How To Make Yourself Study When You Have Zero Motivation
Let’s be honest with each other here. You’re not actually supposed to be on right now. Right? No you probably have some huge assignment that’s staring at you from your desk right now, but the thought of doing any work on that assignment right now is the last thing on your mind because you have literally no motivation to do it. And if you’re feeling that way, well you’re not alone. I feel that way all the time. And despite all the years I have put into productivity research and all the videos you see on this channel, at least once a week I run into a situation where I have to do something and I have basically no motivation to do it.
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So this is a pretty common problem. And despite those immortal words from Shia La. Beouf constantly ringing in our heads ..: Just do it! A lot of us continually deal with it. Now within the realm of productivity, there are both long term fixes and short term fixes. And for a problem like this, a problem of motivation, long term fixes would be things like building better self discipline or building strong habits or creating a better study space.
But today I wanna focus on the short term fixes. If you have something that you need to get done today, but you’re feeling completely unmotivated, what can you do? Well today I’m gonna go through a four step process that I go through every single time that I’m feeling this way. And through personal experience over several years, I have learned that doing these things really does help, even if my brain tells me that, this time I really am having an off day. This time it’s not going to work. When I actually take the time and put in the effort to put these things into practice, they really do help. And the first one on the list is to simply go outside and go for a walk. This is probably the simplest practice on the list.
But it’s also the one that my brain always tries to convince itself that it doesn’t need to do. Because when I have a lot of work to do, the thought of getting up from my desk and going outside, seems like a huge waste of time. But every single time that I do it, when I’m feeling unmotivated or I’m dealing with brain fog, it always helps to raise my motivation levels and clear my head. Now I could send you all sorts of scientific evidence about why this is true. For instance, Dr. John Ratey’s book, “Spark,” goes into all sorts of detail about how exercise raises your cognitive abilities after you do it. And there are also studies that show that Vitamin D, which you get primarily through sunlight exposure, can help with symptoms of fatigue.
And there’s also the Japanese concept of Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, which asserts that exposure to nature, you know forests and trees like this, can have all sorts of health benefits. But the main thing I want to share here is my personal experience with this practice. Because my ability to focus is always 100% of the time improved when I choose to go for a walk. Or to be more accurate, whenever I choose to go outside and do any kind of exercise. Could be playing basketball or skateboarding.
The reason I chose to focus on walking here is that it’s easy. You don’t need any equipment. You don’t need a basketball. You don’t need a bike.
And you can even do it if it’s cold. As they say in Norway, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Now let’s go back to the studio. So once you’ve gone out and finished that walk and you brought your mental energy up just a little bit, the next thing on the list to do is to decide on one specific task to work on. If you have a to do list with multiple items on it, put it away. You need to commit to a single task and you don’t want that to do list to be a temptation to jump to something else once it gets difficult. It’s all about committing. Imagine a hamster ball with three different hamsters in it.
If all those hamsters are trying to go their own little separate direction, then that hamster ball is going to go nowhere. But if they all decide to go in one direction, well they’re probably going to trip all over each other because hamster balls were not designed for multiple hamsters, but luckily your brain is not a hamster ball. And when you decide on one specific direction to go in and you commit to it, you make progress. Now you can make this commitment purely mental. But I also find that it sometimes works to pull out a scrap of paper and write down the task that you decide to work on, so that way it can be sitting next to you on your desk and constantly reminding you if you start to forget. And if you want an electronic solution, there’s also a chrome extension called momentum, which basically replaces your new tab screen with a cool wallpaper and it lets you decide on one singular focus that you can type in and then set. Alright onto step three in the process. Once you’ve decided on that one task you’re going to work on, the next step is to clear to neutral.
This means to clear up your work space, your desk, and your desktop on your computer, and setting that space back to a state where it’s prepped for that single task you decided to work on and nothing else. Anthony Bourdain talks about a similar concept in his book, “Kitchen Confidential.” He talks about how a chef that he used to work with went up to one of his line cooks and ran his hands across the cooks really dirty, crumb filled cutting board, put it up to his face and said, this is what your brain looks like. Work clean. Every chef knows the value of mise en place.
