Between faith, fitness, and family, staying motivated is possible.

Mount St. Joseph campus

Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Jennifer Aniston, Steven Spielberg, and St. Ignatius of Loyola.

These are all people who struggled during their college career but found the strength to keep going. Because of their determination, they were able to still be successful despite having trouble in school, according to Pinterest and They focused on their goal and took each day step by step.

Life is hard, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. College student after college student has earned their degree. Most students begin as a freshman, work their way through challenges they face, and finish their journey as they walk on the stage with the rest of their classmates.

Life is a process of trial and error. We learn by making mistakes. Those who have the strength to get up when they fall and keep going are the ones who succeed in the long run.

You may be thinking, “Why would I trust the author if she is only a freshman? She hasn’t even taken a non-gen ed class,” and you would be right. I don’t start my social work classes until sophomore year and I probably haven’t had near as much homework as you do now. However, I’m still a college student who struggles sometimes. Just like anybody else, I thought of switching majors, dropping out, seeing how much of my life my parents are willing to pay for, etc.

The difference between possible-drop-out-me and current-me is that I looked to my resources and used them. I asked several people for advice on how to read more efficiently, manage my time better, keep God at the center of my life despite a busy schedule, and find the strength to keep going even on mornings that I wake up and question why I’m doing all this. The answer? I have a purpose that’s unique to me and I’m learning what it takes to fulfill that purpose.

So, what’s the key to college and success? Find and focus on the reason you have worked to get where you are now. Let that reason be the thing that gets you up every morning. The thing that gives you strength to finish that paper you put (some of) your time and energy into. The reason you will eventually finish college as all those before you have done. Find your reason and cling to it!

To show you what I mean by this, here are some examples of a few people I asked − including Mount professor Dr. Jim Bodle, current Mount student Taylor Whitehead, and Class of 1988 Mount alum Sharon Trekell − about how they stayed motivated in college.

Here is what my dad, who has a clinical doctorate in occupational herapy, said when I asked him about his motivation in college.

How did you find the strength to keep going when things got tough?

I had a good understanding of why I needed to complete college: to help me do the things that I wanted to do in the future. One, it was being able to look to the future and understand the benefits of what I was doing at that time. The second thing was finding ways to make things not as tough. So, if I was working and then I had three other projects to do and was exercising and was supposed to go out to events with friends then I would try to find ways to maybe take a shift off of work, maybe skip a workout, and tell my friends I’m not going out and maybe shift a project to delay it until a little later in the semester. I found ways to rearrange priorities and then I also found motivation in knowing how important what I was doing at that time would be for my future.

Did you ever have a turning point in your college career when you realized you were in college for a reason so you kicked things into full gear? Please describe what happened and what lesson you took from your experience.

No, I think I always was pretty much at the same drive level. I wanted to succeed and pass my classes, so I don’t think that there was any time when I necessarily didn’t take things seriously.

How did you maintain mental, physical, and spiritual health if you weren’t part of any clubs during college?

I did it through exercise. Even though it wasn’t a club, I had friend groups that I spent a lot of time with. I would go home at least once a month when I didn’t live at home. I lived at home for a year my freshman year.

Did your faith and/or family help to push you forward, how so?

Yeah, both did. My faith did because it was something that gave me a foundation of beliefs and values that I made any decision based off of. My family was what taught me what’s right and wrong and the importance of education. Both were something that I could go to when I had questions or when things were stressful, and they both gave me comfort.

How do you think your determination to keep going and do the best you can in everything you do has impacted you today?

It drove me to care about those things I’m responsible for such as work, my kids or any task that I was a part of so that I didn’t just do things in a way that I wouldn’t be proud of. That doesn’t mean that people don’t get lazy sometimes and some things don’t come out the way that we want them to, but it means most of the time because of our drive and our sense of values, we push to do good things. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to be a part of.

I also interviewed my Intro to Psychology professor, Dr. Jim Bodle, who earned his PhD in experimental psychology.

What does motivation mean to you?

Psychologists used to define motivation as being related to drives: basic instincts or needs. So like a drive for hunger or thirst or sleep. Motivation was seen as the movement to fulfill that drive. Movement can be anything from basic biological needs like drives to loftier aspirations like the desire to help others or make an impact in the world. Anytime you see a need in the world or you feel a need to go from your current state to some other desired state, motivation is the psychological experience of working toward something, toward a goal or toward an ambition or toward a desire.

What are some tips on how to motivate yourself and how to maintain that motivation?

1. Make it measurable and observable. The most successful situations are where people can make their goal as measurable and observable as possible. One of the biggest things that people make mistakes on, for example, is New Year’s resolutions. They say “I want to lose weight.” That’s not measurable, but it is if they say, “I’d like to lose 5 or 10 pounds by the end of the month.”

2. Do things to hold yourself accountable in a public way. The great thing about activity tracker devices, like Apple Watch and Fitbit, is that as soon as you sign up for whatever app, one of the first things they encourage you to do is reach out to other people or post your goals on social media because it immediately creates social pressure. It’s one thing to know “I have a goal of 10,000 steps for the day.” On the other hand, if I also have that posted immediately to my social media and I know that my five best friends are also using that same app and I see that one of my best friends just did 20,000 steps today, I’m going to think “Do I want to change that goal a little bit because I don’t want that other person to beat me?” You may start to rethink your goal when it’s compared to others.

