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Staying Academically Motivated

It's inevitable: Sometimes you just aren't going to feel like doing your work. It may be that a break will do the trick, but if that's not enough, there are steps you can take to help recover your motivation. Consider the questions below, and think about what might work best for you.

If you are finding it difficult to engage in everyday activities, or are feeling overwhelmed, please reach out to CAPS or talk with a trusted advisor or faculty or staff member. See a list of other support resources at right.

What do I find engaging or interesting about the courses I am taking this quarter?

It's easy to get so bogged down in the daily work of the quarter that we lose sight of what drew us to our activities in the first place. Take some time to reflect on what excites you about your classes and their subject matter. If you have trouble answering that, think about what might excite you about the general area, even if a particular class isn't engaging you in the way you'd hoped. What would you like to learn more about?

How can what I'm learning this quarter benefit me down the road?

Beyond feeling engaged, knowing that a class or other activity is helping you prepare to meet goals — a career, graduate/professional school, or whatever it might be — can help you feel more motivated. Consider how a class/activity is helping you develop professional skills. How might it be helping you become a better listener, thinker, researcher? How might it be giving you skills/knowledge that allow you to benefit the broader community?

How do I get myself to do things even when I’m not in the mood?

You're at Northwestern because you have demonstrated in the past that you can stick with an endeavor, even though you don't always feel like engaging with it. Reflect on some of the strategies you have used in the past to achieve this. For instance, maybe you start the day with a schedule to map out your work. Maybe you talk with somebody or jot down ideas before you start your day. Or you might break projects into small, manageable tasks. Other strategies we've heard Northwestern students use include giving yourself small rewards for tasks completed (e.g., 30 minutes of notes and then 10 minutes of cat videos!), and scheduling fun into your schedule so that you don’t have to feel like you should always be working (e.g., 7pm: favorite show and ice cream!).

How am I managing my academic routine?

Staying motivated will feel easier when you also feel like you have a solid handle on your academic activities. Set yourself up for feeling in control by creating a productive (and ergonomically sound) work space, making schedules for yourself, and using effective study strategies. Also consider joining a formal or informal study group and reaching out to instructors when you have questions or concerns.

What do I already know about the things that hinder my motivation, and what can help?

You are the expert on your own motivation. You know what saps your motivation, and what helps replenish it. Consider the following motivation-sappers and helpful responses. The list below offers some common examples. Not all may ring true for you, and there may be additional items you’d add — so make the list your own.

Challenges that hinder your motivation and steps that you can take.
Challenges Steps you can take
Feeling tired or lacking energy Treat yourself well. Pay attention to your sleep, eat well and exercise, recharge with something you love to do. Consider talking with a healthcare provider if the feeling persists.
Feeling overloaded with school, work, family, or other obligations Consider how you are using your time, and how it matches your values and goals. If there is anything you can give up, consider doing that. Communicate your needs to  family, friends, or others who may not understand your situation. Excellent sources for support include your academic advisor, CAPS, Health Promotion and Wellness, and Student Enrichment Services.
Feeling overwhelmed by what you are
supposed to do
Create a plan (daily and longer-term), make to-do lists and cross things off, write about concerns, or talk it through with a friend.
Feeling down, anxious, or depressed Connect with CAPS or a healthcare provider. And try to take care of yourself: Get the right amount of sleep, exercise, eat well, meditate, spend time with friends. Other good resources for support include Health Promotion & Wellness and Religious & Spiritual Life. If you're not sure who to reach out to, consider starting with a friend or a faculty or staff member you trust.
Feeling distracted by current events or concerns in the larger environment We can't separate the academic part of ourselves from the human-being part of ourselves. External stressors such as political events, social justice issues including discrimination and identity-related violence, and family or personal concerns can take a lot of our energy, making classwork difficult. If this affects you and you would like connection or support, Campus Inclusion & Community and CAPS are good places to start.
Not having a sense of the larger purpose
of a task
Ask the instructor to put it into a larger context, find out how ideas are used in practice, and think through how the knowledge you gain can be applied later.
Feeling like you don’t have choice in what
you're doing academically
Look for places where you have autonomy, and make choices about what you work on when. Find an aspect of the topic that really interests you and talk with the instructor about ways to explore it. If you are thinking you might want to switch your academic focus, talk with your academic advisor or a faculty member.

What am I doing to keep myself energized and take care of my well-being?

It's very hard to feel motivated when we're not feeling mentally and physically well. Do what you can to take good care of yourself. Take breaks, exercise, eat well, stay on a regular sleep schedule, and stay connected with others. There will be times when this all feels hard, and when that happens it's a good time to reach out for support, whether from friends and family, an advisor or faculty member, CAPS, or another campus resource (see the list above at right).