information physically cannot happen in a single session. In encoding information into our long-term memory, our brain literally has to alter its shape. This process creates folds and fissures. New synaptic pathways must form, and old ones have to be rewritten or overridden. It takes time and energy, which is partially why you feel physically exhausted after marathon sessions of studying. Incidentally, it’s also the reason “cramming” doesn’t work – the brain has too much information, and it doesn’t have the time to make the physical adjustments needed to retain it all. So most of it gets thrown out, and all that time spent studying was wasted.

As a general rule, humans get excited about things that are new. As a result, try to convince yourself that while you may be studying the same general subject matter, what you’re learning is not the same thing you knew yesterday. Remember that hard work and studying have let humans do everything from curing infections to building hybrid cars, from visiting the moon to going to some of the deepest places in the ocean. Remember that knowing something might possibly save the world, one day. If you need motivation, just remember the words of renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:

“I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”