If we were simply to answer the question in the title, this would have been an extremely short article, because the entire methodology can be boiled down to a single sentence: you don’t.
If you regularly have problems with your homework and look for tips on how to motivate yourself to do it, you have probably already seen dozens of wishy-washy tips online, something like:
- Visualizing yourself doing homework;
- Avoiding blaming yourself for procrastination;
- Taking a walk around a block;
- Cleaning up your workplace;
- Thinking up rewards for yourself.
All these suggestions have one thing in common: they do not work. Some of them look very much like procrastination they are supposed to battle (going for a walk or taking time to clean up your workplace when you need to do your homework looks a bit counter-productive). Others are a bit dubious (creating artificial rewards for doing things you already do for your own sake does not look sustainable in the long term). Still, others are just plain ridiculous (visualizing yourself doing homework instead of actually doing it probably takes the cake).
They are not going to be of any assistance to you. They do not work. They take your mind off the truth – there is no way to motivate yourself to do something when you do not feel like it. Motivation is not something you can control. You either want to do something or you do not – you cannot force yourself to feel enthusiastic about doing a task you do not want to do.
There is, however, something you can control – your own behavior. That is right – it may be rather an unpopular idea these days, but, unlike motivation, it can actually help. If you do not feel like doing something, you have to bite the bullet and still do it. The solution to your problems is not motivation but discipline. Self-discipline, to be precise.
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What Is Discipline and How Is It Different from Motivation
Many so-called experts and professional coaches tend to use these two terms interchangeably. These words, however, denote completely different concepts.
Motivation is your general willingness or desire to do something. It is something that inspires you to do something and allows you to do it effortlessly. You feel enthusiasm, you get down to work and do it.
Discipline is behavior regulated according to certain rules. It is 3 PM, and you get down to do your homework for 2 hours because it is what you always do at this time.
See the difference? Motivation is nice to have when you do something, as it makes the process much more pleasant. Unfortunately, you do not control it. Motivation is fickle and unreliable – it is here one minute and gone a few moments later. It is of little help with assignments you have to do by a certain deadline – if you rely on it, there is no guarantee it will be present when you need it the most.
Discipline, on the other hand, is something you do control fully. Discipline means the habit and ability to do something irrespectively of whether you want to do it or not. And it is essential if you want to complete your work on time, especially if you study STEM disciplines, as they often force you to do extremely uninspiring work: memorizing rules, solving repetitive problems, and so on.
How Do You Develop Self-Discipline
It is all very good, you may say, but how do I actually improve my self-discipline? Here are a few suggestions:
- Follow a schedule. An unpleasant thing (like doing homework) gets much easier to do if you do it without thinking or making any specific decisions about it. If you sit down to do your homework at the same time every day, after you follow this routine for a few weeks, it will be a natural thing to do. You will have less and less trouble forcing yourself to do it;
- Do a countdown. When you know that you have to do your homework right now but feel particularly unmotivated to do so, try this: tell yourself that you will start immediately after a countdown. Then count down from ten and force yourself to get down to work as soon as you finish. Often all you need to start is a little push;
- Make a commitment that requires you to keep track of your actions. Many things we do every day we do without ever slowing down to think about them. This is how procrastination usually works – we do not consciously decide to waste hours watching YouTube videos when we are supposed to be revising for a test – it happens as if by itself because we let it happen. One way of self-discipline training is built around forcing yourself to consciously do things that you usually do automatically. For example, commit yourself to only use your non-dominant hand to open doors, refrain from swearing, or something else along the same lines.
Discipline, not motivation, is your key to academic success. While you cannot force yourself to feel motivated about doing your homework or revising for a test, you can develop sufficient self-discipline and staying power to continue doing what you have to do even when you feel tired or bored. Master this art, and no kind of task, either in college or later in life, will feel hard or insurmountable.