Study Method #1 The Motivation
Spending countless hours studying and obtaining results that leave us dissatisfied or engaging in frantic and desperate study sessions only to end up with a low grade (or an average one) that no longer justifies the energy and time spent.
But how should we study? What is the appropriate method?
And most importantly, why does nobody teach us this in school, knowing that we will have to study for so long and learn so many things?
I created a video about study methods to share everything I have learned and developed over the years.
When I set out to do it, I wrote a script of 64,000 words. For this reason, I had to divide the topic into smaller parts. This page and its video are the first part, where we discuss the foundation of the study method.
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Why do we have motivation problems?
Beautiful Calming Piano
Studying is challenging for everyone; the difference between high-performing and struggling students lies in motivation and willpower. These two factors are the foundation not only for learning but also for any other activity in life.
Everyone at any age must manage motivation and train their willpower, from athletes to artists, managers to employees. Thanks to these two elements, we can be consistent in our activities and achieve our goals. It isn’t easy, but with motivation, it can be enjoyable, and with willpower, less strenuous in the long term.
If you can’t study – or do other things that seem more or less complex, like training, playing an instrument, and so on – the reason is that you probably need more motivation. By analysing various research studies conducted to understand the factors behind low motivation, we can find some recurring elements:
- A wrong choice of university, or absence of life goals for younger people in high school, even fear of the future
- Personal issues of various kinds that divert attention, such as family problems, relationship issues, or psycho-physical problems
- Intense Stress and Physical and emotional overload due to excessive academic debt
- Absence of effective study methods and poor academic stimulation
- Lack of self-discipline, a preference for recreational activities, and poor dopamine management refer to an underlying issue of self-esteem, psychological problems, or cultural background.
The Expectancy-Value Theory
Is there a formula for motivation?
Before neuroscience became an established discipline, American psychologist John William Atkinson worked vigorously on human motivation research, ultimately formulating his Expectancy-Value Theory. This motivational theory seeks to explain individual behaviour regarding expectations and values. According to this theory, a person’s motivation to undertake an action or task depends on the perceived likelihood of success (the expectancy) and the importance or value attributed to the desired outcome (the value).
- Expectancy: The perceived likelihood of achieving a goal or succeeding in a task. The higher the expectation of success, the greater the motivation to undertake the action.
- Value: The importance or value attributed to the goal or desired outcome. If an individual assigns a high value to a plan, they will be more motivated to pursue it.
According to Atkinson, people will be more motivated to undertake actions or tasks when they have high expectations of success and attribute high value to the desired outcome. Indeed, numerous studies support the importance of expectations and values in determining motivation, elements that Atkinson has emphasised multiple times in his work. When neuroscience became established, it explained the brain processes involved in motivation, examining how the brain and nervous system influence motivated human behaviour.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, has been identified as a critical component of motivation. The dopaminergic system in the brain is involved in regulating reward, pleasure, and inspiration. As a result, it plays an essential role in driving behaviour toward rewarding goals or dependencies.
Neuroscience has shown that emotions influence motivation. For example, positive emotions, such as joy and enthusiasm, can increase motivation, while negative emotions, like fear and anxiety, can reduce it.
Furthermore, studies have highlighted a clear and vital distinction between intrinsic motivation (the motivation arising from personal pleasure or interest in an activity) and extrinsic motivation (the motivation arising from external rewards, such as money or recognition). Intrinsic motivation is associated with greater engagement, satisfaction, and long-term success. In contrast, extrinsic motivation can have positive and negative effects on behaviour, depending on the context and nature of the reward.
These elements given by neuroscience effectively explain why when we haven’t chosen our path carefully (but have let our parents do so) or have opted for the most convenient choice, motivation abandons us day by day, leaving us drained of energy. For our brain, external rewards cannot compete with personal pleasure and interest in something – nothing is better than something done with passion.
So yes, to regain motivation, we need passion, clear goals, and to ensure that the dopaminergic system functions properly, according to our values and desires, and does not hinder us by leading us into improper behaviours in a vicious cycle of dependency and procrastination.
Failure and success
The result of the fact that no one taught us how to study is Anxiety and low self-esteem.
Those experienced in studying know that the natural enemies are not bad habits or an unreasonable amount of material to learn. The enemies are anxiety, fear of failure, and external social pressures. This is a mechanism that I call “Failing to avoid failure.”
I am amazed at how the human brain strives to make failure an effective solution for avoiding failure through self-sabotage and a series of thoughts and reasoning that make it seem logical, reasonable, and positive.
The problem is that no one has taught us how to manage anxiety or use a study method suitable for all the situations a student will face. We are too often blocked by the fear of failure, pressures from our family, and silent competition with other members of society. They have only taught us that failing is wrong, but no one had enough time to explain why.
It is nonsense. Failing is not wrong; on the contrary, it is beneficial.
Failing over time is like having spoilers and guides on future problems: insecure and undiscerning people call it a failure, while successful ones call it experience. Having a lot of experience is one of the most positive things someone can boast about; it opens doors to social, work, and academic success and is helpful for both oneself and others.
Develop success from failures. Discouragement and disappointment are two of the surest stepping stones to success. If you don’t fail, you won’t succeed.
