Finding Motivation When You Have None
Vol. 40 No. 7
ByAmy L. Jarmon
Amy L. Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, is a professor and coeditor of the Law School Academic Support Blog. She has practiced law in the United Sates and the United Kingdom.
Law students often hit a slump in early March. The excitement of a new semester has worn off. The initial interest in learning a new legal topic has waned, And everything has settled into the too-familiar routine.
It was easy to believe at the beginning of a new semester that study habits would improve and grades would be exceptional this time. After five or six weeks of class, however, you can start to lose your momentum in making changes in study habits and begin to settle back into your status quo. New semester resolutions have lost their luster.
The geographical location of your law school may also affect your mood. If you are into the third or fourth month of snow and ice, you are stir-crazy. If you are in warmer climates with the beginning of spring, you would rather be outside enjoying the nice weather than sitting in a law classroom. Add the desire for the upcoming spring break to arrive sooner than scheduled, and you have a recipe for your lack of law school motivation.
However, you have to stay focused and continue to prepare diligently for classes if you want to do well on exams. How do you realistically do that? Some tips follow.
Become a more engaged learner to increase your interest and focus. Lack of motivation is often linked to passivity. Find ways to become more actively involved in the course material. Some examples are:
Ask questions as you read your cases.
Read aloud so you hear your inflection.
Explain the cases aloud to check your understanding.
Talk with classmates about cases before class begins.
Talk with classmates after class about the professor’s hypotheticals.
Stop by the professor’s office to ask questions or discuss the material.
Create a flowchart or other visual representation of a topic.
Answer the professor’s questions silently in your head to stay focused when another student is called on in class.
Sit with another classmate and quiz each other with flashcards.
Complete practice questions to test your understanding.
Discuss practice questions with your classmates to check your own performance.
Switch up tasks if you become bored and unfocused with a particular study task. Instead of reading another case, switch to memory drills, short practice questions, or outline review for 20 to 30 minutes. Then go back to the harder task of reading cases and briefing. By changing tasks, you allow your mind to switch from the intense task and focus on a less strenuous task briefly.
Choose a really small task to get yourself started when you are experiencing major procrastination issues. Starting is the hardest part. Most people will continue once they get started on a task. Tell yourself you will read just the first page of a case. Tell yourself you will review just one sub-topic in your outline. Tell yourself you will complete just one multiple-choice practice question. It is really hard to convince yourself you cannot complete such small tasks.
Take breaks strategically to come back to your studies more refreshed and alert. Schedule short breaks
every 90 minutes; get up and walk around. Ten minutes of movement will refresh you more than staying seated and chatting with friends or checking your e-mails. Every 3 or 4 hours, take a longer break to relax—at least 30 to 60 minutes.
Combine a meal break with either exercise or errands. On class days when you start early and do not finish until late afternoon, consider going for a run before eating dinner. Alternatively, finish your errands and then catch a meal. A two-hour break will give your brain more time to continue filing away earlier information while you relax before your evening studies.
Listen to your body. If you are waning because of a drop in blood sugar, grab a quick, energy snack: an apple, handful of nuts, granola bar, or pack of raisins. If you are thirsty, get some iced water or juice instead of a caffeinated drink. If you are restless, stand up and stretch or walk outside for 10 minutes. If you are tired, take a power nap for no more than 30 minutes. If you ignore your body’s signals, you will stay distracted and unmotivated.
Set up a reward system to give yourself something to look forward to when you stay on track. The rewards should match the difficulty of the tasks. For easy tasks, allow yourself small rewards: a trip to the vending machine, 10 minutes to check e-mail, or two laps walking around the building. For medium-hard tasks, allow slightly bigger rewards: a 30-minute phone call, a 30-minute sitcom, 30 minutes of Words with Friends. For more difficult tasks, allow big rewards: a long dinner with friends, one movie at the cinema, a new cookbook purchase. You only get your reward if you complete the task matched to it in the time allotted.
Give yourself a pep talk. Remember the internal motivations for why you came to law school. What are the career goals you want to reach? Are you in law school to help the less fortunate in our society? Is there a particular specialty area of law that you want to practice? Are you following in the footsteps of a mentor you admire?
Volunteer in the community for a good cause. When you are unmotivated and feel that law school is a burden, go volunteer at the local homeless shelter, food bank, literacy program, or other worthy cause. You will realize what a privilege it is to be in law school and get your perspective back.
When all else fails and you are brain dead. Unless an exam or the paper deadline is the next day, take the night off. Go to the movies and completely relax. Swim a quarter mile. Or, better yet, go to bed and get a really good night’s sleep! Get up early the next morning and start fresh. You will be more alert and productive.