There is an indefinable motivation at the start of a new period, whether that is a year, month or week. This powers us to set goals, write resolutions and achieve, but can also lead to adding unnecessary pressure and comparing yourself to others, especially where social media is involved. In previous years, these negative thoughts have dampened my motivation with maintaining a routine for university work, scholarship work, and time out as well. So how do we sustain this “new leaf” mindset? Not only at the start of the year, but at the start of month, the week, or even the day.
The first thing I do is remind myself that New Year’s Day is just another day. This helps to relieve the pressure of setting and achieving goals. If I do set any, I ensure they are small, like ring my grandparents, get outside for some daylight, and drink 2 litres of water. For me the bigger resolutions will come a few days later, when I am back at my university address and in my working environment; once I have had a proper break, it feels easier to identify those areas where I want to improve. In my school years, I often left writing resolutions until the week after school had started or, in my exam times, when I rejoined my revision timetable after New Year. This year however, getting back into routine may be so much harder for those who are not returning to school for a few more weeks than usual; university teaching has been delayed even further! This year we should give ourselves time to find that “new leaf” motivation. Every few days I believe you should remind yourself of your long term goals, but do not be afraid to give yourself an afternoon off here, or a sleep in there.
Whilst finding motivation can be hard, sustaining motivation can be a whole other ball game. Whilst this year feels so different, working from the same principles to motivate yourself can allow a semblance of consistency. Variety in the day is what drives me. As a vet student I often compare myself to my future patients (stay with me)! Poor welfare in animals can sometimes be attributed to their inability to express their natural behaviour, this may be socialising, exploring, foraging etc. These natural behaviours are often what provides variety in an animal’s life. Especially under the current COVID restrictions where we are faced with the same four walls (and screen), creating our own variety is even more important. Maintaining our own welfare by exploring, be that physically by going outside for walks or runs, or mentally by reading and learning new things, can be key to feeling refreshed when we want to return to the main focus. Currently when I am looking for variety I exercise, chat to my flatmates about our home lives or read a book (usually one that is not to do with animals to give me a complete break). Adding these small “varied” tasks to my to-do list means that when I check them off I get that extra cognitive reward on top of the other benefits. This is especially important when I am finding studying difficult that day; you can still reward yourself for taking time out!
When I researched about how to maintain motivation online, I was reminded of the root of the word: motive, “something which causes a person to act”. When I started sixth form, l wrote down my long term goal of going to vet school. Beneath it I wrote “medium term” goals for the next year, between then and my application, which centred around work experience and wider reading. Putting this post-it on my mirror where I would get ready for school meant I was constantly reminded of my motive. Something I wish that I had known at the time, was that even though the motive was always there, the motivation would come in waves, as would the self-belief. There would be periods where the next “medium term” goal would not get ticked off for a long time, often during the school term time when much of my energy was focused on studying. This did not mean I was not making progress towards my long term goal. If I had written goals in every aspect of my life, such as school, hockey and my job in a cafe, then maybe the progress I was making would have been more evident to me, and I would have the cognitive reward from ticking them off. The waxing and waning of motivation probably would not have calmed, but perhaps I would have had more confidence that I was spending my time wisely, remaining disciplined, and moving towards my goal.
The “new leaf” motivation is not designed to last, and sustaining drive is a multifaceted challenge. The first of the year or month is just another day and though the long term goals can seem huge, with small daily goals you can make your progress explicit. Finally, remember to allow yourself time out, to go with the ebbs and flows of motivation, and to reward yourself for getting things done, especially the little things.
Written By Eleanor Campbell-Kilner
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