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A Confidence to Learn reader sent me these questions:

How do I get the motivation to follow through with my learning plan? There are many things that I have felt would be fun or interesting to learn, through the years, but I've made very little if any effort to do anything about it. Somebody told me once that it was just because I didn't want it bad enough.

So how do I get to the point that I "want it bad enough"? How do I get over my laziness, mental blocks, or whatever it is that is keeping me from following through?

Along the same lines, do you have any suggestions on how to organize and prioritize my time?

I really don't have as high an opinion of my successes. I've always felt that I've had trouble finishing things, or at least finishing them strong. I can't even think of all the subjects that I started or thought about starting in college and never finished. It seems to me that the things that I have accomplished were all due to outside motivation. I just really struggle with being self-motivated.

These are questions that self-directed learners often face. The questions are common for a lot of people. I have often felt that way. I sometimes get in moods where I still do.

Are you lazy? You probably aren't lazy or unmotivated in some things. You might try to make a list of things you do for which you don't need any motivation. You can also make a list of things you don't particularly like to do but that you do anyway. Ask yourself why you do those things. Something is motivating you. What is it?

Part of living well is learning to see things (and people) truthfully, to see them as they really are. If we learn to do that, we will stop inflating our failures and minimizing our successes. Even if we have lived lives full of failure (which we haven't), the fact of past failures does not mean that you have to fail in the future. The kid who is learning to ride a bike, we might fall down again and again. We might even get to a point where we want to give up. But if we keep trying, suddenly one day something clicks in our heads and everything comes together. We are riding the bike, and we're doing it easily, almost without effort.

Learning often happens like that. Sometimes it's hard, so hard that you feel discouraged. Learning a new language was like that for me. So was learning to play the piano and play sports.

But if you don't give up, one day it comes easily to you. You can do it well, almost without trying.

So the first thing is to stop seeing yourself as a failure. Those kinds of thoughts will hamper your efforts in the future. Point out to yourself instances where you have succeeded. Read about the successes of others. Both of those things will build your confidence.

Another important thing is to avoid placing responsibility for learning outside of yourself. I've had students who have told me that they would learn well if they just had a better teacher or different opportunities or harder assignments. The truth is that those students are responsible for their own learn inside of class as well as outside of class. If they will just take responsibility for their own learning, they will succeed in practically any circumstance.

To accomplish some of my projects, I really have to work hard to find motivation. I have to remind myself frequently why I'm even doing them or what I have to gain from them. But other things come more easily to me. I look forward to doing them.

Here are two approaches.

One is to focus on your successes and build on those rather than on your weaknesses. You can try this approach even if you think you have had successes only in little things. (What seems little to you may seem big to someone else.) As you fill your life with successes, your weaknesses and failings will get squeezed out.

Another approach is to identify your weaknesses and work to overcome them directly.