Motivation and Mindset

Throughout the past few decades, institutions have gradually steered away from the rigid expectations of academic excellence and have adopted the approach to emphasize the importance of positive education. Positive education refers to the soft skills that every learner should possess, especially the ability to stay open-minded in an academic setting. Amidst the current situation, it is common for students to feel unmotivated and lose hope in maintaining their studies. In this article, I will share some tips in regards to how one can stay motivated and maintain a positive mindset towards learning. 


Firstly, we should understand the two main types of motivation and the roles they play in our everyday lives. The first type of motivation is called extrinsic motivation, which is extremely common in traditional education. In traditional education, there was absolutely no guarantee that all students were motivated, and the only source of the so-called motivation for most was fear. Fear stems from the belief that if you don’t study hard, get good grades, get into a top university, find a great job, and establish your own family, you’re not successful. An almost “reward-or-punishment framework” where an external source drives motivation is what we call extrinsic motivation. Examples of this can be money, fame, grades and praise from others. However, these external forces only ensure motivation momentarily. Once we reach those goals (getting a 100% in a test, earning a certain amount of people’s recognition, etc.), it is effortless for us to rebound and become unbothered to finish other tasks. Especially considering the challenges we are currently facing as a society, this can lead to lots of work piling up and you eventually giving up. 

The second type of motivation is called intrinsic motivation, and it is an intangible, abstract, self-generated feeling of delight when you complete something, for example, a sense of accomplishment, enjoyment, pride. When you are able to learn materials and complete tasks for yourself, for the sake of gaining knowledge and attaining skills, you no longer need extrinsic motivation to “fuel” your willpower to finish your assignments. However, it is actually best to incorporate both types of motivation when completing your tasks. Extrinsic motivation can play the role of the “catalyst” in this instance – to give yourself the final push. The importance of intrinsic motivation can be seen from the result of your efforts. For example, if you tried your best on a test but still ended up getting a bad grade, the root of your motivation resurfaces. If it was purely based on extrinsic motivation, you might feel very upset and think that you will fail no matter how hard you work. On the other hand, your reaction would be calmer if your study methods and test-taking mindset stemmed from intrinsic motivation. If your purpose was to fully absorb the material in order to gain knowledge, for your own good, a mere number should not discourage you from continuing down that path. Instead, you would try to find better strategies for next time so that you can remember the information more effectively (rather than dwelling over a disappointing number). This brings us to the next section: how to maintain a positive mindset. 

Tips for an Open Mind

In this day and age, I’m sure most of us are tired of being told to be “open-minded” whenever we encounter challenges. Teachers repeated this like a mantra, a prayer, but never explained to us how one can obtain this so-called “growth” mindset. Above all, there is a big difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that talent and intelligence are simply fixed, inborn traits. They believe that you are either smart or not, and there is nothing you can do to change the truth. Those who have a growth mindset are willing to embrace challenges and failures. They believe that effort can change many factors in one’s skills and talents. They are open to receive critical feedback and obstacles because they believe that these challenges will help them learn. Below are some tips to achieve this: 

  • View challenges as opportunities 

Most people give up when they struggle on a task because they think it is a waste of time. But, if you look at the challenge as a way to learn more, as a way to stimulate your cognitive skills while other people “surrender” to the problem, spending time on it is actually more beneficial to you. 

  • Value the process over the result and cultivate a sense of purpose

This links back to the concept of intrinsic motivation. Once you are able to look past the grade or the recognition you might get from other people, you will be able to immerse yourself in the material for your own good. Throughout the process of learning, if you meet many obstacles, you should remember how you overcame them and remind yourself to not repeat the same mistakes again. 

  • Approach the problem from different perspectives 

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Though it sounds quite harsh, the essence of his statement should not be overlooked. When we are fixed on getting good results, we often disregard how we approach the challenges. It is actually quite common to utilize the exact same study techniques, fail many times, complain about the bad grades, and continue to study the same way. While some might almost go “insane”, the majority of people eventually give up. Yet, if we begin to step back and try out different ways we can approach the problem, we might find out a better way to come up with a solution. 

Resources for further understanding: 

Editor’s note: It is great to work hard towards our goal. However, if you feel it is leading you to unhealthy perfectionism, be sure to check out this page to learn more.