How to Restore Your Academic Motivation

A photo of a notebook, pen, and sticky notes on a deskWritten by: Adi Iyer, 3rd Year Medical Sciences

Photo by: Monstera from Pexels

The National College Health Assessment of 2019 showed, “Over 80 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelmed by all the things they have to do, and almost 40 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.” 

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress and it is extremely common amongst university students. College is a brutal grind and feelings of burnout are normal. However, when it begins affecting your motivation, physical and mental wellbeing drastically, it can have extremely negative effects. There are many causes of burnout but some of them include: workload, lack of passion in the activity you are performing, and poor grades. 

After putting countless hours of effort into exams during my second year of university, there was a good number of days, where I simply was not motivated to do anything. I needed to begin studying for my MCAT and I allowed myself a one-week break. However, one week quickly became 3 weeks as I was so drained from my final exams. I soon realized that I was dealing with burnout and needed to get out of the rut I was stuck in. As someone who experiences severe burnout, I present a guide on what I think are some important strategies to help students push through and restore their academic motivation. 

#1: Think deeply about the reasons why you are doing what you are doing and write them down

Journaling is a tool that I consistently use whenever I have a lot of thoughts going through my head. When I see my thoughts on a piece of paper, they become more digestible. If I am experiencing burnout, I will start brainstorming reasons as to why I am doing certain things in my academic journey. For example, when I was burned out before my MCAT, I wrote down the reasons I want to continue going down this long journey of medicine and why I want to become a doctor. I think this helped me reignite my passion for science and helped me build some motivation.

#2: Self-discipline is key

Say you were the owner of a company, you had one worker (Bob) who shows up to work 30% of the time but the quality of work the worker performs is so good to the point where you can’t fire him. For the other 70% of the time, you need somebody to replace Bob when he is not there and that is self-discipline. Although motivation is important in getting yourself out of a negative rut, self-discipline is even more important. Motivation comes and goes but a disciple is consistent. If you are in a cycle of unproductivity, just building self-discipline and accomplishing tasks every day will help you get out of this vicious cycle. Action breeds action. After reigniting my passion for science, and medicine, I was motivated for a couple of days to study for my MCAT, but the motivation would fade if the action did not follow. However, I forced myself to work 8 hours every day and that consistency also kept me motivated.

#3: Use healthy coping mechanisms

Healthy coping mechanisms are an effective way to manage burnout. During midterm season in my first year of university, I was burnt out. However, some healthy strategies I used to cope with this were exercising regularly, seeking support from my peers, and taking breaks when I needed to. I also have other passions and hobbies that I use to cope with burnout. In addition, using these strategies is an effective way to avoid burnout as well. I also suggest avoiding using unhealthy coping mechanisms including drugs. I have seen many students go down this path, and it just makes things worse.

#4: Don't be afraid to change paths

If you are experiencing burnout that is severely affecting your mental health, you need to look at the root cause. A good friend of mine who used to be in the medical sciences program at Western was so stressed about getting into medical school to the point that it was negatively impacting her life. She developed test-taking anxiety and began hating the pressure of getting into medical school. Because of this, she decided to move away from medicine and go into another field. This is an extremely common cause of burnout. Many people go into a certain field thinking they will enjoy it but end up hating it to the point where they feel burned out. If this is you, do not be afraid to switch to another field.

Overall, I believe that burnout is a normal part of going to college, however, it is extremely important to overcome it. If you ever feel overwhelmed do not be afraid to speak to a professional. There are free mental health resources that are accessible to all students on campus. The strategies I have mentioned are some of the strategies, I thought were important and worked for me, but other strategies could work better for different people.

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