Health & Wellbeing

Ask the Counsellor: Studying enthusiastically

UoN Counsellor Belinda Muldoon answers your questions.


Q. I hate studying. I’m really, genuinely over the whole concept of university, and classes with my aptitude as a teacher marked on how well I can recite what I read this morning, or ‘research’ topics that have been answered dozens of times by people much smarter than I am. I need to get motivated: even now I’m just writing this to procrastinate completing a woeful group assessment, where my marks will based on the competency of strangers… How do I return to enjoying learning, being motivated and enthusiastic about my degree?

Thank you so much for your question. I think all students experience this at some point (and perhaps at several points) during their study. I think there’s something about this time of year when study weariness seems to peak. Perhaps it is to do with our recovery from long winter days, or it may even have something to do with the need for a well earned break. Either way, I am sure that you are not alone in this weariness.

Regardless of the cause, sometimes ‘doing the work’ just feels like trudging uphill in thick snow while carrying an elephant (but let’s not get distracted by how the elephant found itself marooned in a snowy landscape). This sense of mental lethargy holds a special place in our brain sometimes referred to as our ‘emotional mind’. This area of the brain is primed for rewards (‘ooh chocolate!’) and for avoiding averse conditions (such as deadlines). Our emotional mind is not very logical or reasonable – it’s a bit like a wild child! The emotional mind may make up stories like ‘this isn’t fair’, ‘why do I always struggle?’ or ‘stupid group assignments’! This kind of thinking may serve to blow off steam, but it doesn’t get the job done . . . right? After all, your thoughts are just thoughts.

It sounds like you want to cultivate a healthy mind state. When our mind state is calm, we are more analytical, task focused, empathic, enthusiastic, and motivated. For example, the healthy mind may say ‘even though this assignment seems ridiculous, I want to finish it because it is important to me’. The trick is to learn how to strengthen the healthy mind in order to manage any emotional states that might otherwise hijack your academic success.

The first step is to notice any thoughts or attitudes you are having about study. Perhaps write these down and consider whether these thoughts sound like emotional or healthy thoughts. You may notice that emotional thoughts are usually accompanied by sensations such as tension, tiredness, boredom, headaches, or irritability.

As soon as you notice the thoughts, you have an opportunity to train the mind to focus on something different. Sometimes this involves outsmarting the mind to focus on what is best for us. For example: ‘I’m having the thought that I hate this assignment… but it’s just a thought and my preferred focus is to finish this paragraph’. We then need to be disciplined by choosing to focus on the assignment. Each time you notice an emotional thought, remind yourself that it is just a thought, and gently return your mind back to the task. As for your question about enjoying study again . . . here are a few ideas to strengthen enthusiasm.

Firstly, let’s get back to basics.

Goals: What are you here for? By amplifying our study goals we are aiming to decrease apathy and increase meaningfulness. For example – are you studying teaching because you want to inspire others to learn? If so, how would you make the current assignment more inspiring if you were teaching it to a student?

Attitude: Try to adopt a ‘curious’ attitude such as; ‘if I were my own student right now, how would I help “me” to engage with this activity?’ Try to avoid unhelpful thinking like ‘I would never give this assignment to MY students!’

Playing the long game: What is your long-term plan? If you are studying to get a well-paid job so that you can travel, perhaps see this task as a small step that is leading towards a much bigger goal. Put a picture of your dream destination, or a graduation reward on your desktop as a reminder to take a deep breath and stay focused. Sometimes simple ‘zooming out’ strategies like these give us new perspectives away from the ‘stuck’ emotional mind state. Once our healthy mind is engaged, we are more capable of problem solving, creative thinking and calm judgement. In this state, we are also less likely to procrastinate and more likely to develop creative solutions for even the most tedious of assignments!

I wish you all the best with your assignment and a big warm thank you for your great question. Please feel free to contact the UoN Counselling Service if you would like further support.

Other resources: Smiling Mind , Living Well, thedesk, Healthy Mind Platter (Dr Daniel Siegel), Happify.

Ask Belinda a question! Belinda Muldoon is a Counsellor with the University’s Counselling Service. Do you have a question for Belinda? You can submit questions to be answered via:

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