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Christine Hassler

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Searching For Motivation

Posted: 03/24/09 09:37 AM ET

Dear Christine,
I am struggling with reaching a goal. Since 2004 I have wanted to get my MBA, but there is one thing that keeps me from realizing my dream: the GMAT. I have spent numerous hours and thousands of dollars preparing for the GMAT but have seen minuscule improvement in the past four years which discourages me from studying consistently. How can I get motivated so that I can conquer this exam and move on with my goal?
Searching for motivation, 27, Philadelphia

Dear Searching For Motivation,

I get how frustrating this has been and acknowledge you for not giving up on your goal. Before I offer what I hope is some encouraging advice, I want to eliminate two potential issues that could be roadblocks to achieving this goal no matter what kind of motivation I present to you.

The first thing I am wondering is if standardized tests have always been challenging for you. Not everyone learns or processes information in the same way. It's possible to be intelligent and comprehend information, yet still struggle with certain test formats. My first suggestion would be to try to find a tutor that specializes in test-taking strategies as it may be the manner in which the test is given rather than the actual material and information that keeps you from conquering this exam. I realize you have already spent money on support but if this resonates with you, it may be a very wise investment.

Next, if you consistently perform poorly and need external factors to motivate you, this may not be the goal to chase. You may be getting (and possibly ignoring) feedback from the universe. Often the things we think we really want are perhaps not on course and the way we are redirected is that roadblocks keep showing up. I challenge you to challenge yourself and investigate the roots of this goal. Is getting your MBA something you think you "should" do? Are you trying to prove something? Is it an expectation that belongs to someone else? Do you have outcome-based expectations about what the MBA will provide? If your answer was "yes" to some of those questions, pursuing your MBA may be more of an ego-driven goal rather than something you TRULY want. If any part of this resonates with you, I encourage you to consider whether putting this goal on hold for a little while and heading another direction may be more self-supportive. Sometimes saying "no" to one direction is saying "yes" to another that is more on course.

If nothing I said so far resonates with you at all then you are clearly just in need of some good old-fashioned motivation! One of the best ways to generate intrinsic motivation is through habits and routines. The more we are in the practice of doing something and are accountable to ourselves, the more driven to action we become. Start by scheduling a certain number of hours per week (my suggestion would be a minimum of one hour per day) that you set aside to study. Make this a non-negotiable, uninterrupted appointment with yourself and your dreams. If you miss an appointment with yourself, make sure to make up the time. Breaking our word with ourselves triggers internal feelings of self betrayal and sucks the life out of motivation.

And start today! My sense is when you get discouraged you lose momentum and may slip into patterns of procrastination which also take you farther away from your goal. For some insight on this, I turned to life and executive coach BrianWhetten. Brian shared: "We usually think that procrastination means we're lazy, unmotivated or unworthy. But that's rarely the case. Instead, it usually comes from an over-use of guilt and self-judgment. What do you tell yourself about your study habits? Do your thoughts include things like 'I should be more motivated', 'I have to stop procrastinating' or 'I blew it again'? Thoughts like this cause a burst of guilt and stress. Used on occasion they can push us forward, but when they become a habit, they quickly start to backfire. So instead of trying to "should" your way forward, start by writing down the judgments you've been making against yourself, and then check out www.thework.com as a powerful tool for releasing them."

In addition to reframing your self-talk and the way you approach studying, it's important not to go through this process alone. Find a study group to be a part of that can offer encouragement and support. Keep yourself in the conversation about your goal. Find current MBA students or grads to network with and/or request informational interviews with. Visualize yourself taking the GMAT with confidence, clarity and easy access to correct answers. Reach out and ask other MBA students what their study techniques were for the GMAT. Putting yourself into "investigation" mode can be a catalyst for increased learning and motivation.

Above all else, this is a tremendous opportunity for you to learn how to motivate yourself. Going to grad school is not a walk in the park and the habits you are indulging in now create the foundation for the type of student you will be. Keep your focus on your goal and if it is indeed something you truly want, the motivation will be there.

- Christine
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