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April 2, 2020

Student Success

Eight strategies for motivation when stuck in a rut.

A young man works on a laptop.

By Frank D’Angelo, Program Mentor at WGU's College of Business

Finding the motivation to work on school isn't always easy. Life also likes to pile on a whole mess of obstacles and other unexpected events that hinder motivation for school when you need it the most. It’s really easy to fall into a rut that you feel like you will never get out of.  

Thankfully, there are some great strategies for motivation that can help get you "unstuck" and feeling motivated again. Give these strategies a try to see which ones work for you!

Remind yourself of the end goal.

Envisioning the end goal of graduation and what life looks like once you are there can be a great source of motivation. 

Remind yourself why you enrolled in college in the first place and what graduation will look like. 

Will you have a new job? A pay increase, more work-life balance, or better job stability? A whole new career? A cross-country move or ability to relocate? What opportunities and open doors do you have to look forward to once you have your degree in hand?

Be sure to consistently remind yourself of the reason you enrolled in college and never lose sight of the good things accomplishing your goal will bring. The challenges you face and the sacrifices you’re making now to pursue college won’t last forever, and earning your degree is an investment that pays off for years to come. Your efforts are worth it!

Clear your head and find your focus.

It's difficult to feel motivated to study when you can't relax your mind and focus. Here are some techniques to help you “get in the zone” for studying. 


Caffeine, used in moderation, can be a great way to get yourself focused and ready to work. It’s best to avoid energy drinks or supplements, but natural sources of caffeine like coffee, teas, and dark chocolate (or cacao products) are all great choices. Caffeine can be especially helpful if you struggle to get started working on tasks as the boost it gives is often enough to break through this barrier.


The sense of smell is connected to brain activity in various ways. We can tap into the science behind this and utilize aromatherapy to our benefit as certain scents can lead to increased focus, energy, and motivation. Just be sure to choose your essential oils carefully and then use them safely by either diffusing or applying to the skin with a carrier oil blend. Check out this aromatherapy article for more information!


Music and sound also play a large role in our cognitive function and abilities. Upbeat music can help pump you up and increase energy levels. Instrumental music or ambience can help with focus and creativity. Other types of music or ambience can help with finding sources of inspiration or make you feel happy and uplifted.  

There are a ton of playlists on YouTube and Spotify for exactly this purpose. Just search "motivational music," “study music,” or other related terms, and you'll find a bunch!  I've personally been a big fan of for focus-oriented music.

Room lighting.

This is one area that may require a bit more trial and error to see what works, but it's worth experimenting with. Brighter lights are generally more conducive to motivation and focus, but not always. If you find yourself having a lot of anxiety over starting a task, try dimmer lights—or maybe even very minimal lighting. Colored lighting can also be an option to explore.

Meditation and breathing techniques.

Meditation and various breathing techniques can also provide a boost to your brain function to help you get back on track. Something as simple as intentional and focused deep breathing can increase focus, clarity, and motivation. Meditation can also allow you to center and balance yourself, enabling you to tap into a well of motivation.

Connect with other students for support.

Connecting and socializing with other students, especially those in a similar situation as you, can be a great source of motivation. Other students can help lift you up when you are down, and they serve as a reminder that you are not alone. 

This is especially helpful when you consider that there are few things worse for motivation than the feeling of isolation. Fortunately, finding people to connect with is easier than ever thanks to the power of the internet and technology.  

There are lots of thriving communities, meetup groups, and other resources out there for WGU students to consider. Try searching "WGU" on Facebook, Reddit, or other social media, and join one of the communities you find!

Talk about it.

It's amazing how talking about things can really help increase motivation. In fact, "talk therapy,"  which refers to the idea of talking about things to clarify them or put things in perspective, is one of the most consistently effective therapy methods used by professional counselors and therapists. By opening up and discussing the way you're feeling or the thoughts you're having, you often find pathways to solutions and opportunities for better outcomes.

Even if a discussion doesn't lead to any groundbreaking discoveries, just being able to share your challenges, struggles, or thoughts to get them "off your chest" can really do wonders. It can feel like a gigantic weight has been lifted off your back and you'll often feel rejuvenated and motivated to pursue your goals again. 

So reach out to your friends, family, peers, and others who are there for you (you can always talk to your Program Mentor!), and share with them the challenges or burdens you’re experiencing. These conversations often lead to several great benefits.

Mental health counseling or therapy.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns are no joke. They can have serious adverse effects on motivation, and, in many cases, they hinder people from reaching their goals. 

That's why it is important to seek mental health counseling or therapy with a trained professional if you are struggling. Taking that step to seek treatment can lead to a happier life. A trained professional will know the best ways to help you, and the results can be significant.

Even if you are not struggling with mental health, having a "life coach" can be a great help.  These individuals are trained to help you throughout all of life's challenges, and they can play a part in helping you find motivation for what you want to do.

Take a break.

We live in a fast-paced world where it's easy to feel the need to always GO GO GO. However, we aren’t robots, and we all can burn out after a point. Once burned out, finding motivation for anything is almost an impossible task. It's your body's natural way of telling you to TAKE A BREAK!

And taking a break is exactly what needs to be done sometimes. The body and mind need rest. They cannot function well otherwise. I am personally a big believer in the idea of "purposeful rest," which means planning time to be restful or relaxed as a means to prevent burnout and achieve better work-life balance.

Obviously, you can’t take a break forever, but you can and should take breaks when you feel you’re pushing past your limits. This balance will allow you to stay motivated and rejuvenated for the long-term and be in great shape for making consistent progress instead of crashing and burning.

Change the course you're working on.

This strategy is not something to be done lightly as it’s easy to jump ship for the wrong reasons. However, there are times when changing the course you’re currently working on can be the right choice.  

For example, if you feel you’re starting to have a bit of a mental block about a certain course, or having anxiety every time you approach it, it may be a good time to change direction.

This helps refresh your perspective and also helps build momentum by allowing you to make progress again in the new course. Then, once the new course is finished, most people can go back to the old course and find they have an easier time getting it done. They feel the mental block is gone, and they can tackle the course with  renewed motivation.  

Because there are some risks to changing a course, be sure to talk with your Program Mentor about what is best for you and the various options available.

Celebrate successes to build momentum.

I believe a lot in the idea of momentum as a motivational strategy. This is the idea of setting, achieving, and recognizing successes along the way to the end goal.  

Each of these achievements, no matter how small, creates momentum. This momentum is motivating and reinforces the hard work, time, and effort we invested. It encourages us to keep going.

That's why it's important that you celebrate even the smallest of successes. Even if what you managed to do with schoolwork  seems insignificant to you, recognize that it's at least brought you another step closer to your goal.  

Celebrate that! Feel good that you did something and let that help motivate you to do that again, or even see if you can do more the next time.  

By shifting our perspectives to see even small achievements as successes, we allow these events to create momentum, and that always leads to motivation for doing more.  

Get motivated!

Now that you know some strategies to find motivation for school (even during the tough times that life may throw at you), I hope you feel inspired and confident to accomplish your goals.  Give some of these strategies a try next time you need that boost of motivation and you'll get back on track in no time. 

Frank D'Angelo is an alumnus of WGU with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Accounting and a Master’s degree in Business. His professional experience prior to WGU includes a variety of Corporate Accounting and Finance roles, as well as a five-year career in video game development as a Producer and Audio Designer. Frank is also the creator of Mr. Happy Work, a blog whose mission is to help others find happiness in the work they do. Give Mr. Happy Work a visit for more articles like this one and other work- and career-related advice.

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