Thursday, October 12, 2006

Motivational CPR

The time of the semester has come when I spend time on "motivational CPR" with my students. Students have been coming by and discussing their doldrums, lack of enthusiasm, boredom with the routine, burn out, and general lethargy. They often ask whether they are the only ones suffering this malaise or whether the lack of motivation is more pervasive. It seems to console them that the discussion is not new to me.

Although the lack of motivation is genuine and to be expected at this point in the semester, I encourage students to explore ways that they can combat their general malaise. In addition, I suggest that students be sensitive to whether the lack of motivation is more than temporary. If malaise has turned into depression or serious physical symptoms, I encourage them to visit the counseling center and student health services for consultations. I often suggest the following techniques to combat a general lack of motivation.

Mix up study time to make it more interesting.  Instead of 5 hours of reading, break the reading into shorter blocks with a mix of practice questions, recitation, or flashcards acting as diversions to the monotony of reading.

Do practice questions on the material to challenge whether one can apply the concepts instead of just reading about them. It is too easy to read and memorize and not spend time on application.

Do the most difficult or unpleasant tasks first in the day so that the tasks will not "hang over" one all day and cause avoidance. Do the second most difficult task next and so forth.

Break up tasks into small chunks (example: 7 units of 5 pages rather than 35 pages).  It is much easier to motivate oneself for a small task. Reading just one case or doing just one problem seems possible even when unmotivated.

Take small 5- to 10-minute breaks frequently to focus more effectively.  Spending time over the pages without concentration is counter-productive. Memory organizes and stores information during the break without our being conscious of that ongoing work.

Take a movie break if focus is completely gone. A comedy or animated movie cheers the viewer and adds laughter as good medicine. It is hard to worry about law school in a darkened theater.

Use longer meal breaks to give oneself a release from the grind. Many students have succumbed to the 10-minute microwaved meal at the kitchen counter routine which allows them less relaxation time (and often less nuitrition).

Surround oneself with fellow law students who are motivated rather than with others who have lost their motivation. Beware of the whiners, moaners, and groaners in your classes and give them wide berth.

Ask a spouse, parent, friend, classmate, tutor, pastor, or other person in one's life to give pep talks when needed – by phone if not in person. (As academic success professionals, we often provide this service to our students.)

Post a sheet of paper listing the motivational reasons for coming to law school on the back of the front door of one's apartment.  Read it every day before leaving for classes.

Plan small rewards for small tasks that have been completed.  Make the rewards fun: a run with the dog; a game of catch with a child; a telephone call to a favorite person.

Plan large rewards for large tasks that have been completed.  Make the rewards fun rather than expensive: a legal movie from the law school DVD collection; a free play, concert, or lecture on campus; Frisbee with a group of friends.

Each night before going to bed, read inspirational quotes.  Post inspirational quotes in each room at home.  Carry a page of quotes for quick reference in a notebook that goes to school each day.

In addition to eating three planned meals a day, eat energy snacks to boost blood sugar during the day: raisins; an apple; trail mix; a granola bar. Non-caffeine and non-processed-sugar energy helps fight the doldrums.

Exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week to lower stress and increase energy. The exercise does not have to include fitness machines or exercise classes. Just walking around the campus will energize one.

Get enough sleep! A minimum of 7 hours is needed according to new research. Life and studying always look less onerous with a good night’s sleep. (alj)

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