The Psychology of Motivation (part 1)

Even when you want to get something done, motivation can be hard to come by. No matter how much you might want that passing EPPP score, completing what is on your study schedule just doesn’t sound appealing sometimes. The good news is that when motivation is lacking there are ways to get it back.

Expectation and Value

Recently we discussed Dan Gilbert’s equation to explain why we make bad decisions. The equation, Expected Value = (Odds of Gain) x (Value of Gain) says that the value we expect in something is determined by our perception of the odds of our gain multiplied by our perception of the value of our gain. As explained in our previous article:

“Expected value is altered when we have underestimated the odds of future gain (such as the gain that getting out of bed right away will bring us) and have overestimated the value of present pleasure (such as the pleasure that pushing the snooze button will bring us in the next ten minutes). The reason we overestimate the odds of future gain and underestimate the value of present pleasure is because space is to size (the farther away something is, the less clear it becomes) how time is to value (the farther away a goal is, the more difficult it is for us to accurately estimate the value of present decisions to help us reach that goal).”

The Newnan Academic Advising Center at the University of Michigan published an article called How Can I Get Motivated? and expands on the same idea as Gilbert’s.

  “Two things contribute to your motivation for any task: what you expect from yourself and what value you place on achieving a goal. The key to motivation is understanding that you have the power to change both your expectations of yourself and the value placed on a task.”

By knowing that you have the power to change expected value, you can begin to pinpoint how you are miscalculating the odds and value of gain and therefore change your expected value.

When it comes to studying for the EPPP, we might underestimate the odds of future gain, such as completing the day’s EPPP study session, and we might overestimate the value of present pleasure, such as succumbing to a distraction. When we understand the gain that completing study sessions will bring us and place a lesser value on present distractions, we can find the key to motivation. Looking back on your study habits and honestly pointing out where you can re-strategize is the beginning of making successful study habits and being motivated to study. When you look back you can discover what is keeping motivation at bay.

Find out what is blocking motivation

Understanding when and where you experience a lack of motivation is a good start to changing the expected value of studying. The next time you experience a lack of motivation, take a look at the time of day, your location, and what you have done so far that day. Perhaps it is your study schedule that needs rearranging.

For example, if you experience a lack of motivation in the morning and notice that you regularly go to bed late, perhaps more motivation would come if you went to bed earlier and had more energy to wake up earlier. Or maybe you are studying in an environment of distractions. Whether it is social media, social outings, or video games, it can be difficult to be motivated when you are surrounded by things that make it easy to put off doing work. Furthermore, maybe you are waiting until the end of the day to study. This could coincide with going to bed earlier and getting enough rest to wake up and study. By getting your study session done in the morning, the rest of your day is cleared to say yes to some invitations that would otherwise become over-valued distractions.

Sometimes, though, we can find that a lack of motivation is unavoidable in a given setting. This is where we can evaluate how to motivate ourselves in different settings with different given tasks.

For instance, let’s say that studying during the evening is unavoidable and you are consistently tempted with invitation to leave your studies and go out with friends. Look beyond what it is that is distracting you and look into the kind of studying that it is distracting you from. Perhaps you are constantly ignoring practice tests when you study in the evenings. If this is the case, consider other times to take practice tests and fill that valuable evening time with a different method of study such as flash cards. You might find yourself motivated to get through the flash cards and meet up with your friends later as opposed to looking at the harrowing task of completing a practice test in a short timeframe and skipping out on the practice test altogether. Being purposeful with your time and leaving room to get certain things done will leave you with the motivation to complete tasks at hand.


Further Reading

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