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3 Powerful Strategies to beat the ‘I Can’t Be Bothered’ Feeling
I am sure all of us, on multiple occasions, have had that experience where we unwillingly pulled ourselves off our comfortable beds and sat down to study a question or two. Suddenly your brain starts throwing tantrums and tells you “I can’t be bothered”.
What often happens? You just give up and spend the rest of your day doing practically nothing. Entire days can be wasted this way – doing nothing productive at all. This can result in feelings of guilt and feeling annoyed with yourself the next day. This turns into a viscous cycle, and can result in an all-round lack of motivation.
I am well experienced in this pattern – this happened a lot to me when I was preparing for my medical exams, particularly in medical school. I would wake up and be pumped about doing 150 questions a day or reading X number of pages or modules in a day. I’d have my new stationary, study schedule, mind maps and flashcards ready. But as soon as it got to start time, my ‘oh-so-dominant’ brain began to nudge me into “why don’t you do this later” mode.
Now I’m sure I’m not alone with this – in fact I have many messages asking how to beat the feeling from others. I want to share three powerful strategies that will help you beat this feeling, stop procrastinating and teach you how to find and sustain motivation to study for a longer period of time.
The 3 Strategies
If you think you’re going through a difficult period with exam prep right now, and you’re having trouble motivating yourself, you are 100% not alone. Three strategies can help you battle it out and find the study motivation you need – chunking things down, small regular rewards and accountability.
Before we talk about these strategies in detail, why is it vital to have strategies? The truth is study motivation will only take you so far. Motivation tells you “I need to do it” or “I have to do it”, but it is usually strong strategies that allow you to put motivation into action and hard work. Once you’ve mastered this, you’ve tackled the hardest part, and you’ll be all set to start making real progress in your study sessions so that you can secure the good grades you need to pass your medical exams and progress with your long-term goals of having a career in medicine.
Strategy 1 – Chunk Things Down
It is extremely important to begin small, and then keep things small.
For example, if you start your day by telling yourself that you need to cover 150 questions, both your brain (and your mood) can shut down automatically. Instead, try and break the entire process down into small, sharp manageable chunks. For instance, break down your study process into five steps – 1) sit at your desk/study space 2) turn your laptop on, 3) login in to your question bank, 4) get a notepad and 5) solve the first question. These 5 small steps ease your brain into the gear, subsequently taking you closer to your target – that is covering 150 questions. Next add another 5 steps – questions 2-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50… and so on.
This is one of the greatest study habits you can learn and is something you should look to implement into your revising plans and study sessions straight away. You feel like you’re progressing from the start, and it stops appearing like an insurmountable hurdle in front of you. Within minutes you’re on a roll, and you’ll end up achieving more!
Trick your brain before letting it trick you.
Strategy 2 – Focus on Small Regular Rewards
Using rewards as a source of motivation is certainly not new. Using them well is not as common. Now, rewards don’t essentially mean something big or materialistic – but they must be strong enough to encourage you to achieve your goal. That said, if your goal is as tedious as completing 150 questions, a single big reward might, at times, not be enough to stimulate that push.
So, break them down into multiple mini rewards. For example, you get to check Facebook after every five questions – and not in between. Or have a snack after each ten. Or listen to your favourite playlist for 10 minutes after fifty. Perhaps finally take a longer break and go into the garden for some fresh air with a cup of tea when you complete a hundred.
Sometimes we create study routines for ourselves that actually make studying more difficult — because we get so stuck in the importance of time management and achieving our goals as quickly as possible that we can’t see the bigger picture. We can easily get demotivated as a result. The reward technique helps us beat this.
If you can master this study skill, you can be much more productive — it’s one of the best ways to find motivation to study. Mini rewards help you curb the study time span between now and the positive occurrence. They will help you pass those little hurdles even when your brain refuses to do so. Eventually the end point will inevitably arrive.
Strategy 3 – Accountability
Accountability is super important to help you achieve your study goals.
There are times when despite telling yourself that you can do it, and despite employing strategies to push yourself, you still fail to start. Making yourself accountable to someone else can often do the trick.
Why? Because when you are accountable to someone else apart from yourself, you have to provide answers about why you have not done the work. Even worse, you have to come up with a viable reason or rather an “excuse” for it. In that split second when you doubt yourself and feel like stopping, you’re likely to remember your accountability buddy who will need an answer – and it may push to keep going.
When choosing who could fill this important role, try and think of people who will actually make a difference – for instance your study group, where everybody has planned to go through the same hundred questions that day. If you don’t manage them, you need an excuse.
Be accountable to your family, your spouse or and even your parents. Sometimes nothing works better than being accountable to children – you know a five or six year old won’t buy any story that you sell them – instead, they’ll keep asking! In essence, think of a person who will nag you about not having done your work every day.
So, these three strategies combined will definitely help you to get the work done on days when you absolutely lack any motivation. Break things, including the bit that leads to the work into small chunks to break down the amount of time you have looming ahead of you. Have small rewards along the way to give yourself study motivation to complete each set of tasks, and make yourself accountable to someone apart from your own brain. Your brain, being a powerful and decisive tool, protects and prevents you from doing all that work. You need to have your own set of strategies and formed study habits to trick it and be someone who goes above the bar, not below it. Working on days when you feel doing it does not count. It is on days when you do not want to but succeed in the end that matters. Make a difference.
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Dr Aman Arora is a GP who is now 100% committed to transforming medical education, helping doctors across the globe to ace their exams and enhance their careers. He is proud to hold FRCGP (Fellow of Royal College of General Practitioners). Previous roles include:
- GP Training Programme Director
- NHS GP Appraiser
- GMC PLAB 2 Examiner
- GP Recruitment Examiner
- GP Recruitment Question-writer
- HEWM IMG Board Member
- HEWM Advanced MRCGP AKT Trainer
Dr Pooja Arora is a GP with a background in Medical Politics, passionately focusing on improving the opportunities and working conditions for junior doctors. Previous roles include:
- Vice Chair Birmingham LMC
- BMA Council Member
- BMA General Practitioners Committee elected representative
- BMA Sessional GP Committee elected representative
- BMA National Deputy Policy lead for working at scale
- HEE GP Ambassador
- HEE GP Stage 3 Assessor
- RCGP Midland Faculty AiT representative
* Blogs written by Dr Aman and Dr Pooja Arora are not for professional, financial or medical advice. Please seek appropriate professional, legal or financial advice where appropriate *
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