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You Can Do It: Tips for Developing Self-Motivated Students

Possessing a strong sense of self-motivation doesn’t just make your students better equipped for excelling in the classroom. Being self-motivated is a critical skill for life. It’s an integral part of achieving goals, feeling fulfilled, moving up the career ladder and experiencing greater personal satisfaction. 

There are lots of ways to help motivate students. But finding ways to help them develop their own intrinsic sense of motivation will stretch far beyond your time with them—impacting the rest of their lives. To resurrect the old proverb, it’s the difference between giving them a fish and teaching them to fish so they can feed themselves for life. Here are five ways to help your students think about their own self-motivation:

1. Take the time to think about what motivates you. This is one of those things that’s more easily said than done. By truly taking the time to think about what intrinsically and extrinsically motivates us on an individual level, we can more easily set ourselves up to maximize our motivation—and therefore increase our likelihood of success. A few good questions to ask yourself to find out if a specific task is a motivator are: Do you look forward to doing it? Does doing it make you feel energized? After doing it, when you talk about it, do you light up? This could apply to being analytical, leading a group, solving a problem, using your creativity, etc. Whatever it applies to, find ways to work those things into the task at hand to increase your willingness to dive in and get it accomplished.

2. You positively must stay positive. Negativity has a far greater negative impact on an outcome than most people think. The easiest way to avoid it is to keep it in check and not allow it to creep in and take over. Focusing on the positive and trying to see the silver lining in a situation can help. To do this, try recalling and reliving past achievements, recognizing and stopping negative self-talk, ditching all-or-nothing thinking and severely limiting (if not altogether avoiding) the most negative people and sources of information in your life. Pretending your giving advice to a friend in your situation—then actually taking your own good advice—is another great way to practice positivity and self-love. Calling to mind three things you’re thankful for on a regular basis is another simple way to increase positive thinking patterns, along with proper self-care, including eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Remember: negativity is the single biggest cause of procrastination.

3. Compare yourself to yourself. For some, it’s best to compete with themselves. By setting a goal and charting individual progress toward that goal, it becomes easier to see how far a person has come compared to where they started. It’s a great way to draw attention to progress, focus on momentum gained and keep it going. That’s because sometimes when we compare ourselves to others, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. This can have the reverse effect of making us feel more easily defeated—especially when we compare ourselves to someone we see as having already “made it.” Think about weight loss as an example. If you’re 50-pounds overweight, losing 10 pounds is a great start—you’re already 20% closer to your goal. But if you’re comparing yourself to a swimsuit model, you’ll likely still feel like the task is insurmountable and that you’re a failure. Setting smaller, bite-sized mini-goals (as opposed to focusing on the end goal) makes it easier to achieve. Plus, that gives you more mini-victories to celebrate and reward yourself for along the way.

4. Verbalize and visualize your intentions. By giving words to what we want and what we plan to do to attain it, we’re one step closer to making it a reality. Talking about our intentions to those we trust and are close to is a powerful way of starting the process of giving it a shape and form. Telling someone our plans helps ensure those intentions become a priority. It holds us accountable for taking the necessary steps to make it happen (because we said we would). Without sharing our intentions and goals with others, it becomes easier for them to fall by the wayside and never come to fruition. Picturing exactly what it will look like when you achieve your goal or accomplish your intention also increases its potential for becoming reality. If your goal is to get into a specific college, spend time visualizing every last detail and feeling—from the moment you get your acceptance letter to the way your dorm room is decorated and how you’ll feel walking across campus to class. 

5. Your surroundings matter. While most people can attest to having a sunnier outlook in a bright, organized space with lots of windows than they do in a dark, dreary basement filled with boxes, the same goes for the people we surround ourselves with. It’s important not to underestimate the power of spending time with (and energy on) people who bring out the best in us. We are what we surround ourselves with—which can be inspiring or downright scary. To make sure it’s the former and not the later, befriend people who already possess the characteristics you want to embody. No matter how strong you are, you’re not immune to negativity and bad influences. Peer pressure is real—so make sure it’s the positive kind that will help you live up to your potential.

Understand that motivation is different for everyone. What motivates one person might fall flat with the next, and what specifically motivates an individual changes and evolves over time. Sometimes day to day, and other as a result of the size and scope of the task at hand. That being said, the better students understand the benefits that result from harnessing a strong sense of self-motivation, the more likely they’ll be to make the necessary changes to incorporate those skills into their daily behavior.