Table Of Contents

  1. Use Social Reinforcement |  Create binding social contracts and collaborate with your peers.
  2. Reverse Convenefience Factors |  Introduce barriers to distractions before you start studying.
  3. Define Your Ideal Self |  Be honest with yourself about your life goals and work backwards from your ideal self to map out your action plan.
  4. Simplify & Clarify Goals |  Break goals and tasks into smaller steps to reduce ambiguity and complexity.

1. Use Social Reinforcement

Social Contracts

Make yourself accountable to someone other than yourself, by betting them you will accomplish a certain goal. There should be both a prize and a reward, but it should not exceed $20. The value of the bet is not as important as how much you respect the other person. Make sure it’s someone you look up to (class rival, parent, best friend, etc.) so you’re motivated not to disappoint him/her.

Example: You bet you will get 90% or more on the math mid-term. If you win, your friend has to buy you lunch. If you lose, you have to buy him lunch. In exchange, your friend makes the same bet for his science mid-term. An awesome side effect of this agreement is that it can help you make new friends and become closer with your existing friends!

Study Partners

A good study partner will:

  • push you to study when you’re feeling lazy
  • make studying more enjoyable
  • help you process information when you’re stuck
  • help you better understand ideas and concepts by discussing them orally
  • provide a different perspective
  • share notes and tips

These are invaluable advantages that cannot be replicated by effort or technology. However, a bad study partner can have an equally negative effect, so make sure to be selective about who you study with.

2. Reverse Convenience Factors

It’s difficult to ignore Facebook or YouTube when it’s just a click away. The key to avoiding these things is to introduce barriers to these distractions before you start studying. You can do this by:

  • blocking distracting websites
  • turning off the wi-fi/internet on your computer
  • turning your smartphone off, on silent or disabling the wi-fi (i.e. putting it on airplane mode)
  • leave your electronic devices in another room

By taking these steps before you start, you signal to yourself that you’re serious about studying and introduce layers of inconvenience to distraction.

3. Define Your Ideal Self

“Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” -Anonymous

It’s difficult to be motivated when you don’t understand how the task is important. That’s why it’s important to connect every small task to a larger goal in life. The best way to do this is to start define a life goal and work backwards. Take 5 minutes to a complete the task below.

My Ideal Self Statements

In the future, I will…(choose 1 or more relevant statements, or make your own)

  • graduate from [ university ]
  • obtain a [education degree /certification in ]
  • graduate with a [ GPA ]
  • learn how to speak [ language ]
  • obtain a job in [ title/position/company ]
  • earn an annual salary of [ $ ]
  • travel to [ countries ]
  • save [ $ ] by [ age ]
  • do [ activity ]
  • master [ skill ]
  • be recognized for my [ ability/characteristic ]
  • change the world by [ achievement ]
  • conquer my fear of [ thing ]

In order to do this, I will need to…(choose 1 or more relevant statements, or make your own)

  • study [course]
  • obtain [%] in [course]
  • be in the top [%] of the [school/state/district/province/country]
  • obtain work experience at [company/type of company]
  • obtain a job as a [position]

Let these goals sink in deeply and start asking questions about how all of your current academic activities are connected to these goals.

  • How many years will it take?
  • What will you have to sacrifice?
  • What challenges will you have to face?
  • Who’s help do you need?
  • Who can you ask to help guide you in achieving these goals?
  • How much money will it take?
  • What will it mean to fail?

By answering these questions early on and connecting your short-term goals to your life-goals, you can identify what’s truly important and apply a purpose and direction to your current work and tasks.


In the future, I want to earn an annual salary of $80,000 USD.

  1. In order to do this, I will need to obtain a job at a Fortune 500 company
    1. In order to do this, I will need to…
      1. graduate from university with a Business and Computer Science degree
        1. In order to do this, I will need to…
          1. graduate from high school with a 90%/4.0 GPA
          2. obtain leadership experience by volunteering, playing team sports and organizing school events
      2. get work experience at a startup, small or medium sized business as a junior developer
        1. In order to do this, I will need to obtain work experience by working part-time
      3. build an application or web service
        1. In order to do this, I will need to…
          1. learn how to build applications in my spare time
          2. spend an average of 15 hours a week studying programming or programming

As you can see, in this way, you can work backwards from a simple goal and create a clear picture of how everything you do is connected to achieving that goal.

4. Simplify & Clarify Goals

Most people make the mistake of defining tasks that are too ambiguous or too complex.

Take, for example, the seemingly simple task of cleaning your room.

Scenario A Scenario B
Clean your room
  1. Put your clothes away
  2. Clean your desk
  3. Vacuum the floor
  4. Clean the bed sheets

It’s quite obvious that “Clean your room” is actually a combination of smaller tasks. By breaking breaking down goals into simple and clear tasks, you achieve several things:

  • you get the psychological benefit of finishing many tasks – in Scenario A, you only officially complete 1 task, but in Scenario B, you complete 4
  • you build momentum – once you’ve finished mini-task 1, you’ll be more motivated to continue to mini-task 2
  • you have a much better idea of how long it takes – it’s easier to estimate how long something takes when the task is smaller
  • it’s harder to cheat – in Scenario A, you might get tired halfway through and decide you’ve done enough. In Scenario B, it’s obvious that there’s still work to be done.

This is the power of simple, clear tasks versus complex, ambiguous goals. When setting goals for yourself, spend a minute to break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. This process will have the added benefit of giving you a much better idea of the goal and all the work it entails.