Motivation is a common challenge for university students throughout their degree. University courses are often 3-5 years of full-time study (and longer for part-time students), which is a significant period of time to remain highly motivated. Your sense of purpose for studying will often provide a beacon of light in the darkest times, so it is important to understand and remember why you are here!
How will this module help me?
- Understand what motivates and demotivates you
- Recognise the importance of a sense of purpose
- Learn how resilience and grit help you succeed at university.
How long does this module take?
- 20 minutes
"The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action."
Alexander Graham Bell
"Perhaps the most valuable result of an education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not."
How to get motivated
Motivation can be intrinsic and come from an internal drive for personal satisfaction, enjoyment or benefit, or it can be an extrinsic, external drive to provide benefits to others, gain material wealth/possessions, or secure a specific job. Your values are often associated with intrinsic motivations whereas your goals are often attached to extrinsic motivations.
Identify your values and set goals
Motivation is what drives you to achieve what needs to be done. However, if you cannot see the benefits associated with a task, you may be unmotivated to achieve it. Studies have also shown that motivated students perceive academic workloads to be less than unmotivated students – that is, they don’t feel overwhelmed by the same amount of work.
To help understand your motivations in life, reflect on the following questions:
- What is really important to you in life?
- What are you aspiring to achieve (personal and professional goals)?
- Identify a motivator for each goal (intrinsic or extrinsic)
- Are your goals specific, realistic and achievable?
- What are your short-term goals – next hour, day, or week?
If you struggled to answer these questions, don’t despair. JCU has a great resource that can help you unpack your values, motivations and direction through the interactive You and Your Career module.
Sense of Purpose and Study
A sense of purpose is to find or enact your personal purpose in life in order to realise a satisfying future. It is overarching and often associated with aspects of empowerment, motivation and drive, and a willingness to sacrifice in the support of a higher purpose. For these reasons, it is an important to understand your sense of purpose in relation to higher education study.
Your sense of purpose is intrinsically unique to you and is influenced by your journey prior to study. Some students know from an early age exactly what they want to do with their life. Some students don’t know until after they start study, and many students change course while studying. This reflects the fact that your sense of purpose changes as you grow and you learn new things about the world and yourself. A higher education exposes students to new perspectives, theories, experiences and people, which can alter their original purpose and path. This altered worldview can be exciting and revelatory, but can also create anxiety and uncertainty if it undermines your original sense of purpose. The takeaway message is that it is normal and ok to not have it all figured out – just remain open to possibilities as they evolve.
Procrastination is a common form of self-sabotage and is often called the lazy cousin of fear. We all procrastinate in life, but if you start to constantly put things off there can be a cumulative effect that leads to chronic and habitual inaction. A vicious cycle can develop where you delay starting tasks and then have less and less time to complete the tasks, which makes you feel increasingly stressed to the point of being overwhelmed and incapacitated. To avoid this situation, it is important to understand what causes procrastination and this avoidance mode, so you can stay in driver mode!
Causes of procrastination
Underlying fears – you may fear failure, rejection, underperformance, or being judged by others. You may be worried that you don’t have the skills and knowledge to complete the task.
Avoiding discomfort – you may not want to feel the discomfort of a challenging/difficult task, and wrongly assume that you are the only one feeling a lack of confidence.
Emotional state – you may feel tired, hungry, stressed, or bored and use these as reasons not to start a task. However, the longer you avoid the task, the more likely you will feel overwhelmed as deadlines approach.
Prioritising issues – you may start to fill your days with busy work (chores, paid work, hobbies, sport), so you convince yourself that you don’t have time to do high priority study tasks. Alternatively, you may focus on lots of low priority study tasks (organising notes, planning) to avoid more difficult, pressing ones.
Signs of procrastination
There are some common thought patterns that signpost avoidance behaviour.
- Ignoring upcoming deadlines – “I work better under pressure, so I don’t need to do it straight away” or “There’s plenty of time – I’ll do that later”
- Avoidance through distraction – “There’s so many other things I’d rather be doing” or “This is more important right now than study”
- Aligning motivations with emotion – “I will wait until I feel in the mood/feel inspired” or “I am too distracted/tired to focus right now”
- Action illusion – “I have been really busy lately and deserve a break” or “I have done lots of thinking/planning in my head, so will leave the real work for another day/week”.
Resilience and Grit
The challenges you experience at university are also opportunities to grow. Resilience is your capacity to bounce back, thrive, and fulfil your potential – despite change, challenges, and stressors along the way. Adaptability and resilience are key employability skill that employers now recruit for. The image below highlights some important factors that will bolster your resilience levels, and should be fostered as part of your ongoing personal and professional development.
Research into Australian universities (2017) showed that nearly 40% of students will fail one or more subject/s across their degree, which means failure is a relatively common occurrence and persistence is key for long-term success. The study showed that students who proactively sought support (including from peers, family and friends) and adapted their practices were more likely to persist with their studies due to newfound resilience strategies and determination.
The notion of grit as a factor for success in higher education is a relatively new phenomenon. Grit in this instance refers to the stamina, perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals, working strenuously towards/through challenges, and maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. Grit helps with your psychological wellbeing and stability, purpose commitment, self-esteem, engagement and satisfaction levels, and sense of meaning in life. Like resilience, grit is something that can be developed through conscious effort. A student with grit will exhibit some or all of these characteristics:
- Passion and perseverance – short and long term goals aligned with interests, resilience, dedication, adaptability, endurance, deep and sustained commitment, and persistence to overcome personal and academic challenges to achieve goals
- Self-control – excellent time management, self-discipline, prioritise tasks, ability to regulate attention and resist temptation, conscientiousness, hardworking, and self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses
- Growth mindset – positive attitude toward learning and life, understands the importance of feedback and constructive criticism, knows it is ok to feel confused when learning something new, and sees failure as an opportunity for growth and enhancement of abilities.
Optimism can be learned and people can change their mindsets and ways of thinking in order to facilitate a more positive attitude towards life and learning. Research in universities shows that successful students seem to adopt this idea of learned optimism, which is focused on happiness, independence, and mitigating stress. Unfortunately, natural talent/intellect does not guarantee of success at university, but grit and perseverance do as you won’t give up, even if you fail.
Take the Quiz
Test your knowledge of Motivation and Purpose by taking the quiz.