Neuroscience offers an exciting perspective on failure and how it influences the brain and behaviour.
Emotionally, failure often triggers negative emotions such as frustration, sadness, anxiety, or anger. This emotional response, accompanied by cortisol, can significantly influence motivation, self-esteem, and future behaviour.
Anxiety misunderstands this emotional response. The adverse emotional reaction is meant to preserve us in the future, avoiding making the same mistakes and thus succeeding in the next attempt or a similar situation. On the other hand, anxiety wants to lead us to avoid that situation to prevent even the probability of failure and re-experience those negative emotions.
But failure should be a way of learning: the brain needs to analyse the error and adapt. This process involves the prefrontal cortex, responsible for processing information, planning, and problem-solving. Running away from failure and succumbing to anxiety makes us less committed, less skilled at making decisions, and less inclined to problem-solving. In the future, it will make us unable to react even to the mildest and most common stressful situations. This high price of mental comfort will make us mentally less resilient.
The outcome lies in the approach to failure: it can impact positive and negative motivation. If failure is perceived as an opportunity for growth, it can increase motivation and the desire to improve. However, if failure is perceived as a threat to self-esteem or reputation, it can lead to a reduction in motivation and avoidance of similar situations in the future.
This quickly convinces us of the fact that this relationship between failure and success is bidirectional: people with strong self-esteem and motivation to improve will see failure as a fundamental, intermediate step, while those who are afraid of appearing stupid, ridiculous, or disappointing others will only be heading down the path of frustration.
Those who persist and use failure as a weapon will quickly become accustomed to facing new situations and developing a certain resilience, which is linked to various brain functions, including emotion regulation, attention, and memory.
Of course, resilience can be trained and improved through practice and experience, contributing to a more remarkable ability to cope with failure in the future.
Therefore, a suitable study method starts with motivation, managing emotions, being objective, and analysing failures and difficulties for self-improvement. Nobody is born perfect; skills are acquired with patience and strategy over time.
In the following Study Method video, we will start setting up suitable strategies for time management and overall organisation. In the meantime, I suggest working on motivation and thinking about what psychological triggers are holding you back. Trust me; it will be worth it.
FAQ About Study motivation
All the frequent questions students are asking online
What are some factors that might be causing my low motivation while studying?
Factors contributing to low motivation might be an unclear sense of purpose, distractions from personal life, overwhelming stress, ineffective studying techniques, difficulty staying disciplined, and challenges with managing emotions or mental health.
What's the difference between being motivated by personal interest and external rewards?
Intrinsic motivation is driven by personal interest or enjoyment, while extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards. Intrinsic motivation typically results in long-lasting success and satisfaction, while extrinsic motivation can have mixed outcomes depending on the situation.
How can I learn from my failures and use them to improve my performance in the future?
To learn from failures, take time to reflect on your mistakes, adjust your strategies, and apply your newfound knowledge to enhance future performance.
How does building resilience help me overcome challenges and achieve my goals?
Developing resilience helps you recover from setbacks, manage emotions more effectively, and sharpen your problem-solving skills. This adaptability allows you to face challenges head-on and achieve your goals more efficiently.
What can I do to train my brain to become more resilient when facing failure?
To build resilience, expose yourself to challenging situations, adopt a growth mindset, learn from past failures, and work on strengthening emotional regulation, attention, and memory.
What strategies can I use to better manage my time and stay organized while studying?
Time management and organization strategies might include setting specific objectives, breaking tasks into manageable portions, prioritizing work, establishing a structured routine, and minimizing external distractions to maintain focus during study sessions.
This content is free, as educational materials of any level and subject should be accessible to everyone. If you find this content valid and think I should create more, you can support me by following me on Twitter and subscribing to the YouTube channel. If you liked this video, leave a like and share your thoughts in the comments, which could help me improve in the future or inspire me.
I wish you success in establishing the perfect study method, and I’ll see you in the following Study Coaching video.
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- Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.
- Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
- Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.
- Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.
- Atkinson, J. W. (1957). Motivational determinants of risk-taking behavior. Psychological Review, 64(6), 359-372.
- Atkinson, J. W. (1964). An introduction to motivation. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand.
- Atkinson, J. W., & Feather, N. T. (1966). A theory of achievement motivation. New York: Wiley.
Motivation and Study
- Pintrich, P. R., & Schunk, D. H. (2002). Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 68-81.
- Zimmerman, B. J. (2008). Investigating self-regulation and motivation: Historical background, methodological developments, and future prospects. American Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 166-183.
Neuroscience of Study
- Kandel, E. R., Schwartz, J. H., & Jessell, T. M. (2000). Principles of neural science (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Zull, J. E. (2002). The art of changing the brain: Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Neuroscience and Brain Processes in Learning and Anxiety
- Arnsten, A. F. (2009). Stress signaling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 410-422.
- Beilock, S. L. (2010). Choke: What the secrets of the brain reveal about getting it right when you have to. New York: Free Press.
- Joëls, M., & Baram, T. Z. (2009). The neuro-symphony of stress. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 459-466.
- LeDoux, J. (2007). The amygdala. Current Biology, 17(20), R868-R874.
- McGaugh, J. L. (2000). Memory: A century of consolidation. Science, 287(5451), 248-251.