Motivated to the end: Tips for the final sprint in your studies
Many students literally run out of breath towards the end of their studies. Motivation wanes, they suddenly suffer from exam anxiety or feel exhausted over the past months and years. This does not necessarily suggest a successful “final sprint” and a positive start in the (professional) life to come. But what are the reasons for that and how do you overcome such a lack of motivation?
The longer you study, the higher the risk of depression
A lack of motivation might have various causes. For example, depression can, but does not have to be, behind the decrease in drive. In fact, according to the Barmer Doctor Report 2018, depression reported among students has increased drastically in recent years. Between 2005 and 2016 alone, the proportion of depression diagnoses among 18 to 25 year olds increased by 76 percent.
What was also striking in the survey was that the risk of depression seems to increase as a student gets older. Accordingly, 1.4 percent of 18-year-old students suffer from depression, while the figure is 3.9 percent among 28-year-olds.
So if the lack of motivation becomes the rule rather than the exception for you in the long term and you can no longer draw new energy on your own, you should consider an underlying illness and have the causes clarified by a doctor. But don’t worry: A low level of motivation does not always have to result in depression.
The difference between motivation and adrenaline
One of these reasons is obvious: Motivation means energy, which you usually draw from the passion for your work. For example, employees are more motivated when they see a deeper purpose in their work than when they come to the office every day just for the money. Likewise in studies: The more confident you are in your choice of course and the more you are interested in the course content, the higher your motivation and the easier it will be for you to study everyday.
At the beginning, most students are still on fire. You are nervous and full of expectations: New classmates, new faculty, new learning content, a new building – it’s all exciting. The brain releases stress hormones such as adrenaline, from which the body draws energy. This is how the well-known “butterflies in the stomach” come about when you are excited or newly in love. You feel energetic and full of motivation.
However, this state is extremely tiring for the body. The brain is therefore always striving to form routines. The more routine you have in your work, on your way to university, in your dealings with fellow students, etc., the fewer new connections the brain has to form. It can therefore fall back on old familiar synapses and thus save energy.
A process that takes place fully automatically and in every life situation: In a new course of study, at a new job or even in a new romantic relationship. The consequence is that your initial motivation in terms of the adrenaline-driven energy boost will sooner or later decrease – guaranteed!
What you can do:
Use this first boost of motivation, but already look for new motivators in this phase. Focus on what you particularly enjoy about your studies or what goals you are pursuing with it. Create a long-term, so-called “intrinsic” motivation – ideally before you fall into an energy rut.
Motivation is a question of expectations
At the beginning of the course, only in the rarest of cases is valuable intrinsic motivation involved. Instead, it’s almost as if you’re almost on drugs – more precisely on stress hormones – and therefore feel like you have been inspired. This also means that many students have false expectations, be it of the university, the lecturers, their fellow students, themselves or the study period in general.
As a result, disappointments are inevitable because, as always in life, not everything will go perfectly with your studies either. Anyone who is discouraged by such setbacks or quickly has doubts about their choice of course or university – or even self-doubt – enters a downward spiral of decreasing motivation and increasing frustration.
What you can do:
Engage in regular self–reflection and, when expectations are disappointed, always ask yourself whether you actually made the wrong choice or simply need to correct unrealistic expectations. Check your expectations against reality at the beginning of your studies and prevent yourself from disappointment at the expense of your motivation.
Overwhelmed: The thesis as the last hurdle
Generally, there is an important thesis or a difficult exam that still has to be passed at the end of the course. The pressure is enormous, after all you have already put a lot of time, money and energy into your studies at this point and accordingly felt that you were losing a lot.
Of course, having to leave without a degree would be much worse than in the first or second semester. This way of thinking, which every student should know, puts you under a lot of pressure to perform.
This causes fear of failure, which in turn threatens to eat away at your motivation. The result: You invest all the remaining energy in your studies. You literally use up your energy, your motivation dwindles and in the worst case – like so many other students before you – you end up in burnout, the depression caused by exhaustion.
What you can do:
Learn early on to fight against the fear of failure and exams during your studies and to switch off in your free time. If you don’t believe in yourself now, when will you?
Work on your self-confidence, because you will also need this later in your job for a successful career. A success diary can be a useful tool for this: Write down three, five, or even ten small successes every day and your focus will quickly shift from the negative to the positive.
Fears about the future: What comes after graduation?
Another common reason for the lack of motivation at the end of your studies is fear of the future. Many high school leavers already find it difficult to choose which course they should take at university. Once you make that decision, you feel relieved. For the next few years, your status is clear: “Student”. What comes after that is still a long way off.
In the best case, finances are also arranged for the time being, for example through parents, BAföG or a part–time job. Towards the end of your studies, however, you have to give up this supposed security. Once again an important decision has to be made. The question: What comes after graduation?
Would you like to look for a job and if so, which one, where and with which company? Or would you like to take up further, perhaps even completely new, studies instead? What if you’re unemployed? How will you finance your cost living? Existential fear and self-doubt are quite normal in this phase and can certainly rob you of your motivation.
What you can do:
Try to live in the here and now. The self-confidence already described – and at best already acquired – will help you to look more calmly into the future and to develop a deep conviction that everything will turn out well in the end. Now concentrate on the essentials: Your final sprint in your studies!
When the money runs out towards the end of your studies
But financial worries are not always about the future. Many students run out of money towards the end of their studies. There can be several reasons for this: You are getting too old for child benefit, you are exceeding the standard period of study and are therefore no longer entitled to BAföG, or you no longer have time for a part-time job because of your thesis. Such worries can block your motivation, so to speak.
What you can do:
Get help early. If possible, save a financial buffer for yourself. If this is not enough, you can – however unpleasant – ask your parents for a loan or close an old savings account. You may also be entitled to housing benefit or other social benefits. Especially for the last phase of education there are other ways to secure your livelihood – for example through a special education loan.
This support is subject to various conditions. The amount can be selected within a certain framework. Normally, your studies should not and will not fail due to finances. Make provisions in good time and don’t let financial hardship rob you of your motivation.
With all this in mind: Good luck with your motivated final sprint!
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