Eyes on the prize: how to stay motivated

Procrastination is the thief of time – so don’t let it steal your dreams for your future.

Are you finding it difficult to keep motivated in your studies? Can you feel your enthusiasm waning? If so, what kind of actions can you put in place to ensure you don’t get discouraged or side-tracked from getting your AAT qualification?

The rhythm method

We often talk of being an early bird or a night owl. But that’s not just a way of explaining your habit sleeping habits. It’s all down to your hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus is part of your brain that controls your circadian rhythms. These determine how you feel over 24 hours – when you are at your most alert (and hence most likely to study productively) and when you are at your sleepiest. Most of us are alert in the morning: so this is the ideal time to tackle your most difficult work – and it’s likely to stick.

However, you might find you work even more efficiently if you spend your first waking hour after breakfast exercising: this is because first thing in the morning, there is an increase in stress hormones in your bloodstream called the cortisol awakening response.

This makes you wake up for the day ahead, but it also impairs the retention of long-term memories. So it’s not the best time to study. Leave that until an hour or so after waking: the prime time for work is for most of us between 9-11am. Use the afternoon – when most of us are at our most lethargic – for planning or less-intensive brain work.

However, your circadian rhythms might be different: you need to find what works for you – that’s the good thing about distance learning: you set your own timetable.

What’s your goal?

If you’re distance learning, it can be hard to stay motivated because you won’t have the day to day physical interaction with other students. But you can get your motivation back: first, you have to examine what it is that’s causing yours to be missing. And that means deciding what your goal is in studying.

Helen Bartimote is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and a specialist in coaching psychology. She says that fundamentally, you need to work out why you are taking a qualification the first place.

“Is it intrinsic motivation – do you find the work you are doing, the goal you are aiming at, personally enjoyable? Or is it extrinsically motivating: that means you are not studying because you enjoy the subject but because you want to get something in return”.

Don’t assume that if your reason for studying is extrinsic rather than intrinsic that’s a bad thing. Keeping your mind on the prize – staying on the course, taking your exams so that you’ll get a qualification – is as good a reason for studying as is active enjoyment of the subject.

A good way of boosting your motivation is to reward yourself when you’ve completed something. At school, you get gold stars for good work: so give yourself the adult version: it can be as simple as meeting a friend for a coffee. It just needs to be something you’ll look forward to doing and is not related to work.

Giving up giving up

If you still lack motivation, you need to consider other factors.

Is it that you haven’t got a good work/life balance? Are you feeling overwhelmed, stressed or discouraged? Are you having difficulty sleeping or are you just feeling tired the whole time? And are your relationships suffering?

Then maybe you need help from those close to you. Start off by talking to fellow students: distance learners can feel isolated but these days thanks to technology, you can connect with peers via online forums or email. You might find that others are facing the same motivational challenges you are: feeling you’re not the only one can help you keep going through tough times.

If you’re working while studying, then talk to your employer.

Bartimote explains: “It is always a good idea to talk to someone if you’re feeling stressed by your workload. You may find that your employer can help by offering you flexibility at work. At home, you may need to consider how you manage day to day demands while focusing on your course. For example, could you discuss with partners, friends and family if there are any tasks that they may be able to help out with? Remember, asking for help can be a sign of strength and not weakness.”

Resource of the day

Podcast: Listen to how a surprising career path in finance came from a chance interview.

Up Next: How to handle pressure

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

Related articles