Finding the Motivation


I’m currently a rising junior (16 year old girl) with aspirations to have a career in physics. I’ve always loved the creative problem solving aspect of math/science, so I wanted to set some goals for myself to see what I could achieve. I’d like to work, over the next eight months, to qualify AIME and become a Davidson Fellow in science. I already have an idea for research as well as a mentor. However, I always find myself bogged down by procrastination. Does anybody have tips for accomplishing my goals effectively or overcoming procrastination? Are my goals achievable in the first place? How does one learn to love hard work?

Thank you very much for reading this and have a wonderful day!

Not to jump right into this but is there any chance you have ADHD? If so you can achieve your goals but various supports might help.

Break large goals into smaller steps with frequent deadlines.

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Hey, thanks for responding! I don’t believe that I have ADHD because I didn’t exhibit the classic symptoms in sports nor school, and I believe that the symptoms have to manifest themselves in all areas of life for one to be diagnosed. Additionally, I keep track of my belongings and hand in schoolwork by the deadlines with good grades–though the previous year was rough due to online school. However, I’ve always struggled with time management as well as distractions. My mom and brother have official diagnoses, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities, but those I’ve talked to don’t think I have ADHD either. What do you suggest in terms of achieving goals?

Thanks for the advice!

" I’ve always struggled with time management as well as distractions." You also mentioned procrastination and trouble with “hard work.”

There is no actual test for ADHD. It is done via questionnaire by primary care docs or psychiatrists. I would consider it as a possible explanation for the mismatch between your goals and the “motivation” to work towards them.

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Are you using Khan Academy? Or have you considered a class with Art of Problem Solving?

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Wow, I guess this could be a potential explanation. I thank you very much for your insight. In the meantime, are there small steps I can take to being higher achieving?

I love Khan Academy, especially for AP classes, but I never used it for competition math. I bought the first AoPS book, but I never considered taking a class with them; I’ll look into that. I also want to do more practice tests on their website if I can summon the motivation.

These are optional activities. Perhaps you are already busy with other activities. And one can’t study all the time. Make time for your family, friends, fitness, fine arts, hobbies, or sharing your time and talents in the community. Take care of your physical, mental, emotional needs.


You are forcing yourself to reach ambitious goals but are telling us you lack the motivation to work toward those goals. Perhaps, rather than trying to increase your motivation, you might want to change the goals. I think @Hippobirdy posted wisely.

If you find that low motivation (and procrastination) are a persistent problem in every day life, I would again suggest you meet with a primary care doc or psychiatrist to look into treatment for ADHD. What are your mother and brother doing for theirs?

Every person is different. There are many different treatment options, not limited to medications though those help many. You can meet with a coach on time management, for instance. Many people with ADHD do work close to deadlines because the deadline forces them to focus. But this is stressful and again, @Hippobirdy is wise in suggesting breaking tasks down into smaller parts and spreading them out over time.

Is it possible you are depressed and coming up with artificial goals to try to get yourself out of it? Lack of motivation can also happen when people are depressed. COVID has caused a lot of us to sort of “languish” ( a great word I recently saw in an article about this) and feel unmotivated.

One other thing: external motivators like winning a prize or getting into a college work in the short term. For many, the key to long term motivation is following genuine interests. It sounds like you have some. You do not need to pursue prizes or awards to develop that interest. And you do not need to use the fellowship to motivate you to work.


As I implied, but want to make more explicit, I am wondering if your goal here is to get into a top college. Is that why you want to work toward the fellowship? I just want to suggest that working toward goals of achievement in that way can lead to depression- even if you get in! Because the activities you are pursuing may not be for their inherent value but for a future reward. Hope that makes sense! Are you under pressure to attend a top school, from your environment? Maybe there are better fits.

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Have you taken AMC 10 and/or AMC 8? If so, how did you do on those? These math contests are a marathon, not a sprint, and not a real fit for many students. If you can give us your motivation for pursuing these particular activities, it can give us some insight as to why you are procrastinating.

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I have had (am having) a successful career in physics. I have almost 200,000 citations and an h-index of almost 200. So I know of what I speak.

(1) You can do this.
(2) I would not immediately jump on the “you must have ADHD bandwagon” based on what you have written.
(3) “Procrastination” is seldom a useful description of behavior. You are doing X instead of Y. That’s all. The word “procrastination” implies one should look at Y, but in fact, one should look at X. What are you doing instead? Is it something you like more? Terrific! You’re 16 - you’re supposed to be discovering what you like doing. Is it doing something fun but not produective? Great - you should be doing fun things. Is it getting out of hand? OK, now that’s starting to be an issue. But that’s solved by saying “I will limit X to N hours per week” and not by saying “I will get to Y faster”


Not a bandwagon but suggestion :slight_smile:

The AoPS website also has questions and (unofficial) solutions for previously administered AMC 8/10/12 and AIME exams going back to 2000.

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I’m actually not too busy now that summer is here, which is exactly why I thought I’d dedicate more time to math/science activities. However, I agree that balance is key and a systemic approach to life, as opposed to an achievement-oriented one, is required for fulfillment.

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Wow, this is a very thought-provoking post.

I know that my mother has taken medication, but I’m not exactly sure what my brother has done. Depression and anxiety also run in the family. I see a therapist weekly and visit a nurse practitioner monthly. The latter prescribes me medication, which has been effective in combating depression. I see how seeking achievement may be deflecting more core issues, so I may try pursuing my passions while putting prizes and awards at the back of my mind.

I can really appreciate your response to my post :slight_smile: I am glad you have help and support. Teenage years are harder than ever, and then add COVID! It may be that depression and anxiety are affecting your focus. It is really really hard and can take years to figure out those issues versus ADHD and labels don’t matter so much as finding a path to well-being.

I am hoping you find ways to pursue your interests in science and anything else in an authentic way that satisfies you without adding too much work! Motivation may not be a problem when you are truly interested in what you are doing.

I assume an SSRI or similar medication is helping you. The only way to tell if an ADHD med would help is to try some (and probably more than one) but that seems like something that should wait until your depression is better-? Your nurse would know.

Good luck!

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@compmom I’d say that the fellowship would be a goal geared towards getting into a top college. However, the research itself would be to create new knowledge and quench a curiosity I have about optical physics. I truly love being in a lab environment!

@momprof9904 Yes, I have taken these competitions and have done somewhat well. I took the AMC 8 in eighth grade and got a 15, which meant I received the gold award; my score was the highest in my class. I took the AMC 10 in ninth grade and received a score in the 80s as I recall. I’ve always loved numbers because there is an intuitive beauty for me. I find logic/reasoning problems very stimulating, but I find it very difficult to engage with problem-solving at home as opposed to in a school-sanctioned manner. I’d like to simulate school conditions at home somehow.