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How I Do It: Staying Motivated

It must be that point in the semester, because over the past couple weeks I have received several emails inquiring about how I stay motivated. I would be lying if I said I never struggle to stay motivated. In fact, right now as I write this I should be completing the five note cards I promised myself I would finish before dinner. But that’s what makes this post so relevant. Everyone at some point or another struggles to get motivated.
I say get motivated, rather than stay motivated, because I think for most of us there is a certain level of intrinsic motivation that drives us daily. When people ask about how to stay motivated, I think what they mean is – How do I get my motivation back once I’ve lost it? Before you can work towards re-motivating yourself, you have to understand why you lost your motivation in the first place.
For me there are three main reasons I lose my motivation (and end up blogging) – feeling overwhelmed, feeling incapable, or feeling exhausted (of course it can also be a combination of two or all three of these). Figuring out why you lost your motivation is the key to getting it back!
You’ve lost your motivation because you are feeling overwhelmed:
We’ve all been there, in fact I am here right now! Big projects are overwhelming. Sometimes you find yourself unable to start or complete a long paper or big project. In these situations I find it best to take your larger project and break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks that can be completed daily (or weekly). For example, if you have 120 books you need to review before your comprehensive exams, don’t look at the list of 120. Break it up into 6 lists of 20 and tell yourself you will tackle 20 a week. If it’s a long paper, create a timeline of attainable goals. Day one write an outline, day two fill that outline in with specific examples, day three write your introduction, day four write two paragraphs, and so on. The key to this is creating attainable goals that you can slowly but surely cross off your list. 
You’ve lost your motivation because you are feeling incapable:
We are human and there are only so many times you can fail (or not do well on) something before you give up. If you have lost your motivation because you are feeling defeated, then you need to try something new. If you keep getting poor grades on your papers then you need to try new writing techniques. Sometimes it helps to seek outside help or create a study group (everything is better with friends). It is important you stop setting yourself up for failure. You won’t get different results by repeating the same action!
You’ve lost your motivation because you are exhausted:
Sometimes you over schedule yourself, sometimes you don’t get enough sleep, and sometimes you just have a lot to do. But you always have to remember to work smarter not harder. And that means taking breaks. Study after study proves that 24-hour cram sessions don’t work. Your brain needs equal parts rest in order to retain what you need it to retain. Sometimes taking a day off, or even just a nap, can motivate you to accomplish way more than if you had attempted to power through. Staying motivated is a lot easier when you have enough sleep, exercise, and down time in your life.
Finally, don’t forget to reward yourself along the way and see the big picture. You may hate math or writing papers, but you aren’t going to graduate without them. And graduation will (hopefully) lead to your personal and professional life goals. 
What are your secrets to getting motivated once you’ve lost it?