Woe Is Me! “I Have Zero Motivation. How Do I Change?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I am a student doing a bachelor’s degree. However, I do not find much motivation to study. In the beginning, I was very enthusiastic and paid proper attention to lectures, did my homework on time, and also took exams seriously. But now, as time passes, I’ve lost interest and feel like procrastinating every time. No matter how hard I try, I’m unable to get out of this vicious cycle of wasting time and then regretting it. It makes me stressed, guilty, and anxious. I actually like what I’m studying but when it comes to mandatory studying before a deadline, I don’t do well. How can I change this?”
— Perpetual Procrastinator
RN: Hello, are you me from the 2nd semester of college? Let me just say, at the very outset, that I’m so happy to see that you are not blaming yourself for this, although I do recognize the anxiety and guilt you feel. But I’m glad to see that your vocabulary is not framed around the ultimate self-indictment of “laziness”; because let me tell you, that’s how I started out feeling and it wasn’t great, to say the least. The fact that you recognize that you used to be interested and enthusiastic, but that this has waned over time, is a good place to start. You can remember what it was like before you got here and that’s a strong thing to hold on to. I have been told off repeatedly by friends for immediately jumping to this conclusion, but I do think that you might be experiencing some kind of mental health issue. I don’t want to assume what it is, but the fact that you see this happening to you in real-time but are unable to control it means that something has gone wrong, and that it’s time to seek help. If that’s not something you feel ready for at the moment, it’s perfectly understandable. But I’d only ask that you practice being kind to yourself and recognize how our education systems (assuming you’re studying in India) are designed super rigidly, and don’t accommodate any space for rest and creativity. But when I say help, I don’t just mean mental health help. I mean reach out to your peers and friends for support. If there’s a professor or a senior whom you trust, you could share your struggles in keeping up with academics with them, and maybe try carving out some space for yourself.
There are ways to subvert the education system that we have — I’m not saying find loopholes in rigid attendance policies or fake medical leave certificates if it comes down to that, but I’m also not saying don’t do it. I’m not saying break the rules, but I’m not saying don’t bend them if you must. We’ve all been here and had to do what we had to do to survive what can be a punishing system, just to get some rest for our minds and bodies (and souls, if you believe in them). Just ensure that you do enough to stay afloat or seek the people who will keep you afloat while you navigate this part of your life. It’s great that you like what you’re studying — sometimes educational curricula and structures can ruin these for us but I assure you that you can and will find your way back to what you were drawn to originally. Sometimes the bare minimum is okay, and there are always opportunities to thrive later. But it’s important not to burn out, or heal from burnout if you’re already there, so that you can rediscover what it is you loved about the subject. And please don’t underestimate the power of reaching out. You can — and will — get by with a little help from your friends.
DR: Hello, fellow demotivated person! So, we’re both in the same boat (read: cycle), evidently. If I knew how to address your woe, I wouldn’t be sitting here relating so hard to you while trying to motivate myself to type a solution.
But here are some things I think you can ask yourself. First, have you lost interest in your course because you’re not finding the curriculum itself interesting, or are feeling trapped by your choice of career, or are, generally, disillusioned by life in this pandemic-ridden, climate change-ravaged world? Second, if you’re excited about a future in the field you’ve chosen, did anything change in your life — be it with respect to friendships, relationships, or even family — whose impact may be spilling over into your study routine? Third, are you, by any chance, burnt out? I don’t think these are the easiest questions to answer, but I feel like they’ll allow you to introspect and, perhaps, understand what changed between the “beginning” and now. If you need assistance, a therapist can, of course, guide you through understanding the underlying cause behind your demotivation and help you get back on track. Whatever step you choose to take will also require motivation though, so there’s that. Hopefully, your demotivation doesn’t affect every area of your life!
Last thing: please don’t feel guilty. I know it’s way easier said than done, but I worry that if you blame yourself, you might not be able to find out why you’re behaving the way you are. It won’t help you address the problem — it’ll just lead you to hate yourself more. And, to me, that’s a scarier, way more vicious cycle. I do hope you can find a way to get off it soon.
AS: I think what you’re going through is very common (and highly relatable), especially if you’re one of the unfortunate thousands that are being forced to spend their college years taking classes online. If you are actually interested in your subject, then one way to solve this could be by changing the way you approach your coursework. Maybe don’t wait till the deadline to do some reading? Or form a game-like interactive way for yourself to finish your work? Another idea could be to form a study group of sorts, where you can rope in your friends and hope that you can motivate each other. I don’t have much else, because my own expertise with this is limited (I procrastinated writing this woe’s response till the last minute!) — but I’m sure you’ll also find other tips (literally in every self-help book) about how to manage your time better and feel more ‘enthu’ about, well, life. On another level, it’s also possible there’s something more serious going on. Do you find yourself feeling low often? Or maybe there’s been a significant change in your attention span? In these cases, there could be something larger that’s impacting your mental health, and I’d recommend that you talk to a therapist, if you can.
PB: I can completely empathize. Procrastination activates almost like a reflex that you cannot control- it just happens. Even if you feel regret and try to overcome your habits, it’s usually a short burst, and suddenly you’re back to your old ways.
For me, at least, it always helps to compartmentalize. One task at a time. For example, don’t start studying an entire chapter, start studying a single question. Rinse and repeat. It’s also difficult to vocalize these concerns to friends or family, because usually they just tell you to stop being, get off your bed — and get to work. It’s not as easy, and there’s a ridiculous amount of “lazy” people, who are actually just living with undiagnosed ADHD or ADD, or a plethora of neurodivergent traits. If you feel it’s getting too much — and even organized, focused, active change isn’t working — then I would strongly recommend you do some research or consult an expert. There is medication and therapy that helps massively, and just being aware of how your mind works make everyday life easier.
But of course, first of all, put on some music, go for a walk, calm your mind. Try again after. Rinse, repeat.