APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Maintaining Your Motivation during the Academic Journey

A lack of motivation can affect us all. I remember feeling unmotivated to return to school and pursue my doctorate. I wanted to acquire a doctoral degree, but I put it off for five years. After six continuous years of post-secondary education, I was truly burnt out and chose to enter the workforce full time.

Upon getting a taste of the working world, I thought about going back for a degree, but I lacked the motivation to go back to school. I kept thinking about all of the aspects of earning my doctorate – the time commitment, the cost of pursuing a terminal degree, and the years of courses and writing needed to achieve my goal.

In addition, the feeling of imposter syndrome – the self-doubt that you can truly accomplish your goals – led me to believe I would fail. It’s common to doubt your skills and abilities to accomplish a task.

Fast-forward four years later, and I walked across the graduation stage. The doctoral hood was placed over my head as my close family and friends celebrated my success with joy and delight.

So how did I stay motivated to reach my goal of attaining a doctoral degree? Here are a few strategies to stay motivated even in the toughest of circumstances.

The Locus of Control and Its Relationship to Motivation

First, it’s important to understand that motivation is purely internal. You may have external motivations – such as family, employers or finances that spur you to make a decision – but a decision is yours alone to make.

A research study that supports this concept of the power of internal motivation was conducted by Stanford University professor Claudia M. Mueller. For this study, Dr. Mueller asked students of 10 to 11 years of age to assemble puzzles and divided the students into two groups.

The study found that students in the first group – who were told they were smart and could easily assemble puzzles – had lower levels of motivation. The students in the second group were told they were hard workers and could assemble the puzzles based on their ability to solve problems.

This second group of students had a different reaction to the study. They worked harder on the puzzles and said they enjoyed the experiment.

This particular study involved the “Locus of Control” concept. This concept has two components – internal control (you control whatever happens to you) and external control (events that happen control you). In the research study conducted by Dr. Mueller, a feeling of internal control meant the participants’ hard work and effort led them to do well on the puzzle.

However, external control can be a curse because you stop making an effort to succeed if you feel the world is conspiring against you. Ultimately, the results of this research study can be extrapolated to mean that people with a high internal locus of control are not only more successful, but also healthier and happier than those with a more external locus of control.

Locus of control is directly related to motivation, because it is necessary to feel that you have control over your life and the power to change your life. In other words, you need to be an extremely motivated individual in order to successfully pursue the goals you have.

The key is to learn how to solve the problems you’ll inevitably encounter and to understand that you are the key to your success. Motivation is built on the belief that you are the master of your destiny and have control of your future.

Tips for Finding Your Motivation

You may be wondering about how did I get motivated to pursue my doctorate degree and stay motivated. Here are a few of my strategies for successful motivation.

  • Be disciplined – Stay motivated by surrounding yourself with success factors. Understand that you are always learning, which means practicing great study habits and performing under the pressure of tight deadlines. Self-motivation will get you started toward your goal of attaining your degree, but discipline will keep you on track as you make progress toward your goal.
  • Identify why you lack motivation – For example, if you are unable to complete a writing assignment by the assigned deadline, ask yourself, “What’s causing my writer’s block?” and write down the answers. Literally writing down why you have writer’s block can be key to alleviating that block and helping you to start writing. In this case, feeling unmotivated may mean you need more time to write, to research the topic in more detail or to find a quiet location in order to write.
  • Set goals – Goal setting is important. It’s essential to create goals, set goals and work toward achieving them. Goals can be both either short-term and long-term, and they can be broken into subparts. If you remember your previous goals and your success in achieving them, that can motivate you to move forward toward future goals.
  • Establish a vision – Visualize yourself in the future. Think about how you will feel when you walk across the graduation stage, accept your degree and realize that your goal has been achieved. Vision boards are a great way to stay focused on your goal; they can be an electronic or paper visual that you can view on a daily basis.
  • Practice daily affirmations – Spend time daily telling yourself you are capable and worthy of achieving your goals. Staying motivated is a daily and even hourly experience.
  • Build a community of like-minded individuals – Stay connected with positive people such as peers, instructors and university staff. Read about inspirational achievements, listen to podcasts, watch videos and connect to like-minded social media groups to stay motivated. Focus on the positive every day.
  • Keep a journal – Highlight the little successes you have as you progress toward your goal of attaining a degree, which will help you remember why you started your academic journey. A strong desire, an inner drive and a spirit of achievement is needed to make progress, and a journal can help you document and review your progress toward your goal. A journal is also a great way to retain the positive memories to help you keep motivated.
  • Focus on what you can influence – Understand what you can control and cannot control. There are some things that will not change, no matter how much focus and energy to devote to it. Understand that nothing just happens. Everything has an origin (cause) that creates an outcome (effect). This way of thinking can help you shift your focus and retain your motivation for what really matter and what you can control.
  • Be resilient – It is a reality that you will fail at times. Maybe you’ll get a grade that is lower than what you expected on an assignment, exam or final project. Failure is not fatal if you take time to analyze why that failure happened and then make corrections to improve your future classwork.
  • Turn big goals into manageable smaller goals – There’s an expression, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” In another words, any big challenge can be achieved by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. That is also true when you’re looking for the motivation to attain a degree. Break the process down into more manageable pieces: getting financing, choosing a major, deciding when to enroll and selecting courses.

Power, Practice and Purpose

It’s important to understand that with motivation, you have the power to achieve your future goals by putting into practice key skills and using activities to attain your goal. Having a purpose or inner drive can motivate you to persevere through your academic journey.

A poem that highlights the concept of internal motivation is “Invictus” by British poet William Earnest Handley. The 4th stanza states: 

It matters not how strait the gate,  

How charged with punishments the scroll,  

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

This poem, written over a century ago, captures the key to motivation. There’s a lot of negativity and positivity in the world, and chances are you’ll encounter some of each as you journey through life.

The choice is which quality do you want to focus on – negativity or positivity? Each of us can decide and achieve our future goals if we are properly motivated to succeed. Motivation gives you the energy needed to move forward, achieve personal and professional goals, and realize the life that you truly want.

Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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