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Slumps happen. In classes. In exercise. In any area of life where we have a vision for the future and then create goals to actualize these visions.

Soon enough, your student may know what it’s like to feel motivated by their vision for a future career, and then somehow to feel unmotivated in classes, despite working hard toward their goals. If your student feels the onset of a slump in their academic work, the following are a couple of ways you can encourage them to refocus on their goals, to get the rest they need, and to reenergize for the remainder of the semester.

1. Encourage your student to remember why they’re doing what they’re doing.

This could sound like: “Zoom-out beyond the obligations of your classes right now and remember why you signed up for your goals in the first place. Sure, right now you need to write the paper by a certain date, and that’s an obligation. But there is a reason you decided to enroll in the class and why you’re pursuing this degree– or multiple reasons. What are your reasons? Remember them. What progress have you made already toward these goals? If you’re not sure, how can you get more clarity about what your goals are? Clarity supports motivation.”

Being present to, and clear about, our reasons for doing what we’re doing can help lead us out of a slump, especially when we remember our original vision for getting started and connect the current task to that long-term goal.

2. Encourage your student to reframe rest and make it meaningful. 

There are at least a few ways we can rest passively, like watching TV shows or films, playing video games, or listening to podcasts. We develop automatic behaviors over time that trigger us to associate feeling tired with ‘time to watch a show’ or ‘time to play a video game.’ What the brain learns to crave is zoning out. Yet zoning out is not the same as true rest. Rather, our mindless engagement in these activities can sometimes short circuit the true rest that helps us recover our energy for a task or regain motivation.

Thus tell your student something like this: “Think about how you’ve been resting this semester. If it’s primarily through ‘zoning out,’ what if you considered a different approach? What if you recognized the trigger– the tired feeling– and for a week or two, chose a restful activity (e.g. walking, reading, cooking, drawing, sitting)? Active rest, when practiced over time, can serve as a pathway for recovering motivation.”

While this isn’t a quick fix for a slump, over time we can build our capacity to enjoy active rest and strengthen our motivation in a big task, like college coursework.

3. Encourage your student to reenergize by ‘getting the facts on the table.’

Does your student need a zap of energy in their classes? There’s nothing quite so alerting, or for some exciting, as getting the facts on the table: looking at their current grades.

You could say to your student, for example: “Get some clarity about how you’re actually doing in classes. Look at your grades individually and calculate how much you can improve by the end of the semester, whether you’re concerned about your grade or if have an aspirational grade in mind. Know how many absences you’ve used. Know how near or far you are from your goals for the semester. Let clarity about where you’re at right now inform your next steps. Let this clarity about how to get there fuel your energy for finishing strong.”

Even if it’s temporarily disappointing or stressful to acknowledge their grades, it’s a necessary step in order for your student to have a realistic plan moving forward.

Ultimately, re-engaging after slumps in academic work can be valuable practice for recovering from slumps in other areas of life. Encourage your student to make the most of even these lower energy moments in college and to treat them as opportunities to build a valuable skillset, both for the college experience and beyond.

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Dr. Jennifer Tharp is an alumna of Azusa Pacific University where she earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education. Dr. Tharp teaches at the graduate level and consults nationally in the area of student success. Visit Dr. Jennifer Tharp's website.