Motivation is typically split into two different categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is derived from pleasure or rewards from external sources. Intrinsic motivation is based on the value we find in our own work.

To stay motivated in your classes, consider these ways to build up both your intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:

Be good to yourself.

Procrastination—which usually happens when we aren’t feeling motivated—doesn’t stem from laziness, but from a natural instinct to avoid negative emotions. Beating yourself up about feeling unmotivated is only going to increase those negative feelings, so try to let go of the idea that you “should” be able to feel motivated!

Reconnect with what you love about being a Harvard student.

To increase your intrinsic motivation, try to reconnect with the things you love about being a student at Harvard. Ask yourself: what are my intellectual interests? What do I enjoy studying? What made me choose this concentration/these classes over others? This can help keep you focused on the right things when professional and interpersonal pressures start to build.

Add reward and accountability structures to your day.

For extrinsic motivation, try adding reward and accountability structures to your day. Break work up into small, manageable chunks (think 20 to 30 minutes), and give yourself a little reward when you finish, like a few minutes on social media, a coffee, or a walk around the block. You can also create or join an accountability group with your peers where you help each other stay on track.

Avoid extrinsic motivation that involves punishment.

Although it might be tempting to try to motivate yourself by saying, "If I don't complete this assignment by 3:00, then I won't allow myself to go for a run," it's better to focus on rewarding yourself for achievable progess and to avoid extrinsic motivation that involves punishment or decreases your sense of worth if you fall short of your goals. Because a lack of motivation stems from negative emotions, punishment will likely make work even harder for you. You got into Harvard because you are a talented, capable individual. Choose accountability structures that affirm that reality!

Creating Motivation through Social Accountability

Accountability hours, accountability groups, and coworking spaces boost productivity and provide students with both community and a sense of purpose. The ARC hosts a daily Accountability Hour (M-Th), where students are invited to work silently with their cameras on or off. Participants share their goals for the hour and then get to work. Participants can also seek drop-in coaching via the chat or in a breakout room. Study groups are also welcome to use Accountability Hours as a space to connect and work.

Sign Up for Accountability Hours

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