3. Set realistic goals. This is so often a place where people fail. The goal may be observable and measurable but if it’s unrealistic you’ll never achieve it.

When have you struggled with finding the motivation to complete assignments, and how did you overcome that struggle?

For me, because I worked about 30 hours a week in addition to being a student, I set very specific times to work on things. I tended not to put things off because I didn’t have the time to do that. Especially by about my sophomore or junior year, I had to really carefully structure my time because in a world without the internet, if I had to get resources for my assignments, I had to be on campus in the library during their hours before I needed to be home in order to get to my job. I had a very carefully scheduled day most of my undergraduate career where if I wasn’t in class then this is the time I’m going to the library and this is the time I need in order to travel home, and this is the time I have in the evening beyond my job to actually do my assignments. Also, in a world where we didn’t have Microsoft Word, you needed to add in a certain amount of time to manually type it on a typewriter. I didn’t have the luxury of struggling with deadlines when I was an undergraduate. By the time I was in grad school, I did have the ability to use a computer to type things out, but the workload in graduate school was so heavy I would deliberately try to work ahead of when I needed to hand in drafts of my master’s thesis or other assignments.

Did you ever have a turning point in your college career when you realized you were in college for a reason so you kicked things into full gear (going from lazy to not lazy)? Please describe what happened and what lesson you took from your experience.

No, I had a very different experience in college. I came from a working-class family and it felt like college was my job. My dad worked from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day and my mom worked part-time as a church secretary and I just felt like “Well this is my job to go to school.” I stayed very motivated almost all of my college career and in part it was just because I knew that was my job, that was what I was supposed to do. I think my motivation changed slightly in my first semester because I realized that I really enjoyed college a lot. I came in wanting to work hard from day one because that’s what was expected of me. The more work I put into my classes, the more that I enjoyed the interaction with the professors. Part of it was I was in the honors program so my classes were smaller in general. In the classes for psychology majors, I got to know my professors really quickly because it was a small enough school. So, I stayed relatively consistently motivated the whole time because at first I thought it was my job, and then very quickly it was fun.

Why is motivation so important in the short and long term?

For college students, motivation is important in the short term because if you don’t keep up with the work it becomes a problem in the long term. Even though a 15-week semester seems like a long period of time, it’s easy for things to pile up very quickly if you’re not motivated from the beginning of the semester. Whenever I file a five-week warning form, those are almost always the people who are still failing at 7 ½ weeks when we do midterms, those are almost always the F’s I end up filing at the end of the semester because if you get three weeks behind it’s almost impossible to dig yourself out of that. I like to say that a semester is like a treadmill. You don’t realize it but every week they have increased the speed on the treadmill by a couple of miles an hour. So, if you’re lagging a little bit at the beginning of the semester, you can’t catch up by the midterm or later. Especially at a small school like Mount St. Joseph, it’s good to stay motivated because of the relationships that you build with your professors. In four years’ time, those are the professors you’re going to have to go to for letters of recommendation if you’re going on for something else. You want them to be able to say, “Yeah! This person was fantastic and they did great things.” What we’re going say is, “Oh! I remember the paper that they wrote in this class and this project they did in this class and a speech they gave in this class,” very specific stuff like that.

What is your advice to students about how to stay motivated throughout college, especially when things seem tough, whether assignments are overwhelming or a student simply doesn’t feel like doing their homework one day?

It really is that issue of remembering that whatever you want to put off today you eventually will have to do. It may not seem like the most enjoyable thing to do today, but again if you put it off, then you have two assignments that you’re behind on, then you have three assignments that you’re behind on. The big problem with letting things build up is that, inevitably, it leads to a certain amount of shame and embarrassment over not having done an assignment and that makes it harder to be motivated later on. So, handing in a bad assignment is often better than putting it off to do a good assignment. Handing in mediocre work is better than putting it off and knowing that it would be even worse later. You still won’t be motivated in two more weeks and then you’re that many more assignments behind. The accumulation quality of a semester is something that students often don’t think about.

Another person I interviewed was my grandma, Sharon Trekell, who has a Ph.D. in psychology.

Can you remind me what your college career looked like, as in what your BA, MA, and PhD degrees were in and when you attended college for each of those degrees?

I began my bachelor’s degree when I was 34 and finished it when I was 42 because I attended the weekend college. I got a bachelor’s in communication arts from MSJ. I got my master’s degree in marriage and family counseling at Wright State University in their two-year program. I earned my doctorate degree at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati which took 4 years. I ended my college career in 1998 and took a total of 12 years in college overall.

How did you find the strength to go back to college for your master’s degree?

When I graduated with my BA, I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to help people. I wanted to help other people have better marriages since I struggled in mine. I couldn’t find an entry level job because by the time I finished college I was in my early 40’s and no one wanted to hire me because I had no job experience. I went to seminary school for 1 ½ years because I thought I wanted to be a Methodist pastor. At seminary, one professor said “Sharon, you belong listening and helping people in a counseling setting.” So in order to provide for my family, I went back to school for my MA.

