Dear Ally,

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Got Motivation?


Dear Ally,

It’s that time of the year, spring break is getting closer, but not close enough and the occasional sunny day is tempting you to goof off for the entire day. How do you stay motivated to go to class and study?

In the last few years, I’ve become a long distance runner and that has taught me a lot about discipline and determination. There are actually a lot of parallels between training for a marathon and taking a course, even the training plans are a similar amount of time, usually 16 weeks. So I guess my advice today could be applicable to either studying or running or perhaps sticking to any goal.

  • Visualize the finish line. Your ultimate goal may a medal or it might be graduation. If graduation is too far off, think about how you’ll feel at the end of the semester. Whatever it is, picture how awesome it’s going to be.
  • Think about why. Maybe you just want to prove to yourself that you can do it or see what you’re capable of accomplishing or in the case of college or a class, you are most likely working toward a career that you will enjoy, that will give you a sense of fulfillment and purpose and, of course, you might think about being independent and having your own place someday.
  • Just start. Some days I have to walk before I can get the motivation to run. I had trouble starting this blog, so I wrote the first and last lines first. Pick an easy assignment to get a sense of accomplishment and build off of that or start the paper in the middle.
  • Break it up into small goals. Training for a marathon starts with one step, then a mile and so on. If the course is overwhelming, take one assignment at a time and, even assignments are tackled one problem or paragraph at a time. My friend, Amanda Flower, author of several cozy mystery series, gives herself weekly and daily word count goals so she can meet her writing deadlines, sometimes writing 10-15,000 words in a day. If the task seems endless or you’re having trouble breaking it up, set a time goal instead, like a runner who decides to run for 45 minutes instead of a certain distance.
  • Reward yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to once you’ve accomplished small, intermediate and big goals. Food treats and social media breaks work well as small rewards. Achieving a big goal might earn a new piece of clothing or pair of shoes. I’ll never forgot the huge breakfasts that I could put away after a long run of 10-15 miles on a Saturday morning when I was training for the only full marathon I ran.
  • Find someone to keep you accountable. I’m writing tonight mainly because I know you’re expecting it. I’ve been running with your uncle and friends every Wednesday for over 2 years now. Telling people about your goals will make you more likely to follow through, so tell your roommate not to let you watch tv until you’ve finished an assignment.
  • Make it fun. Running, just running, is fun for some people, but not me. I need my music and I also like chatting while I’m running or, if I’m on the treadmill, playing games like mahjong. For chemistry at least, there are plenty of fun quiz games and apps on-line. I also know of a chemistry professor who has his students make up silly chemistry parody songs to help them learn and they post the videos on-line. Obviously studying with a friend is much more enjoyable than studying alone.
  • Change it up. If I’m in a running rut, I try a new trail or do some cross training. If you’re getting bored, try studying in a different location or with different type of music in the background or switch subjects.
  • Give yourself a break. Sometimes you’re just not feeling it and that’s ok. Rest days are built into every good running training plan and you should also give your mind the occasional day off. Athletes are encouraged to listen to their bodies and not push, if they feel off. When I’m really tired, my mind doesn’t work as well or as quickly and it’s just not worth it. If you’re extremely tired or especially if you’re sick or even if you just know it’s going to be a struggle, forget it and start fresh the next day.
  • Take care of yourself. Athletes and students alike need to eat healthy and get plenty of sleep so they can perform at their best. Be sure to exercise too, you’d be surprised how well it takes care of stress. It’s one of the reasons I started running in the first place.
  • Stay focused and positive. They did a study of what runners thought about while they were running and found that elite runners concentrate on their stride, form, and breathing while “distraction runners” (I fall into this category most of the time) are usually middle of the pack and, if I remember correctly, those in the back were thinking something along the lines of, “Oh my God, I’m gonna die, is this over yet.” While you’re studying, turn off the tv and put your phone on silent. There is even software that keeps you off the internet for an amount of time that you set. You’re going to encounter set backs, but think about how far you’ve come, how much you’ve already invested, and how ridiculous it would be if you quit now.

Keep it up and stay the course!

Aunt Sarah


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