When Motivation is a Problem

Tips for College Students » Motivation

Motivation & focus can be fickle and fleeting. Sometimes our best pep talks—substantive words, passionately delivered—which rang with stirring impact on Tuesday might fizzle into empty repetition on Thursday.

Motivation is far more complicated than delivering and responding to our own pep talks. By meeting one on one with an Academic Coach here at the StudentSuccessCenter you can learn more about your attitudes toward your long term dreams and your immediate tasks.


Specific goals provide both motivation and focus, identifying a target for our actions.  A visit with UT’s Career Services office can assist you with establishing or refining long range goals.  Turning shorter term tasks into specific goals also helps you succeed.  Establish a realistic yet challenging grade goal for each of your academic classes (B+ in History 241), and generate a list of shorter term goals (research on history paper concluded by September 30; first draft completed by October 6).
Goals must be crisp and clear, measureable by time and date. 

Vague Goals:

“I’m going to be a better student this semester”
“I’m going to study more”
“I want a better GPA”

Specific, measurable goals:

“Every Tuesday and Thursday, in the 90 minute gap between my English and History classes every, I will review my Biology flash cards and generate new flash cards.”
“Every Monday and Wednesday morning, I will work out at T-Recs from 7:30 to 8:30.”
“I will review and type up my History notes each day after class."


Well over half of college students report feeling overwhelmed by their workloads at some point in their college career.  If your lack of motivation stems from the enormity of the tasks you face, a personal visit with one of our academic coaches can help you get organized and begin to attack your work with prioritized and practical strategies.  You might also want to speak with a counselor at UT’s Student Counseling Center, a move that has helped a wide variety of students succeed here.

Focus and Concentration

Maintaining focus is a success skill which proves challenging for even the most capable students. If your inability to stay on task is associated with a diagnosed attention deficit disorder, you will want to contact UT’s Office of Disability Services for advice and possible accommodations.

When you are trying to seriously engage your academic work . . .

  1. Find a place to study that you use only to study.  Treat it as a place of action and attention, free from your usual electronic or social distractions.
  2. Eliminate noise and sound distractions.
  3. Close out all computer programs except the one(s) you need for the immediate task at hand.
  4. Establish a “worry pad” on which you can jot down any distracting thoughts (“Call Aunt Tina” or “Ask Dr. Henry about project”) and then immediately return your focus to your original task.
  5. Establish a separate time and place for Facebook or Google-chatting. You can freely embrace these things but keep them separate from your study time.  And again, if you remember something you need to tell, jot it down on your notepad.  You’ll find that studying might take you less time than when you left Facebook open.

The University of Tennessee  · The Student Success Center