Choosing a field of study that matches my interests is what motivates me to study now.


Did you know this?

Motivation is an important and determining factor in achieving your goals. Every student has a mix of different reasons that motivate them to study. The ideal motivation profile combines a high degree of enthusiasm to study with a low level of pressure to do so. The strength of your motivation to start a task varies from one moment to the next and depends on several factors. The more autonomous, connected and competent you feel during your studies, the higher your motivation, enthusiasm and drive.

Different types of motivation

The self-determination theory, one of the contemporary theories about motivation, distinguishes different types of motivation:

  • autonomous motivation: when you are autonomously motivated, you study from an inner drive: you are interested in or spontaneously challenged by the material you need to study or you find the subject matter and your studies meaningful or valuable.
  • controlled motivation: controlled motivation is linked to pressure. When your controlled motivation is high, you commit to your studies because you have to. This pressure can be external, i.e. you study for the sake of others, for example so as not to disappoint your parents or to avoid criticism. But the pressure can also come from within: you want to prove yourself as an intelligent, exemplary student, or you give it your all to be able to enjoy a beautiful three-month holiday.
  • amotivation or demotivation: this refers to a lack of motivation. While controlled and autonomous motivation include some drive or reason to study, in this case you lack any motivation to dedicate yourself to your studies. You feel unable to achieve a desired result or you do not value your studies enough, which makes you helpless or indifferent.

Obviously, you are not merely motivated autonomously or only in a controlled manner. Generally, a person exhibits multiple motivation types. This is the case, for instance, when you are studying a part of your curriculum you find interesting (autonomous motivation) whilst also having been told by your parents you will need to quit your studies if you achieve bad results (controlled motivation).

The ideal motivation profile combines a high degree of enthusiasm to study with a low level of pressure to do so. Research puts autonomous motivation forward as the most desirable motivation type, as it has a positive impact on your study performance. It pushes you to use more in-depth processing strategies, plan your studies better and stick to your plans. You tend to see negative experiences as learning opportunities rather than reasons to quit. Autonomously motivated students feel they can develop themselves and grow through their studies. It gives them energy and boosts their further growth process.

What fuels your motivation?

The three psychological basic needs - autonomy, connectedness and competence - fuel your motivation. The more autonomous, connected and competent you feel throughout your studies, the higher your motivation, drive and enthusiasm will be. Simply put, autonomous (i.e. highly qualitative) motivation can only arise when these psychological basic needs have been met.

Which factors influence your motivation?

How strongly motivated you are to perform a certain activity at any given moment depends on three factors:

  • How attractive the activity is and how useful or enjoyable you find it.
  • The likelihood you will succeed in this activity. Simply put, your chance of success.
  • The time span ahead (of you) until you reach your goal, success or reward. When your goal is still far ahead, you will be less motivated to attain it.

Scheduling enough fun moments with my fellow students makes me more motivated to get started.


Boost your motivation to study

It is normal that your motivation levels drop from time to time. If you want to boost your motivation to study, work on the factors that influence it. Below you can find a few tips.

  • Choose a field of study that interests you, that you are willing to commit to and that matches your internal compass. Regularly reflect on the reason(s) why you chose this field. Dull or difficult subjects may sometimes make you lose sight of your end goal.
  • Put on your ABC glasses: focus on how you can meet your own needs for autonomy, relatedness - or bonding - and competence.
  • Work on a constructive attitude towards studying and establish concrete goals. Try not to study randomly, but clearly outline your achievable goals. A sound, concrete plan or schedule brings you peace of mind and boosts your mood once you have accomplished it.
  • Maintain a regular pace. Attend your classes and process the study material in a timely manner. In this way, the courses will remain manageable and you will find them interesting enough to attend classes. By studying regularly, you will also get the feeling that you master the course material better, which will make you more keen to study (as you enjoy doing what you are good at). As a result, both the attractiveness of the task and your autonomous motivation will increase.
  • Take care of yourself and allow yourself time to relax. Take a break at regular intervals and grant yourself a treat or reward, especially when you are dealing with difficult subjects. The prospect of your favourite snack, a short walk or a relaxing bath waiting for you when you have reached a certain page can give you a good energy boost.
  • Seek contact with friends and fellow students. A social network is important and also stimulating, as other motivated students can influence your behaviour and feelings in a positive way.
  • Try not to think in terms of black and white, but take a positive look at what you struggle with. Too much course material to study, too much teamwork or too little time for your social life: this way of thinking can ruin your motivation and enhance negative feelings. Try to look on the bright side, at what you actually have achieved successfully. Keep your end goal in sight.

Get to work

In the online programmes ‘Healthy Lifestyle’ and ‘LifeCraft’ you can find a large selection of tools to give yourself a good boost. You can also discover how to meet and reinforce your basic needs for autonomy, bonding and competence (the ABC of psychology).

Talk about it

Do you find it hard to motivate yourself? Speak to someone you feel comfortable with and trust, preferably someone you know well, like a good friend, your parents or a sibling. This can bring relief and help you put things into perspective.

Is your motivation problem persisting or is it affecting you beyond your studies? Then maybe a conversation with a student advisor and/or a psychologist could be useful.

Standing stronger: students & expert share their experiences

Host Carola talks to student Mathias and Maarten Vansteenkiste, professor in developmental psychology at Ghent University. The topic of this episode is the ABC of psychology.

Keen to learn, read or hear more about this topic?



TED Talks and videos


  • Motiverend lesgeven gives you more information about the ABC of psychology and shows you how to create an environment that supports students’ needs. (Dutch)
  • Together with Impetus Academy, we developed the roadmap growth conversations that can fuel students' ABCs. This roadmap can be useful for guidance conversations, including internships.


  • Vansteenkiste, M. & Soenens, B. (2015). Vitamines voor groei. Ontwikkeling voeden vanuit de zelf-determinatie theorie. Acco. (Dutch)