The Puzzle of Motivation


Motivation is pretty difficult to hold on to; it slips through your fingers like sand. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘motivation’ as the ‘desire or willingness to do something; enthusiasm’. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? It’s more than just simply having a desire or willingness and being enthusiastic about something; you truly have to have an impassioned desire or an intense willingness or fervent enthusiasm!!!!! to actually get something done.


It comes and goes in cycles, and it drastically diminishes at the end of term when it seems like you have a bajillion deadlines and they’re looming closer and closer each day. But, don’t forget: you’re not alone in the struggle to gain that motivation to get those essays done and submitted on time.


I think the key to finding that motivation is to always look ahead, and when life gives you the most sour lemons it could give you, just add more sugar to your lemonade. No matter what life throws your way, you’ll always come out of it better and more knowledgeable. We all know that knowledge is true power.


Dan Pink did a Ted talk in 2009 entitled ‘The Puzzle of Motivation’; in it, he mentioned three elements of motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. He defined them like this: Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.’


Autonomy: when we’re at university, there’s an invisible puppet-master making deadlines and setting out timetables for us to follow, causing us to have to revolve our world around what we’re given. We don’t make decisions; decisions are made for us and we must comply, so we don’t have true autonomy of our lives. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable at university, but that’s one sacrifice that makes for a much more rewarding end result.


Having a lack of autonomy also teaches you to develop self-discipline, which is something I struggle with. When you don’t fulfil your obligations, whether that’s personal or academic, you fail to be autonomous. But only by failing can you learn to better yourself, as Scarlett wrote in her blog post. Once you overcome the struggle, you’ve not only learned to be a little bit more autonomous, but you’ve also found your limits and pushed them back a little bit.


Mastery: this one is a crucial element to being motivated at university. We all came to university to pursue further education and to learn and challenge ourselves in every possible way. Never, in the real world, will you find an experience that even comes close to the university experience.


University is the time in which you’re taking the training wheels off and finally learning how to ride that two-wheel bike. It’s a wobbly ride and sometimes it hurts, but you always get back up. You practice again and again because you’re determined to ride on two wheels like all the other big kids. Your pure desire to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels is how you find the incentive and overcome the challenges in order to master the skill. Your pure desire to learn, understand, and master your course is how you find the incentive and overcome the challenges in order to become an expert in your field.


Purpose: I think this element is the hardest one to find the answer to, because this one asks the question, ‘why?’. Why are you pursuing further education? Why did you choose your specific course? Even if you have no idea what you want to do with your life, why did you choose to study that course over all others? A lot of the time, finding purpose in what we do is hard to articulate because maybe it just feels right and it’s an instinct, but you haven’t quite figured out why. When I think about why I’m doing law, I find myself at a loss for words because there are so many reasons why I enjoy law but they’re just ineffable (great word). Or maybe I’m just bad at expressing my innermost thoughts. Finding purpose in everything you do is quite difficult, but it helps you to understand yourself a little bit more and could be the key to understanding why your motivation is waning. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, but if you keep asking yourself hard questions, at some point, they’ll be easier to answer.


I think these three elements are a good way to remind yourself why you’re here and why you’re suffering through university, but at the end of the day, my true motivation is knowing that I’ll have my degree in a year and a half and that I’ll finally get to start real life. So, when my motivation is waning, I think about my short-term end-goal (graduation), and at this point, I think that’s a pretty good incentive. I know I’ll need a new incentive when graduation comes around, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. One step at a time!


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About Lucie

Hello! My name is Lucie and I’m a final year Law student. I’m from Canada, so the goal is to give you some insight on what it’s like to live and study in Leicester from an international perspective. Alongside my studies, I am an Equality and Diversity Champion for the uni, and I do yoga regularly.

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2 responses to “The Puzzle of Motivation”

  1. Horluforworshe Sam

    hey! Lucie i wish to forward your article to my society’s platform… do you say yes?

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