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Having trouble staying motivated in a Medical School?

For the people who dedicate themselves to the pursuits of wellness, research and compassion for others, medicine is a calling. It’s a career nothing short of demanding, a job that requires an intense schooling, constant training and a chaotic schedule — not to mention a heavy dose of tenacity and patience. Before we discuss what exactly is motivation and why is it such an important part of this lifelong journey full of challenges and rewards, let us take a small trip down memory lane. Recollect the personal experiences or the influences that led you into this profession!

It can range from binge-watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘House’ multiple times, dressing up as a doctor for a fancy dress competition in school, seeing someone close to you suffer and being unable to take away or lessen their pain, wanting to learn more about the human body after reproduction was introduced to us in the eighth grade, wanting to see your parent’s face radiate with pride when they talk about you or simply the curiosity and will to understand how people are and where they come from, that introduced our curious little minds to this fascinating world. For most of us, it was driven largely by values instilled in us by our family. The idea of being part of a profession which focused on helping others regardless of circumstance and helping them lead healthier and therefore happier lives is the most fulfilling job one can think of.

So what do we understand by the term ‘motivation’?

We can define it as a condition inside us that desires a change, either in the self or the environment. When we tap into this well of energy, it endows the person with the drive and direction needed to engage with the environment in an adaptive, open-ended, and problem-solving sort of way. The essence of motivation is energized and persistent goal-directed behaviour. When we are motivated, we move and take action. It is our most valuable commodity- Multiplied only by action, its value fluctuates with how we invest our attention.

Coming to the current situation, we’re all going through something new as individuals, and as a group as well, as we deal with a pandemic - COVID-19. The University of Colorado conducted a study to understand its effect on student motivation. They found that a majority of the college students felt a low sense of academic motivation during this period. For many, the so-called “campus life” feeds their sense of academic motivation and even their overall well-being. Thus, it is safe to say that we are surrounded by unknowns and uncertainty, and thus all types of decisions taken will inevitably leave a mark in the way we drive things, short to long term. How we regain our motivation and take proactive steps to maintain it is one of the key factors that in the end, when everything goes back to normal, will make all the difference.

Let us now discuss the misconceptions surrounding motivation that might sabotage your chances of achieving your goals.

Myth 1: You Have to Wait for the Right Motivation to Strike

It’s great to have moments where you get lucky and inspiration strikes which lifts you up in a wave of motivation but waiting for this to come along is a mistake. Sometimes it takes work to create the motivation to reach your goals.

You might have to sit down and make a list of your goals and develop a step-by-step plan for reaching them. Sometimes you might even need to inspire yourself with the promise of a reward.

Myth 2: Nothing lights fire like fear

The threat of punishment can definitely inspire action, but often for just a brief period as it creates a stressful and unhealthy environment over time. Reinforcement is usually a more effective strategy than punishments when it comes to boosting motivation.

Myth 3: You Should Praise Talent Instead of Efforts

Focusing on innate talents rather than efforts can stunt motivation. If you believe that talents are inborn, it leads to the belief that no amount of effort can change the results. Cultivating a growth mindset, or the belief that people can change and develop abilities through effort and dedication can be a much more motivating approach. One way to develop this mindset is to praise efforts rather than talents.

Check out this article on for more such myths!

Before discussing the methods of staying motivated, let us talk about the reasons one gets demotivated. Demotivation is a category of problems, containing many variations. At its essence, it is about not fully committing to act, and there are many reasons why you might find yourself in this position.

1. You're Demotivated by Fear

If you are afraid of what the future holds, even if you’re also excited to go forward, the part of you that wants to keep you safe can successfully prevent you from doing so. If you keep thinking you’ll fail or create a blunder while operating, you’ll never be motivated to take efforts and learn more skills.

2. You're Demotivated by Setting the Wrong Goals

We’re all surrounded by so many messages that feed into our Social Selves and we’re keen to impress our tribes. Setting goals purely based on this pulls you away from the actual direction to be taken. We need to have clarity and know what we want. This will create a clear and specific vision so that you can become familiar with that new outcome and feel comfortable moving towards it.

3. You're Demotivated by Burnout

If you’re feeling tired all the time, you’ve lost your energy for socializing, and the idea of taking a snooze sounds more compelling than the stuff you’re usually interested in, then you’ve probably pushed yourself too long and hard and you may be burned out. To learn more about how this will affect your routine life, check out our blog on burnout!

It’s easy to let the shock of a global pandemic consume you or at least slow you down. But each day, you can take concrete steps to manage your thoughts on exactly how you spend your time. Unprecedented events like this are also a good time to give yourself a little more patience, kindness, and nurturing.

Here are a few ways for staying motivated during such uncertain times-

1. Focus on One Goal

Whenever you try to do too much, it saps your energy and motivation. Set a single goal, make a decision to act in a way that will help you achieve what you want and stick to it. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Think of your goal as a long journey, and your slump is just a little bump in the road. You can’t give up with every little bump. Stay with it for the long term, ride out the ebbs and surf on the flows, and you’ll get there.

2. Think about the benefits, not the difficulties

One common problem is that we think about how hard something is. Instead, think about what you will get out of it. Thinking about the benefits will help energize you. Squash the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Recognize negative self-talk, which is really what’s causing your slump. Imagine how rewarding it would be to restore or improve someone’s quality of life in the future. The joy, passion and desire to serve others will definitely keep inspiring you!

3. Create a schedule

Having some semblance of a daily plan will empower you. Set your agenda the night before, knowing it’s flexible. At least you’ll have a starting point for the next day—and it will help you stay driven. You’re much more likely to stay motivated if you’re working towards something that you genuinely want to do or achieve, rather than what other people want for you.

4. Find inspiration and support

You can find inspiration from others who have achieved what you want to achieve, or who are currently doing it. Read other blogs, books, magazines. Google your goal and read success stories of doctors who’ve taken risks, treated their patients with a kind heart and gentle hands and thus dedicating their working life of service to creating and preserving health. If you are finding it difficult to achieve things on your own, having a good support network may help. Call someone you trust when your motivation ebbs. Try talking to your mentors who teach you the art and skills of medicine, and more importantly how to be a doctor.

5. When motivation fades

Setbacks are normal, but developing resilience can help you carry on and pick up where you left off. Review your goals and see if they are realistic in the timeframe you have set. Remember why you wanted to get motivated or reach that goal in the first place. Consider the opportunity to care for patients in their most vulnerable times as a reward and keep going.

Sometimes you just need to take a break and start afresh. Think about what gives you peace of mind. Learn relaxation techniques or give these short exercises a try.

Final word:

Dr Luanda Grazette once said, ’Medicine is only for those who cannot imagine doing anything else!’ In the end, we all want to come back home and breathe with satisfaction that we could help someone and make their life better. To us, success means we get to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others. Thus, to reach your goals, the strength of your commitment, your desire to reach your goals, the types of incentives you’ll gain, and the obstacles you’ll face will play critical roles. When you are trying to get motivated, make a plan that takes these factors into account rather than relying on willpower alone. And remember, even though we don't have all the cures, a few easy moments, a few smiles and a few more dreams our patients could achieve are all still worth fighting for :))

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