Student Life

study apathy and avoidance – finding the why and overcoming it

**This post was a living document, written over hours of research and deep thought to take apart the reasons for my study avoidance and solve the issues.  It was a cathartic and enlightening experience to write in this way and if anyone is having issues staying on track with their study, I hope this goes someway to helping you unravel the mystery that is motivation.

At the end of 2015 I commenced my first year of an internet communications degree.  I achieved excellent grades and although sometimes I thought I would have a breakdown, I pretty much remained enthused and motivated.

This year, 2017, in my first year of the public relations degree I swapped to after I did a PR unit in internet communications and realised it was my jam, I have completely bombed in the motivation department.  In fact I’m writing this blog post even though I haven’t done more than 45 minutes of school work for the past 5 days.  I love this degree even more than I loved internet communications and the work isn’t difficult, I don’t know what my problem is, I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm to do the work, although I still enthusiastically love the degree.

When scrolling through my WordPress reader I found this mind map about how to focus in the age of distraction, and it is well worth opening it and having a look.  As it’s 1pm now and I sat down at 9am to study yet haven’t done any, I thought the mind map was worth scrutinising.  What also needs scrutinising is my attitude; how have I started the year doing the degree I was born to do with so little drive to do it?

Upon a Google search and read through of at least ten articles on the subject of lost motivation for study, I found that literally none of them were relevant or helpful, except one sentence in one article that alluded to having things one would prefer to do other than studying be a barrier to the mindset of study.  I’d rather be Googling things and reading blogs, cleaning my flat and flipping through recipe books.  I also think the knowledge that in my particular online method of study no breaks are ever timetabled – not even a day – and knowing that can become all-consuming, even paralysing.  If I squish these two things together (I’d rather be doing other things, and I’m obsessed with the other things because I am never able to have a break to do them) I’ve probably come close to hitting the nail on the head, and reconciling that this is probably more a rebellion than de-motivation.

I want to have time to do the things I enjoy doing, and sure, allocating a day off a week (I usually only get to have a day off from work and study maybe twice a month despite aiming for once a week) is great, but nothing beats knowing a proper break is coming up.  A nice rest.

This year I actually applied to go to university on-campus and was accepted into an amazing double degree that would have been life changing for me.  Unfortunately there was no way for me to go on-campus for that particular degree and keep my wonderful job with it’s almost totally inflexible shifts.  So I applied to another university to do a singular degree and was accepted, only to find that again, I’d have to choose between my job (that I unequivocally need), and my future.  Or perhaps less dramatically, my future as it would have played out having that degree under my belt.  My closest friend encouraged me to put my future first and pursue the degree, because another job would eventually come along, but for the first time in my life I’m in a rewarding job I love that suits my personality to a tee and that’s nothing to throw away.  Even if it is in pursuit of greater things.  I chose to keep the job to avoid financial distress and the distress of applying for more work.

Instead I did what I do best and researched, and came up with an ingenious plan.  I could swap to the communications degree I’m doing now, and major in PR, which is almost the same as the PR degree that was my second on-campus choice, and it’s through the same university but delivered entirely online.  I can live with this option, studying online has a LOT of benefits.  I do think I’m struggling with the knowledge that I have another 1-2 years with no breaks to complete this course.  I can of course have a break if I choose to, but if I’m not studying full time then the government cuts off my student payments and I can’t survive on the income from my job alone.   I did have a break for three months at the end of last year, which is one online study period.  I was unable in that entire time to get a second job to make ends meet.  It was a frugal time indeed!

Thankfully, through the process of writing this blog post, I have figured out (I’m pretty sure) why I am avoiding study.  It has gone beyond procrastination, it was really engaging an ineffective coping mechanism that will ultimately have very negative consequences if I don’t sort this out.  Avoidance is usually never the answer (sometimes it is!).

So now, having identified the reason for my avoidance I will employ a version of a technique Dale Carnegie mentions in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, which I am currently re-reading.  To paraphrase him, he advises that whatever one is worrying about, whether it’s losing a job or ending up in jail over the bungles of employees etc, to decide what the absolute worst case scenario is and accept it.  Then with a fresh approach and unburdened by the worry that everything is out of one’s hands, go forth and devise a plan to avoid the worst case scenario as much as possible.

In my case, I have identified what I think is likely the reason for avoiding all school work and my total apathy towards study.  Now I know that I’m probably baulking at/rebelling against the notion of never having a break and getting to do the things I would enjoy or prefer to be doing, I can devise a plan to work around it.  I can accept that’s probably the issue; and actually I do feel like a weight has been lifted.  Truthfully, there is always the (not very suitable or desirable) option of having time off if I want or need it, there’s no gun to my head.  I’m already incredibly organised and have mastered the art of breaking my work up into doable chunks each day, so I just need to re-visit doing that.  I’ve hardly bothered to use my diary this year and so I need to focus on using it to break everything up so I can tick it all off and know for sure I have time spare to spend however I wish.

There is a lot I want to do for myself on a personal level and I feel like there’s not enough hours in the day to accomplish much at all when I’m working around my heavy study load.  I study an extra unit each study period so I can try to catch up on the year I “wasted” doing the first degree.  Most of those subjects I wasn’t able to RPL, although some I was, but again, if I don’t actually assess what I need to achieve each day I’ll never get a balance.

Now that I have a game plan I’m going to get started right away, and I’ve printed out the mind map so I can (after I’ve completed some study) keep myself on track and limit my distractions.  I’ve previously managed it fairly well but this year will require a concerted effort, especially now that I have a problem I’ve never had before.  Knowing what studying an entire year feels like thanks to completing one, I’m not surprised my enthusiasm for doing it again nose-dived.   A bit of pragmatism though; spending five days a week in a workplace trying to navigate the emotions of and interactions with strangers who are forced together to achieve common work related goals is worse.  I have been acutely aware since commencing study that this is a time to cherish, when I can mostly work to my own timetable and I only have to interact with other faceless students online in forums a few times a week.

To recap:
Why are you avoiding study/work/chores?
Accept your reasons.
Devise a workaround and set it in motion.
Look for the positives in your situation and remind yourself of them.

Have you ever had an experience similar to this?  How did you overcome it?