There are ways to bounce back when you’re not feeling motivated, when the bears are hibernating and you wish you could too, when it’s cold (freezing cold) in the mornings – and dark – but you’ve still got to get up and GO! Urgh!

This time of year is roughly half-way between the excitement of starting the academic year and the somewhat different buzz of sitting your exams. To be wedged between these two peak times in the year risks leaving us in a potential valley and that’s without the added pressure of any mock exams around this time (more on this later).

Just to reinforce the point, it was officially supposed to be the most depressing day of the year last week. No matter what your views on that, things do seem to require a bit more of an effort when the temperature’s a tad chilly outside: you’re either warm as toast and loathed to step out – or weighed down with extra coats and blankets because the heating’s not working.

So what to do?

Make a plan! It will give you something to focus on and help to get you motivated again. Here’s what works for me.

Step (1): I start by working out what I want (or need) to achieve. By identifying the end goal, I know now what success will look like – so when I get there, I can celebrate!

Step (2): I make a list of all the things that are going to have to get done along the way to achieve that end goal. If you were an athlete, you’d identify all the different training stages you’d need to go through to get to peak fitness in time for a big race and this is the same.

Step (3); I sort out that list into manageable chunks. It’s pointless making each one too big because they won’t be achievable and then I just end up getting behind and risk giving up on the idea.

Step (4): Personally, I need some sort of management tool to ensure that I have a good chance of then completing each of those tasks. Someone recommended a big calendar or planner: the bigger the better because it is highly visible. Good idea! By writing the tasks into the planner spread out fairly evenly between now and the end goal, there’s a much better chance of my achieving them. Seeing the days mapped out in front of me works as a very effective means of knowing what I need to get done and by when. Once I’ve done the task for the day, I can relax. And I can also relax about the rest of the workload because I don’t need to do those tasks until it’s their ‘turn’ on the planner. Feeling calm.

Step (5): Finally, as a backup plan, I find that telling someone about the planner, tasks and end goal also helps me because, in telling others, it is out in the open and at risk of cropping up in conversation. I don’t want to have to make excuses so, for me, it gives me extra determination to stick to the list. Try telling the person most likely to keep checking up on you: your mother, tutor, brother, daughter, best friend? Whoever they are, they’ll unknowingly be helping to keep you on track and motivated.

Remember the fun part!

Life is not all about work. It’s really important to have fun too and if you only map out a planner for work, you’ll miss out on this important balance. You need the fun to motivate you. It’s the reward for completing the tasks you assigned yourself along the way – and of course for achieving that seemingly elusive end-goal so make sure you make time for yourself as you tick off all the things you need to get done. When I’ve completed a task, I stop and eat, swim, or meet a friend. Rightly or wrongly, I won’t stop until I complete the relevant task, but part of what keeps me on track is the guilt-free reward at the end.

And don’t let the plan become the distraction

It wasn’t that long ago I’d have spent hours choosing and then completing the planner and the detail of the tasks whilst allowing the whole process to distract me from the underlying purpose. Sheer workload has forced a huge rethink in my approach and the above now works reliably for me so good luck with whatever approach works best for you. You deserve it.

And going back to the subject of mock exams

Just remember they’re exactly that … mock tests designed to find your strengths and weaknesses in those subjects and to prepare you for the real ones later in the year. Keep calm, do your very best and whatever the results … these can change dramatically with focus and determination.

Just as an interview is an opportunity for you to find out more about the place you are applying to, mock exams are an opportunity to find out what you need to work on in order to achieve the end goal of passing your exams. Understanding what you need to work on will help with your list and therefore with your planning – and if you have a plan, you have a chance.

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