Understanding Yourself: Mastering Your Motivation

Master your motivation with this self coaching session from the Open University's PLA (Personal Learning Advice) service.

Welcome to our third addition to The Hoot! 

Each month we publish an article which represents a new opportunity to focus on your personal and professional development to support your studies, work and life. In this article we’re looking into ways to master your motivation.

What is motivation

Motivation can be described as the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviours.  In everyday terms, motivation is what causes you to act and helps drive you to success. 

Motivation has a huge impact on how well you perform, and as individuals we’re motivated by different things in different ways. Psychologists tend to agree that when it comes to motivation there are two types: 

Intrinsic motivation: What drives you from within. The individual values and preferences that make tasks more meaningful to YOU. It occurs when you’re compelled to do something out of pleasure, importance or desire. It could involve solving a complicated problem, a desire to learn, passion for a subject or achieving a goal. Usually these are things that you’re in control of.

Extrinsic motivation: Incentives provided externally by OTHERS. It often involves rewards such as trophies, money, social recognition, or praise; sometimes it can even involve fear to make you do something. Often these are things that others provide and see, and they’re often things you aren’t in control of. 

It’s important to remember that neither of these types of motivation is inherently good nor bad. Most people find they are motivated by a combination of the two, however research does support that having internal motivators will have longer-term benefits, including consistency, achievement and greater overall personal satisfaction. 

What is important is understanding what motivates YOU

Identifying your key motivators will help you figure out what really matters to you and why. It’s key to achieving your goals and your personal satisfaction. 

Here’s a quick activity you can complete to help identify your key motivators:

Step one

Find 10-15 minutes to sit calmly and reflect on all the reasons why you started your OU studies. 

Step two

Take a piece of paper and write these reasons down. Tip – don’t try and analyse your thoughts and reasons at this stage. 

Step three 

Next identify if these reasons are intrinsic (internal to you) or extrinsic (external to you). It might help to move the reasons into separate columns or to mark them with two different colours.

Step four

Look at your intrinsic reasons, these are likely to be things you have control of and are things you can take steps to develop. They are often very closely linked to your overall goal and help build your personal ‘why’. 

So now you have a clearer understanding of what motivates you it’s useful to acknowledge that there may be times throughout your studies when you lack motivation or feel stuck –this can happen to all of us, we’re human! 

You might:

  • feel you’re unable to make progress on your most important goals.
  • feel unclear of where or how to start taking action. 
  • feel overwhelmed, not knowing what to do next and often not doing anything.
  • keep jumping from one task to another, without actually achieving anything.
  • constantly doubt yourself and worry more than you need to.
  • talk negatively to yourself for not getting things done.

The good news is that lacking motivation and feeling stuck is never permanent. Take some time to review the following motivation top tips and reflect on your responses.

7 tips to help you master your motivation

  1. 1 Remember your ‘WHY’

    Self-knowledge is important, it will unlock the ‘why’ behind your motivation. Ask yourself:

    • What am I’m studying and why did I choose it?
    • What’s my big vision?
    • What’s important to me about my studies?

     Use your responses to get clear on your overall vision and future plans.

  2. 2 Know yourself

    Understanding and learning more about your skills, abilities and even areas for improvement is key to improving your motivation. To help with this you might want to (re)visit the pervious articles on Identifying Your Strengths and Personal Values on The Hoot.

    In addition, in your studies it’s important to notice your levels of motivation, understanding what does and doesn’t motivate you to take action. Ask yourself:

    • How do I learn best?
    • What distracts me/gets in my way?
    • How do I like to study?
    • How can I create a positive study environment?
    • What time of day/when do I study best?
    • What other positive study habits work for me?

    Use your responses to create your personalised learning approach and study plan.

  3. 3 Identify your goal(s) and take action

    Having goals in mind is essential to keeping motivated, when you think about your goals, the desire to achieve these goals and identifying the steps you’ll take becomes clearer. Ask yourself:

    • What are my study goals? How are my goals SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time -bound?
    • What steps will I take to achieve these goals?
    • What’s the first step I’ll take?
    • How will I stay on track with my studies?

    Use your responses to create your personalised learning action plan.

  4. 4 Ace your attitude

    There’s nothing more powerful for self-motivation than having the right attitude. Often you can’t choose or control your circumstances, but you can choose your attitude towards your circumstances. Ask yourself:

    • What can I control?
    • What can’t I control?

    Use your responses as a reminder of the things you can control in relation to your studies, try and let go of the things you can’t control. 

  5. 5 Take care of you

    Looking after your well-being, both your physical and mental health will positively benefit your energy levels and motivation. Ask yourself:

    • What can I do to ensure I get enough sleep?
    • What can I eat and drink to nourish me?
    • What can I do to relax?

    Use your responses to create and maintain your positive well-being and balance whilst you’re studying.

  6. 6 Keep good company

    Spend more time with positive people who energise you. This could be as simple as online or in person chats other students who like sharing ideas or a quick discussion with a supportive friend or family member. Ask yourself:

    • Who can I talk to for more support?
    • Where can I find more support within the OU?

    Use your responses to build your personal support network inside and outside the OU.

  7. 7 Reflect and track your progress

    Taking pride in your progress and achievements, even the small ones can boost your self-confidence and motivate you to achieve more. It’s useful to reflect and pinpoint exactly what worked so you can repeat it in the future. Ask yourself:

    • How will I know I’ve been successful?
    • What will my success look like or feel like?
    • How can I repeat and continue my success?
    • How will I celebrate my successes?

    Use your responses to track your progress during your studies.

    These top tips can help you generate, increase and maintain your motivation, get unstuck and take action to progress towards your goals. For more  OU support on mastering your motivation visit Stay motivated with study,  Remaining motivated and Student stories

    …And Finally

    It’s important to remember that everyone at varying times in a day, week, year and lifetime can struggle with motivation. It’s OK to seek support from your friends, other students, family, OU Students Association groups or other support colleagues at the OU. 

    Mastering your motivation is important, it helps drive you to keep going in the face of set-backs, to take action and to work towards your goals.  

    Thanks for reading! We hope you have enjoyed this month’s article. We welcome comments, questions and chat about the article and activities.   

    Next article – March 2022 – Spring Goals 

    If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see in this self-coaching feature, please let us know.

    We look forward to seeing you again soon!

    PLA Statement

    The Open University (OU) has set an ambitious Access and Participation Strategy with progressive targets over the next 5 years to tackle inequalities. The OU has many areas in which we need to improve and do better, and one focus is on the degree outcomes between students from underrepresented groups and the wider student body. 

    To help address this, we have set up a dedicated team providing personalised coaching and mentoring to our students. This service is known as the Personal Learning Advice Service. 

    Students who are eligible for coaching are contacted directly by us and cannot currently self-refer. We are a new service, and we are currently delivering and evaluating pilot projects with small groups of students at the OU. We worked with the OU Students Association in designing and setting up this support for students.  

    If you would like to know more, please email PLA-Services@open.ac.uk


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