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The science behind motivation

What is motivation and why is it important?

Motivation is an internal process of goal-directed behavior. Sometimes it’s induced by drive, other times by need, but motivation is really just a desire for change.  Motivation is important to most aspects of human behavior. It leads us to engage with the world around us in an adaptive, solution-oriented way.  Motivation has a lot to do with the way students engage with their school work (and their standardized test prep!). 

Why does motivation matter?

Psychologists have found that when students are motivated, they learn better and remember more of what they learn. 

People are generally motivated in an attempt to achieve two different goals: 

  1.   Mastery goals: To develop their competence
  2.   Performance goals: To perform well in comparison to others

Studies show that mastery goals facilitate long-term learning and performance goals help short-term learning. Furthermore, studies show that extrinsic rewards can improve learning because of modulation of the hippocampal function, the part of the brain that regulates motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.

So why is getting motivated so hard? 

Psychologists have identified three things that make getting motivated difficult.

  1.   “I have to” 

When a student feels they are forced to do something, they feel an unwillingness to do the task. Sometimes, a student might not even do something they want to do because they feel like they have to do it. 

However, this can be resolved if students change the way they think about the task. Understand that everything you do in life is an active choice that you have made. You choose to do the task because you know it will help you learn something new, get a good grade, get into college, and make your parents proud. 

  1.   “I can’t do this” 

Many students are unmotivated because they feel like they’ll fail if they attempt something or they don’t know how to begin. They may figure it’s better to save the time and work and not do it at all. 

However, students can overcome this by realizing that putting in the time and effort will yield results. Students must learn to recognize that encountering difficulties is necessary for growth and progress. Accept the challenge, ask for help when necessary, and reap the benefits of hard work and commitment.

  1. “I’m bored”

Some students find themselves unmotivated because they think everything they’re learning about is boring! If this sounds like you, you need to use your passion to keep you motivated.  Keep this passion and your dreams in the back of your mind as you do the school work that you are uninterested in.

No matter what you want to do as a career, you need school to get you there.  Even if you’re convinced that your dream job doesn’t require a college degree, a college degree is a safety net and you’ll thank yourself later. 

Staying motivated is something we all struggle with, and shouldn’t itself be discouraging. Understand why you’re lacking motivation, so you know what to do to overcome it.

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