MedEntry

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Motivation: without carrots or sticks

Are you having a hard time motivating yourself to study for the HPAT? The tools we often reach for when we need to get ourselves moving are carrots (rewarding ourselves once a tough job is done) or sticks (depriving ourselves of something we want if we fail to do it). These are "extrinsic rewards". But such extrinsic rewards and punishments are not as effective as intrinsic ones. Intrinsic rewards come from your own person - you believe that if you do a certain thing, it will make you a better, more knowledgable person.  Here, six ways to find the intrinsic interest in studying for the HPAT:

1. Fine-tune the challenge. 

We’re most motivated to succeed when the task before us is matched to our level of skill: not so easy as to be boring, and not so hard as to be frustrating. Deliberately fashion HPAT drill or exam so that you’re working at the very edge of your abilities, and keep upping the difficulty as you improve.

2. Start with the question, not the answer. 

Reaching a known answer is boring. Discovering the solution to a question/puzzle is invigorating. Approach the HPAT not as a story to which you already know the ending, but as a live question begging to be explored.

3. Beat your personal best. 

The HPAT can sometimes not be interesting in themselves, especially repetitive drills. Generate motivation by competing against yourself in drills: run through the HPAT drill to establish a baseline, then keep track of how much you improve (in speed, in accuracy) each time you do it again.

4. Connect abstract tasks to concrete outcomes. 

Imagine how real people and real situations will be affected by what you do. Picture in vivid terms what would happen if you did the task at hand poorly or not at all, versus what would happen if you did a truly outstanding job.

5. Make it social. 

Put together a HPAT Study Group, or find a partner, with whom you can work together. Divide the HPAT into parts, and take turns coaching and motivating each other. Being coached will help you improve, as will being the coach: research shows that the teacher often improves as much or more than the student, because the teacher must pay close attention to how a task is being performed and point out how it can be done better.

6. Go deep. 

The HPAT is interesting once you get inside it. Assign yourself the task of becoming the world’s expert on one aspect of the work you're doing—its history, its current state of development, its controversies and debates. Then extend your new expertise outward by exploring how the piece you know so well connects to all the other pieces involved in getting the job done.

By discovering the intrinsic interest in the HPAT, you'll find yourself motivated to finish it for its own sake—without a carrot or a stick in sight.

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