Last Mile is the Killer: Maintaining Motivation for the Long Haul
School. It can be fun and exciting. It can also feel as though it stretches out into infinity. Whether public, private, or homeschool, elementary, middle, high school, or college, there are times when classes seem to go on forever, when there just seems to be no end in sight. No matter how much fun a project is, eventually deadlines come up and work comes due. The stress can turn an enjoyable experience into a torturous journey that destroys motivation. Some kids end up moving from crisis to crisis, always rushing to finish assignments before starting the next. Others end up sacrificing their enjoyment of the educational experience for knowledge, believing that is the price that must be paid.
Sadly, in any non-trivial educational environment, there will be stressors that undermine motivation and endanger enjoyment of the learning process. Reducing them as much as possible is a good start, but it isnít enough: if the education is challenging, there is going to be stress. Itís important to actively take steps to maintain and increase motivation:
Find a cheerleader or coach. This could be a parent, older sibling, close relative, a teacher, or another adult with whom you have a good relationship. Your coach needs to be someone who can help you maintain focus and remain upbeat even when things are going poorly. Their job is to help you build confidence, establish routines, and set realistic, difficult goals. They need to remind you of past successes, not past failures. The latter only decreases motivation and confidence, while the former builds self-efficacy.
Create a vibrant vision of the future: remind yourself why you became excited about learning in the first place. If you werenít excited to begin with, work with your parents, friends, teachers, coaches, or others to help build an exciting vision of the future. Refresh and revise that vision as your schooling evolves. Imagine success; daydreaming is a powerful way to stay in touch with your long-term goals.
Get out of the house. Spend time with friends, do something fun. Online social networks are okay, but face-to-face interaction is extremely valuable as well. Occasionally do things with people you donít see on a regular basis. Look for out of the box ways to expand your knowledge.
Put a picture of someone important to you in your room or somewhere where you can see it. Research shows that such a picture motivates people to work harder and more persistently at accomplishing their goals.
Donít allow the unpleasant tasks to fill the day. Face it, no matter how enjoyable the class, there are times when some of the work is really not much fun. If the unpleasant parts are allowed to fill the day, motivation swiftly declines. Itís much better to allocate a certain amount of time each day to performing unpleasant tasks: when you promise yourself youíll work on something for ďfifteen minutes,Ē youíre more likely to continue well past that than if you leave the time open-ended.
Take breaks. Although this may sound counter-intuitive, stepping away from your work is one of the most powerful means of making progress. An hour or two break to go for a run or read a book can yield greater progress in solving a problem than eight hours spent banging oneís head against the wall.
Take your hobbies seriously, but donít over schedule. Strange as this may sound, people who are devoted to a hobby or sport are more productive not less: knowing that practice is at 7pm means that there is greater motivation to finish your work in time. Leaving in time for practice, whether or not the work gets done, actually increases motivation to do more the next day. Itís when there is nothing else on the schedule that work expands to overflow the time available.
As the saying goes, success is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping motivation alive and well is key to crossing that finish line.
Stephen R. Balzac is a professional speaker and consultant. He is the president of 7 Steps Ahead, a consulting firm focused on helping businesses increase revenue and build their client base. He is also an adjunct professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology.
Steve has over twenty years of experience in the high tech industry as an engineer, manager, entrepreneur, and consultant. He has led the development of numerous predictive scenarios, including a Pandemic Flu serious game simulation for the US National Capitol Region. He has been a guest lecturer at WPI and MIT. His articles have appeared in many journals, including The Journal of Interactive Drama, The IBM Systems Journal, The Lincoln Journal, Mass High Tech, Black Belt Magazine, and the Worcester Business Journal. He has presented at SENG, NECGT, and BIQ and has conducted online seminars through the Davidson Institute.
No stranger to the demands of maintaining peak performance under highly competitive and stressful situations, Steve is a fourth degree blackbelt in jujitsu and a former nationally ranked fencer. He applies the lessons of sport psychology to enable people to maximize their performance in both sport and business.
Steve has bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science and engineering from MIT, and a master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, with a focus on motivation, performance, and group dynamics, from Capella University.