We all know the feeling. You sit down, open your textbook and notes, and just stare. You tell yourself, “Study.” And you still just sit there, staring.
With class, clinicals, externships, sleep, family, and some semblance of a social life, it can feel impossible to find the time to study. Once you carve out a few hours, though, finding the motivation to study can be just as hard.
As great as teachers are, it’s studying that turns healthcare students into great nurses, medical assistants, and dental lab technicians. Sometimes the key to studying well is finding the right motivation, the dangling carrot that will coax your brain along. Whether it’s for the NCLEX or midterms, if you need some help choosing that study reward, consider these tips.
Your brain might present a convincing argument to browse Facebook and Buzzfeed instead of your dental technology textbook, but those are just distractions. Distractions waste time—for studying and everything else. If you spend an hour scrolling through GIFs, you still have a lot of studying left to do, which means you’re just as long away from doing what you really want. Before anything else, you need to figure out what that real carrot is, because studies have found internal motivation affects you and your drive to study the most.
Think about it: What would you rather be doing than sitting in the library? What do you hope to do as soon as you finish?
Whether it’s seeing your boyfriend, watching the latest Downton Abbey episode, going for a run, catching up with your best friend from high school, or sleeping, your real carrot can be a powerful impetus to study, and to close those distracting tabs on your browser. You may still feel drawn to follow a rabbit hole of Wikipedia pages, but if you determine and keep in mind what you really want, you’ll be able to deny those distractions and focus on your books.
If it’s just a good night’s sleep you want, or the piece of chocolate you’ve been saving, that’s great and can be an easy motivator to burn through a stack of flashcards before bed. Your carrot, though, might be too big of a reward for every study session. If it’s spending more time with family, or going out for a nice meal, or going on vacation, you may not be able to reward yourself with it every time you open your books. You can get a taste of it, though. Maybe it’s calling your parents before bed, or sending them a quick text; maybe it’s eating that other half of a bagel you bought for lunch; and maybe it’s printing out a photo of St. Lucia, then browsing Airbnb listings for a few minutes after studying.
Big goals are powerful and something every healthcare student has, deep down. They can be strong motivators, even when they remain far out of reach. If your ideal carrot for finishing nursing school is too large for one night in the library, you can still keep it in mind by allowing yourself a taste of it.
You aren’t going to be ready for the NCLEX after one study session, but you might be totally prepared for patient positioning questions. Every time you sit down to study, make a specific and realistic goal for what you hope to learn during that time. This will keep the material at-hand manageable, which will increase your productivity, and it will keep you sane. If you’re sitting in front of a whole semester (or year) of material, you’re going to feel too overwhelmed to make real progress, and no reward, however great, will help.
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As you go throughout your day, be mindful of what might make a good carrot for rewarding yourself later. If there’s an article you really wanted to read, a cookie you’ve been eyeing, or a friend you’re excited to catch up with, save it. This won’t just ensure you have a good study reward; it will build up the excitement about finishing studying, even before you start. Whatever program you’re in, the amount of information you need to learn can be daunting, so approach it with a head start. Having your carrot in mind all day will make it much more appealing once you’re ready to open your notes and move toward it.