Breaking news! This just in: College students are stressed. No, really. It’s no secret that college can be stressful. With mile-long papers, insufferable professors and tight deadlines, it’s impossible not to feel at least the tiniest bit wired. However, students seeking higher education may be facing an even bigger threat to their school lives — a lack of motivation. This is not to be misunderstood as laziness; a lack of motivation could be a sign of depression, anxiety and burnout. The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds states that more than 80% of college students report feeling overwhelmed with their workload. 43% of students report feeling hopeless, and nearly a third of students report that they have trouble functioning because of a lack of motivation.
The real question is how can we, as students, work to combat this phenomenon in our own lives. If you ask people this question, most will give you generic answers such as “be positive,” “go for a walk” or “set small goals.” This seems helpful, but it’s easier said than done.
With that being said, everybody loves a good life hack, and six small and specific hacks have been proven to improve motivation. These are not meant to cure any sort of mental illness, and every hack may not be appropriate for every person’s comfort level. But I hope you will take inspiration from them to work toward being your most productive self while in college and beyond.
1. Clean Your Room
The first step to being motivated is to create an environment that will ensure success. Unfortunately, this means that you have to clean your room. Cleaning your room can keep your mind active and distract you from feelings of hopelessness. Additionally, freeing your room of clutter can give you a clearer mind and a feeling of accomplishment. If you can make a room look this good, who says you can’t write that 10-page paper? In 2011, Princeton University released a study that found that the more visual distractions you have — such as a cluttered or dirty room — the less capable you are of focusing. So, to sum it all up, take pride in a clean environment, as it will help you improve your motivation and focus.
This also applies to your appearance. While it is not essential to look your best when trying to be productive, I personally feel more confident when I feel clean and well dressed, and you just might too.
2. Go for a Walk
Another great way to increase your motivation is to go for a walk. Now, I know this sounds cliché, but it’s true! The Heart Foundation explains that exercise is a crucial part of preventing and coping with mental illness, as it improves energy, reduces stress, distracts you from negative thoughts and gives you a sense of accomplishment.
You can start small; you don’t need to run a marathon to reap the benefits of taking a walk. Start with 15 minutes a day (more on 15 minutes later), and if you get bored with walks, make them fun. Walk in an area with scenery, bring a pet, wear a funky outfit to catch the eyes of strangers or even create a scavenger hunt for yourself. You can also bring friends with you for encouragement. Sometimes, when life becomes too much to handle, all you have to do is take a hike.
3. 15 Minutes
One way to combat procrastination is to spend 15 minutes at a time on each task. This idea comes from Caroline Buchanan, an author who appeared on a TED Talk to discuss her method, which is also explained thoroughly in her book “The 15 Minute Rule: How To Stop Procrastinating and Take Charge of Your Life.” To summarize, spending 15 minutes on a task — as opposed to trying to complete it all at once — takes away the dread of starting the task and gives you a sense of accomplishment once the 15 minutes are up. After the allotted time, you can choose to take a break or keep going with another 15 minutes of productivity. Either way, this is a great hack for tricking your mind into being more productive.
4. Reward Yourself
Rewarding yourself is the most important way to increase your motivation. Every student is working toward a reward: to graduate. However, this reward becomes less and less exciting when we are faced with five exams to study for and only two days to do it. One way to keep yourself motivated in times like these is to grant yourself tiny rewards for every accomplishment.
Make a list of tasks, big or small, and establish a reward system for each task. Maybe you watch bits and pieces of your favorite show every time you complete a task. Or maybe you treat yourself with a snack for every three tasks you complete. Or maybe you create a weekly spending limit that only increases if you complete your tasks. The ideas are limitless. Stunningmotivation.com explains how rewarding yourself drives you toward your goal and boosts your confidence. There’s nothing wrong with throwing yourself a bone every once and a while, and chances are, you deserve it.
Everyone hates deadlines, and procrastination never seems more tempting than when you know your due date isn’t for another week, day or even hour. When combating a lack of motivation, the issue of due dates needs to be addressed. However, we cannot change our due dates, so how can we fix this?
As a matter of fact, changing the due date is exactly the life hack we need. If you keep a planner, mark your assignment as due a couple of days, or even just one day, before the actual due date. This may not trick your brain entirely, but it will definitely push you to want to get it done by that deadline in order to feel satisfied with your work. This is a technique I employ all the time as a college student, and, as a hopeless procrastinator, it has helped me increase my productivity significantly.
One crucial way to improve your motivation is to outsource your struggles to an accountability partner. This is someone who will remind you of deadlines, go on walks with you, offer to help you on whatever task you are stuck on and reward you whenever you get things done. This keeps you accountable and encourages you to do the things you set your mind to.
Even better, having someone you can trust can also be a huge benefit to your mental health. Libero Magazine breaks down the importance of having an accountability partner if you struggle with depression or other mental illnesses. This is someone you can rely on and talk to about your feelings. This person should have an open heart and an open mind, and they must never do anything to undermine or worsen your condition. Having an open ear to talk to can make you feel loved and validated in your feelings, and it can increase your motivation by encouraging you to be your very best self. If you decide to go looking for an accountability partner, be sure to choose someone you trust and respect, and make sure they are up to the task of being your accountability partner.
Student life is hard; overbearing classes, strenuous assignments, part-time jobs and even extracurriculars can all feel like a weight on your back that won’t ever come off. This can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and burnout, which can all be detrimental to your motivation.
Some people think that reading a few inspirational quotes on Google is all they need to become the perfect student, but applying minor changes to your day-to-day life is one of the best ways to train yourself to be the best you can be. Adopting these methods into your daily routine can become a habit, and you’ll be feeling like a well-oiled college machine in no time. As mentioned, these hacks are not meant to treat any sort of medical condition, and they are not even guaranteed to work for every person. If you are feeling unshakable waves of depression, anxiety or dread, please contact your college advisor or counselor, and don’t be afraid to get help. At the end of the day, your college years are too short to be wasted, and you should do what works for you.