Did I get that right this time? Yep: Yes! Which is a French term that essentially means, everything in its place. When your work area is organized and set up for the task that you have decided on, you are going to work on that task a lot more effectively. Again remember that hamster ball. Finally, to actually get yourself into the process of doing the task, utilize what I like to call, the low effort hack. This is a useful little mental hack that I use, on pretty much, a daily basis.
Because usually when I feel mental resistance to a task, like researching for a video or writing a video script, that mental resistance is usually because of how difficult it is to do the task well. If I’m writing a video script, usually I feel resistance writing the next paragraph because I feel like it needs to have a word play or a funny reference. And when I’m researching, I know that it’s gonna be difficult to actually find the scientific studies that will back up what I’m trying to say. But, and this is where the whole low effort thing comes in, what isn’t difficult is just writing what’s on the top of my mind right now. If I can’t come up with a joke or a reference that will make the segment I’m writing funnier, that’s fine.
I’ll just write what’s in my head right now and I’ll come back and make it funnier later. And it’s the exact same story when I’m referencing research. If I really don’t want to go find the exact source or that one fact that I’m trying to reference, then I won’t. In the script I’ll put in brackets and all caps, reference that one study and figure out where it came from, and then I’ll do that later. Now doing this means that you’re creating something that you’re gonna have to come back and fix later on. But that’s okay. Remember the blank page is the enemy.
It’s far easier to come back and fix an imperfect mess later on, then it is to create something perfect from scratch on the first try. That imperfect mess gives you hand holds that you can grab onto. Additionally, another huge benefit of starting from a place of low effort, is that sometimes you just need a little bit of a warm up to get yourself into a place where you’re really creative and in the zone. Back when I was a teenager, my dad had a weight training schedule for me and my brother. We had to work out at least three times a week. And sometimes I’d come down into the gym with him and I’d say, dad today is an off day, I really just want to go light.
I’m not feeling it. And I will never forget what he told me on one of those occasions. He said that sometimes you hit your PRs, your personal records, on off days. And I’m actually not making this up, this really did happen. One of those days I came down to the basement, I said dad, it’s an off day. So he had me go through a longer than normal warm up period and on that day, I actually hit a PR. In fact I think it was actually 225, which if you’re a weightlifter you know is two plates on each side of the bar, and that was one of the mentally, most difficult PRs for me to hit.
It took me a really long time to get. So that should serve as an illustration. Even if you feel like today is an off day, just use that low effort hack and put some time in. There is a big difference between your state of mind before you start working and your state of mind once you’re in the flow state. Once you’re emersed in your project. The trick is just getting yourself there. So one of the things I’ve been working on for a while now, kind of behind the scenes, is a brand new design for my website, College Info Geek, which is where you may have seen some of the articles that go along with the videos I make.
Though, I should probably say, we’ve been working on a new design because I’m just doing the visual design component of it. All the actual code that’s gonna run the site is being written by my friend Martin, whose also the co host on my podcast. And lately he’s been working on … Well actually …
Martin what are you working on? Do you want the one hour version or the five hour version? I guarantee you will not understand either one: Fair enough. Though to be fair to myself, I did do some of the code that is live on the site right now. And back when I was in college, and couldn’t afford to have anybody on my team, I had to do all of the coding on my website.
It turns out that learning to code was actually a pretty good skill to pick up. And luckily, it’s not something that’s actually that difficult to learn. And if you’re interested in picking it up yourself, you might want to check out some of the basic web development courses over on Skillshare. If you’re just starting out in this, there’s one called, ‘Hand Coding Your First Website’ by a guy named Rich Armstrong, which goes in depth on the basics of HTML and CSS. And there’s another course by the same teacher that’s all about web layout, which is also very important to learn. And even if you’re interested in something besides web development, Skillshare’s library probably has something for you because they’ve got over 19,000 courses in topics like design, digital animation, photography, programming, and all these courses have hands on components and projects that you can immediately sink your teeth into so that you’re learning actively. Skillshare is also more affordable than most other on line learning platforms with their annual subscription being less than $10 a month for unlimited access. And what’s more, the first 500 people that click the link in the description down below and sign up, will get their first two months for just $.99.
Big thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring this video and helping to support this channel. And as always, thank you guys so much for watching. If you found this video helpful give it a like to support this channel. And you might also want to hit subscribe so you don’t miss future videos when they come out.
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