How did you maintain your motivation during your college career while caring for five sons?

My main motivation was that because I have five sons I wanted to help them with their college. I didn’t have the money to do that so I wanted to go to work and I needed to have a career that sustained me. I helped your uncles and your dad pay for most of their college fees but they had to pay for their first year to show me they were committed. I said, “You make enough money on your own your first year and I’ll pay for the rest. You can live at home to reduce the costs.” I also wanted something that I could do the rest of my life to help me understand them and help me understand other people.

What are three things you thought about or did while in college that you wouldn’t have gotten your degree without?

1. The motivation to be able to pay for my kids’ college tuition. I had a great advisor when I started at Sinclair for my associate degree who became my friend and encouraged me. I reached out to lots of people who told me what I could do so that I could help my children to be successful in life. My advisor said, “You got the brains for this. You need to finish your BA and MA.”

2. I learned to trust myself. I was told I could be a counselor because I had profound listening skills. I realized that nobody else was going to do my work for me. When my ex-husband and I got divorced, the motivation to work, contribute to my sons, and buy a counseling practice that turned out successful pushed me forward. I really wanted my children to have things that I didn’t have. It was wonderful to build my own confidence because being a wife and mom was all I knew.

3. The relationships I built and getting good grades due to understanding the content. College was not something my family focused on. My brother and I were the only ones who attended college, because education was not a focus for women back in the day.

What is your advice to students about how to stay motivated throughout college, especially when things seem tough, whether assignments are overwhelming or a student simply doesn’t feel like doing their homework one day?

Make connections with your professors and advisors and people in your community. People will see your gifts even when you can’t see them and they will point them out. People who knew me helped me see connections between my skills and a possible career. A priest friend of mine gave me affirmation about the fact that he thought that I was intelligent enough to fulfill my goals. I thought I wasn’t smart enough to finish my degree.

Lastly I asked my friend, Taylor Whitehead, a sophomore nursing major at MSJ, about how she stays motivated in college.

Did you ever have a turning point in your college career when you realized you were in college for a reason so you kicked things into full gear (going from lazy to not lazy)? Please describe what happened and what lesson you took from your experience.

I would definitely say last semester, honestly. Sophomore year is when you actually get accepted into the nursing program. It’s a direct admit, but that really made me think, “Ok. I really need to buckle down.” First off, I’ll take courses that are all for my major. Secondly, this was my first year of clinicals. I think what the Mount does really well for the nursing program is that we have a white coat ceremony. You have the white coat ceremony before you start your clinicals and so it allows everyone to all dial in together.

What are some tips on how to motivate yourself and how to maintain that motivation?

I’m a person who strives to put my best effort into everything. When I was little, before we would go to school every day, my dad would say, “Be somebody. Do your own best work.” That has always really motivated me to put my best foot forward and to put full effort into everything that I do.

Why is motivation so important in the short and long term?

Motivation is important in the short term because it motivates you to take that next step, and then after doing so many small things it turns into the big things. For instance, in nursing school, I’m doing all of these little classes that will help me to become a nurse and one day when I finally get to be a nurse then I’ll look back and realize that the short-term goals paid off and helped me in the long term. In other words, I use the big picture to motivate me to achieve my smaller goals.

Was it ever difficult to say no to hanging out with friends when you knew you needed to study? If so, how did you find the strength to keep working?

Yes, it still is difficult. Tasks that are hard and challenging are something that make us better. If it means that you have to sacrifice your time to do homework rather than doing something fun, it’s definitely hard but it’s worth it in the end.

Are there any motivational lessons you took from being a college student that either you discovered or someone else told you?

Senior year, my high school history teacher said, “This is the trick to college. No one can study three hours straight and take anything away from that. My advice to you is to set a 50-minute timer to study for 50 solid minutes and then take 15 minutes to do something fun as a little study break.” I have implemented this into my study routine. Sometimes my study breaks are as simple as walking from my dorm three flights down to fill up my water bottle just to get my mind off the screen and to just reset. Something that I discovered myself is that college is the time where we start to really do things on our own. It’s quite literally a lifestyle to be able to dial into the mindset of “Ok, this is what I have to get done.” Something as little as just writing out a plan of “I have three assignments that I’m going to work on today. What steps will I take to get these things done” and just having a structure to the day. That’s something that has really helped me.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, every student goes to college for a reason. If you don’t remember what that reason is, then you might want to reevaluate things. When we take the steps to do what we came to college to do – learn, explore new things, and get a degree – we may find that college isn’t as difficult as it seems. That’s not to say that college isn’t difficult because it is undoubtedly very demanding, but when we push ourselves to take the first steps, we will notice that the same motivation we utilized in the beginning is the same motivation we use now. As Viktor Frankl once said, the one thing that people can’t take away from us is our will to live. Find your reason to keep going, and the motivation to take the next step forward will come naturally. To apply a popular movie phrase: We have worked towards college all our lives. Now is the time to show the world what we are made of!”