I’m studying for an undergraduate psychology degree. This started as a part-time endeavour alongside my day job but I found it difficult. After a day of fairly intensive mental effort doing software programming I was rarely in a good mood to study. Since then I’ve quit my job and taken on a full-time study load, which will allow me to graduate in October 2015. The plan was to focus on the study and “get the degree out the way” quicker. Whilst I’m still hitting the deadlines and scoring good grades, I’m not happy with how my studying is going. I don’t feel like I’m learning the material properly and I don’t think I’m putting enough effort in.
In no particular order, some of the problems I’ve identified: –
- The studying, and perhaps the degree itself, feel like a chore.
- I have a lot of anxiety about not putting enough effort in.
- Why I’m doing the degree is not “clear”. I don’t have a well defined reason for doing the degree.
- I don’t identify myself as being a student.
Right now studying feels a bit like a pointless chore. It’s something I feel like I have to do, but I don’t really know why I’m doing it. It’s hard to motivate myself to spend 3hrs/day on something I don’t seem to value or appreciate; yet I feel bad about myself when I don’t put the effort in.
The identity issue is really important. If “being a student” (first and foremost) becomes part of my identity, then I think my attitude towards study changes. It’s no longer something that I’m trying to fit “into my life”, it becomes something more central to who I am. (Side note: perhaps this is similar to “being on a diet” vs. “being a healthy person” ?) If I am a student then it’s normal for me to spend big chunks of the day studying – that’s what a person like me does.
My ultimate end-goal is to become an expert in psychology. Someone who has the theoretical knowledge/academic background and understanding, who can and does apply this knowledge in the real world to have a positive effect on people’s lives. Right now this vision is not linked to my studying. I understand that doing my degree is a stepping-stone towards my goal but it still feels abstract and distant. The degree is something for me to get out of the way, an obstacle to clear before moving on to something more relevant, interesting or nearer to where I want to be. Perhaps I want the outcome but I don’t want to do the work. (Side note: Again, similarities with weigh-loss stuff… we want the slimmer bodies but don’t want to take the necessary steps to get there)
To fix these issues I’m going to become a student. I am a student. And what do students do? They study and they learn things.
And they party lots. That’s my job; it’s who I am and what I do. It’s normal for me to spend X hours/day studying.
And why am I doing it? To learn. Sure, I want to get the degree, and yes it will help me get to the next step, but the goal isn’t a collection of certificates for the wall. I want to help people and I want to know as much as I can about how to do that. I want to master this domain.
At the moment my focus is on completing assignments and going through the motions. My focus is not on the learning, and that needs to change. I’m really motivated by the thought of learning more – I want to be smarter. So instead of my studying being a chore and something to get done and out of the way with no intrinsic value, I am reframing it as an opportunity to get smarter. I will measure myself on my understanding of the topics and not on my ability to complete an assignment. The primary goal is the knowledge and not the degree.