Motivation – understand it and use it for your leaving cert!

Motivation, will-power, self-control. Call it what you will, it can be a tough thing to maintain on a consistent basis. It can be tough to even get going to begin with! So how’s it done? How do I go from an unmotivated, sometimes overwhelmed and often despairing student to one who knocks it out of the park? Well in the end it’s down to you, but let me help you out.


Did you know that it has been shown that will-power can out-predict IQ when it comes to academic performance, by TWO to ONE! This is an amazing statistic. So don’t use the excuse of I.Q. for not performing to a high standard, because in most cases this has little influence. Apply some will-power and positive results will follow.

Create success


That said, it is very important to know that will-power is a finite resource, i.e. you only have so much of it in any given day before it’s drained away. The more you use of it during the day, the less you have available as the day goes on, much like the battery in your phone. Therefore use it wisely.



Knowing that there is only a certain amount of will-power available in any given day, we can then apply this information and use our will-power optimally, maximising our daily results. The best performers, whether it be as a student, an employee or someone excelling at life in general, achieve great results by forming habits. They don’t just rely on will-power or motivation to get things done. The great benefit of this is that you end up not having to negotiate with yourself right throughout the day, having to make decisions on a continuous basis. Habits can help remove these decision, allowing action to become automatic and part of your daily routine.


1. “He who has a why to live can endure almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzsche

What’s your reason or purpose? What’s your vision? What do you want? You want to do well in the leaving cert I’m presuming, but why? YOU HAVE TO FIND YOUR WHY. What specifically do you want to get from the leaving cert? What leaving cert result do you want? 300 points? 550 points? Are there additional motivations? Would you like a greater understanding/mastery of Science/Business/Music/Language? Is your motivation to get in to college or to land your dream career in the future? Maybe it’s simply to make your family proud or set a good example for your siblings!

No excuses when studying

It’s your decision on the why part. If you can identify what exactly you want, your habits can get your there. A direct consequence is that you don’t have to continuously motivate yourself, but instead allow your newly constructed, positive habits to take control. The goals you set and the achievements you make have now avoided the reliance on motivation, but are accomplished through the power of habit.

If you are having problems coming up with the “why”, then go no further. Spend time thinking about this. Seriously, you have to know why you are doing what you are doing. Do it for yourself. Do it for a better you, a better future, a more impressive you, a happier you. Think of the benefits of improving who you are, for both yourself and those around you. Listen to some motivational talks. Read motivational books. Think your way to a positive attitude. Remember, it’s your choice.

2. What is the number one habit you could form that would have the biggest impact on your study?

This keystone habit, much like a keystone in a building or other structure, is the one that holds so many things together.

Is it turning your phone off between 5 and 9pm every evening, not allowing anyone distract you from your goals? Maybe it’s simply drinking more water every day, allowing your concentration and general well-being to work more optimally. Or perhaps it’s that you will test yourself for just 5 minutes, with the book closed, after every 25 minutes study you do, starting with just one subject. Again, you decide what your priority or keystone habit is going to be. It’s almost impossible to get this wrong by the way, provided the habit is a positive one. As you progress, it is likely that you will identify other habits that could make an even bigger difference for you and let these be your new/updated goals.

3. Commit 100%, make it achievable and reward your achievements.

Commit 100% to the process

Committing to something 100% is actually easier than committing 95% or 90%. Make whatever habit you’re creating, e.g. 7-8.15am is study time every week-day, or 5-5.30pm every day is my exercise time, NON-NEGIOTABLE. Yes, make it non-negotiable. It works best in the long run. Take the attitude that this has to be done, and know that it will take some, maybe A LOT of will-power in the beginning, but once the habit has been formed, will-power takes a back seat to the process.

An important consideration when starting out is to make it achievable. Don’t commit to doing something unrealistic, e.g. “I’m going to study for 6 hours every evening and do 3 hours exercise every morning”
Make it easy, but not so easy that it makes no difference to your daily study. Get used to the process of creating the habit. As your ability to create good habits increases, you can then make it gradually a little more difficult.

Rewarding your achievements can be a good way to sustain these new habits. The reward is down to you, whether it’s watching a favourite TV program, eating a treat food on occasion or maybe playing a game on your phone/console or simply going for a long walk. The rewards section of your brain will help you start, maintain and complete these habits if there is a known reward at the end. It can also simply be the satisfaction that can come with putting a big black mark through a section in your diary or on your calendar wall signifying a significant milestone, e.g. 10/20/30 consecutive days. I find I get great satisfaction from continuing to do something positive for “X” number of days in a row and not wanting to break this run of consecutive days!

4. Make the habit a daily one, and don’t miss two days in a row.

By making it a daily habit, it actually makes it this new habit easier to form and it becomes more and more automatic. You also don’t have to remember if this is a day where I do the habit or not – it’s an every day thing.

But let’s be real. You’re going to miss a day every now and again. You’re human, and it happens to us all. The important thing is not to miss 2 days in a row.

stick to schedule

In his book “Superhuman by habit” by Tynan, the author comments that if a day is missed, an important strategy is to make the new habit the NUMBER ONE PRIORITY for the next day so that missing 2 days in a row is avoided. “Missing two days of a habit in a row is habit suicide” he comments.

Don’t lose the momentum that forming a daily habit allows. Stick with it and watch the cycle of will-power being converted into a habit, freeing up your daily allowance of self-control to turn its attention to something else, perhaps another habit that would make a positive difference in your daily life. This is how great achievers achieve great feats. Let yourself be one of them.

Share as you see fit with anyone preparing for exams, this year or next.

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Take care and study well

Seán Lally


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