Procrastination, Motivation & Burnout

Procrastination, Motivation & Burnout
Be in the 3rd section. Click to enlarge

Inspired by the enthalpy diagrams we’re currently drawing for Unit 4’s thermochemistry chapter, I thought I’d put a timely reminder on the site about how stressed you need to be in order to maximise your academic performance in Year 12.

Most of the Year 10-12 students I’ve encountered in my teaching career have been in stages 2 or 3 of the above curve, but I’ve certainly taught students in each of the five stages. I’ve seen the characteristic signs of each stage.  Research has shown that being on top of that curve maximises your performance in a given task. Therefore, your goal as a student is to maintain your position in that third quintile: to stay motivated but not lazy; and to stay productive without feeling stressed.

1) Procrastination

In stage 1, students have no idea what they want to do after Year 12. They don’t study particularly hard, they don’t enjoy reading, and their ‘default state’ is not studying: it’s usually surfing the Internet, playing computer games or playing sports.

Symptoms of stage 1 include:

  • “I’ll be alright in the exam”
  • “I’ve didn’t finish the homework the teacher set me”
  • “I didn’t really understand that topic but I’ll be fine anyway”
  • “I vaguely remember learning this” (referring to the start of Unit 3)
  • “Honestly, I’ve never read the textbook”
  • “I’ve done one practice paper – and that was during class”

2) Laziness

In stage 2, a student’s goals and ambitions are defined only very weakly. Most students in this stage haven’t yet decided what they want to study at university, and are looking to “keep their options open” without actively looking for a career or course that they want to pursue. Some students in stage 2 have a very vague goal but they’re not taking any action towards achieving it. There are more students in this stage than in any other.

Symptoms of stage 2 include:

  • “I didn’t do that homework because the teacher won’t check it anyway”
  • “Do Checkpoints questions? That will take me HOURS!”
  • “Some students work so hard: they study about 3 hours per night”.
  • “I don’t like writing in textbooks”
  • “I’ve always been good at Science. I’ll be alright in VCE.”

3) Motivation

Stage 3 is ideal: the student has a clear goal for the next few years and is committed to pursuing that goal. They know which university courses they need for their future career, and they’re studying diligently to get the required ATAR for that course. All students should endeavour to be in stage 3.

The following statements are typical of a student is in stage 3:

  • “I need a 42 or above in Chemistry to get into Medicine at Monash”
  • “Could you please check over these questions for me? I got a couple wrong.”
  • “I need an ATAR of 86 to get into my preferred course. I need to stay near the top of my class”
  • “I study every day according to the revision timetable on my wall unless something urgent comes along. If I miss a self-study session, I reschedule it.”
  • “I’m under pressure to succeed – but I have the confidence that with enough hard work, I can achieve my goals”

Read an interesting story about motivation from the APS here.

4) Stress & Anxiety

Stage 4 is when stress becomes intense and counter-productive. A student who is too stressed will perform below their optimal level. Students in this stage have either: (a) no clearly-defined goal and thus little intrinsic motivation – just pressure from external sources; or (b) have a clearly-defined goal but are motivated too much: they thus stress themselves out physiologically, which hinders their ability to study.

In both cases, the symptoms of stress & anxiety include:

  • “Chemistry really annoys me. There’s so much work to do.”
  • “I feel overwhelmed with all the stuff we’re expected to learn.”
  • “I didn’t get much sleep because I was worrying about the Chemistry SAC”
  • “I suck at Chemistry”
  • “Chemistry’s definitely my 5th subject”
  • “I’m going to fail”

Click here to learn more about 50 symptoms of stress.

Click here to take a quick stress/anxiety quiz.

5) Burnout

Avoid this stage at all costs. Students who have burned out have given up on their goals because they felt overloaded with pressure. The most dangerous aspect of burnout is that students will actively quash their ambitions in an attempt to de-stress themselves. Students in this stage need support from external sources (friends, parents, and counsellors) and need to take a short (~7-day) break from studying.

Symptoms of burnout include:

  • “University? I hate university!”
  • “Who needs an ATAR, anyway?”
  • “I’d rather walk the dog than do anything related to study!”
  • “I’m doing amazingly well in World of Warcraft. Soon, my character will be worth a Bitcoin or two.”
  • “I never want a job.”

When students burn out, after sarcastically making some silly, low-level goals for a week or two, they usually re-appear in stage 1: procrastination. The cycle then begins again: they’ll need to be re-motivated with new, meaningful goals to get back into stage 3.

Learn more about the differences between stages 4 and 5 here.

Need to go from stages 1 or 2 to stage 3?

To escape procrastination and laziness, make a goal for the next few years. Imagine your ideal life in five years’ time as if nothing could hold you back. Your goal might be to become a doctor, to start your own business, or to buy a house: keep the goal large but attainable. Everything you do every day should be done with that goal in mind: will playing more computer games get that house purchased? Will watching more TV help you get that masters degree? Remind yourself why you’re studying VCE. The ‘why’ will be different for every student. Study daily with that greater goal in your mind and you’ll feel much more motivated to keep going.

Learn more about motivation and getting a strong work ethic here.

Need to go from stages 4 or 5 to stage 3?

Take a week off to relax and do something you really enjoy. Relieve some of the counter-productive stress that’s built up within you and you’ll feel refreshed afterwards: you’ll be in a better state to continue studying. Daniel Pink gave an excellent TED talk on how excessive motivation made people’s ideas more narrow-minded, and in a complex subject like Chemistry, a narrow focus can actually be a hindrance to your understanding because you need to synthesise information from several different sources. Taking a break will actually improve your performance.

Learn more about how to tackle burnout here.

What are your thoughts? Are there more than 5 stages? In which stage are most of the students you teach? Comment below.

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