Life @ U of T

Using Rewards to Motivate Your Studying

Finals are approaching, and this is the moment when ultimate procrastination kicks in. I know I need to study, yet I end up with the urge to watch YouTube rather than review lecture slides. Does anyone else feel like they have limited issues with procrastination all term long, and the minute that you realize your finals are approaching, you suddenly feel demotivated? To stop procrastination, I have been using rewards to motivate myself to study. It’s not perfect, as “just one” chocolate or Netflix episode can turn into five, but it’s been more effective than just sitting in bed watching YouTube.

You might be wondering, “what do you mean by reward? Like a treasure chest of some sort? A pat on the back telling yourself you did a good job?” Not quite. Although these are variously viable options, I have been focusing on using small rewards like fancy coffee and episodes of Gilmore Girls to get me through these final few weeks.

Motivation can be simple. To get myself studying or to finally begin a paper, I will treat myself to a fancy drink at Starbucks or my favourite coffee shop. The Starbucks at Robarts is usually my go-to these days, because the most difficult part is often getting started: I can find a good place to study right by the treat I’ll get if I do the work I need to do. This concept of treating yourself is a way to reward yourself for the work you have already done, and the bribe to do the work that you need to get done.

Photograph of desk with handwritten study notes and Starbucks iced coffee
Treating yourself to your favourite coffee drink can make your studying more motivating

On the topic of larger rewards, I’m not talking about buying a new pair of shoes. I like to think about where studying for my finals or writing my term paper will take me in the future. I’ve been using my future goals as a motivator for my current classes. For example, I have been struggling with one of my core, major courses. The material just does not click as easily as my other courses. Although I often want to shove my textbook to one side of my desk and never open it, I know that not studying will have a bad effect on my GPA and my career. Understanding the material, even if it’s not a perfect mark in the end, will make me a better scientist. Sure, it sounds cheesy at first! A better scientist because I took one course? Maybe it’s a stretch, but there is a good chance that I will need to know how Transposable Elements work one day, so I would rather learn it now, then when I am on the job years in the future!

For those classes you feel have no relation to your life, or you just do not find interesting, try to think about the large reward of studying: passing a course, having a three week break to unwind, and then never having to do it again! Dealing with these courses now means no summer school and less stress, since when the course is done, it’s done. And you never know when you will use the knowledge you’ve gained in lecture. Thinking about the future can be frightening, but using your goals to help you get through your work really can pay off. 

I mentioned earlier that watching Netflix all day is not an option around exam times. That said, letting yourself watch an episode after hours of reviewing is a viable option to give your mind some rest. You can lock in those concepts as you watch as new show, continue a series or rewatch a favourite episode: sometimes, you just need a break! But it’s very easy for one episode to turn into binge-watching a whole series in a day. It takes self-control to combat this issue, which is easier said than done. To overcome this issue, I like to set alarms or timers on my phone to remind me to get onto the next task. For example, I set a 50 minute alarm so I can watch one episode. I make sure that the alarm is the most annoying alarm sound my phone offers, and I place my phone at the other end of the room. Yes, it is a little bit extreme, but it is an effective way to get me away from the screen and back in front of my textbook.

Photograph of computer screen with Greys Anatomy on it
Grey’s Anatomy is the perfect study break!

You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: breaks are important! We all need “me time” for the sake of our wellness, our brains, and our ability to finalize concepts. If you’re feeling stressed, watch the next episode, take a nap, have a snack, or do something that you want to do. You need to use your self-control (or your blaring alarms) to get you back into a routine, but remember to reward yourself for keeping your focus. You can do it!

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