I’ve lost track the number of times a friend or a peer told me: “I’m too old to study”, “I have no time and I won’t be able to complete the program”, “It’s too much hassle”, etc. Indeed, each of these are genuine concerns when considering taking up formal adult learning. I know, because I embarked on my own higher education at the good ol’ age of 29. It was certainly an overhaul of lifestyle, and in my case, a complete change in career, industry and colleagues. In short, I changed my world.
Three years later, I achieved what I wanted academically. I will share with you my personal strategy on keeping motivated and ways to build a base of confidence to pull you through your adult learning life. As with any long-term project, you really need to start by building a solid motivational storehouse as a foundation to keep you anchored along the way.
These are my five key sources of motivational energy.
Focus on Wanting Change
Seriously ask yourself this, “Why do I need a higher education? Why would I want to be in Statistics class at 7pm on a Friday evening?” I imagined some would answer, ‘”My boss wants me to study so that I can get a promotion”, others: “I need a paper qualification so that I will not lose out in the future.” Without a doubt, for most people, higher education equates to a better salary ie. more money. It actually does, but money isn’t a real motivation.
What you should be telling yourself: I am ready for Change and I want it.
Simply, if you are NOT ready for change and a disruption to your regular lifestyle, then the road ahead will be fraught with worries and resentment. I’m saying this with the benefit of hindsight, of course. But after three years of examinations and numerous study project cycles, what really kept me going was the fact that I had changed dramatically with every turn. My thinking had evolved, my comprehension of the external world had grown and I learned how to deal better with difficult people. The more knowledge and learning I gathered, the more change took place within and around me. So it is really a win-win situation.
Make sure you want change bad enough and, in time, the transformational power of new knowledge and learning will make you yearn for more change. But of course, this will only work if you put in your share of effort in deep studying.
Set Clear and Specific Targets
Start thinking of clear and specific targets that you want to achieve while in school. These could be statements such as, “I want to achieve perfect As at the end of the program” or “I want to graduated with a First Class Honours with Distinction.” In fact, those were the exact lofty objectives that I had set for myself.
Simply saying “I want to graduate with a degree” or “I hope to pass all my modules” is doing yourself a huge disfavour. If you are a football club declaring a fight for an end-season mid-table league position, one of two things will happen: you’ll never fight for top honours and, if you do, very likely you’ll attribute it to ‘just lucky’. But get this, it wasn’t Lady Luck kicking a ball on the field, it was really YOU.
Without specific achievement targets (ideally difficult and lofty in nature), you will continue to under-perform and never quite realise your true potential. You are also likely to miss out on top grades you are actually capable of. I can assure you now, the difference in rewards between first and second place is remarkably vast.
You may ask, what if I fail after setting such high targets? As long as you know you really tried hard enough, this disappointment will not last. Lofty targets are meant to be so that you can truly achieve the next level of high achievement. Just beneath the clouds is still a lot of sky.
In practice, I did not achieve perfect As but I still graduated top of my diploma cohort. Also, I did not attain a Distinction degree but I ‘settled’ for a First Class Honours instead. Just beneath the clouds is really not that bad after all.
Have a Future Master Plan
For a majority of adult learners, their main motivation once they started on an adult learning program are the ‘visible’’ end-objectives: ‘Let’s nail the final exams and graduate!’ or ‘Finish this and I’ll get my life back’. Fair enough. An adult learning program is tough, with many sacrifices along the way.
However, I had a different approach. I simply looked beyond the final exam and the last project submission. I asked the questions, ‘What am I going to do with a degree?’, ‘What shall I study next?’, ‘What kind of career path should I have?’, ‘How can my family benefit from this?’ etc. Not just the tasks at hand, but I wanted to take care of ‘What’s Next’ as well.
My strategy: I nurtured a Future Master Plan as a source of motivation.
Two weeks into my 18-month diploma class, I was already making plans on enrolling in a degree program. Weeks into the degree program, I was already devising my career path and making concrete choices. What kept me super motivated at every stage was a concern that went like this:
‘’If I don’t do well enough this time, I won’t be able to (fill in the blanks) next time”‘. (Example, ‘getting considered for a quality MBA program’ or ‘land a job I really want’)
I am pretty sure each of you will complete your programs eventually but, with a little re-engineering of thinking, you’ll be better focused at motivating yourself for the present moment AND making sure you start with a bang on whatever you are up to next.
Tell Everyone Your Plans
Formal adult learning is a tough road to be on. Most of you are likely to be juggling career and family commitments. At some point when it gets really tough and a little weary, you will feel like the loneliest person in the world.
My advice is, tell everyone about your plans. Share more with people who really care about you.
Everyone being your family, colleagues and friends. Share with them about your plans for school and beyond. Not constantly (you don’t want to irritate them), but at least once. (After the initial sharing, they will likely to be the one asking you about school.)
Two reasons why you should do this: 1. When people you care about check in to ask about your studies occasionally, that should, at the very least, spur you on and keep you on track. This was very true for my former bosses at Oracle. I told them once about school and they continued to ask and remained interested in my progress.
2. At some point (especially near the end), people who really care about you will be your only pillars of support. They are your spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends and your parents.
Your objective is to have them believe in you and be part of your journey. By being frank about school and the future you are working towards, they will better understand what you are going through and ‘see the bigger picture’. This will really help, especially if you are going to be constantly missing at family gatherings or social meet ups with friends.
Create Benchmarks and Healthy Competition
In order to do well at anything or even improve on something that is already good, you will need to set quality benchmarks. Find the person in class who is really rocking with great grades and set yourself against this person’s standards. Motivate yourself to ensure your performance is either comparable or better than the person’s at every stage (eg. test, semester, project, etc). This alone should keep you awake at night.
Another good way to create motivation is to have a healthy competition among your peers. You can do this within your working or project groups. One real benefit of this is, your group will naturally perform above average because everyone is motivated to ‘beat’ each other. The converse is true as well, find yourself in an unmotivated and ‘run-of-the-mill’ group and your collective results will turn out mediocre.
And that is my motivational secret. Tell me what you think, will these work for you? Or why not share your own motivational strategy that others and I should know about.