Blog post by ELP student Patrick Neggie (Computer Science | Class of 2021) Interning at Guardhat

There comes a point in your internship where you just get, well, bored. You start using your phone more, you stop caring as much about your performance, you start to get comfortable. It’s not just with internships either. Think about how your performance along a semester goes. You begin super motivated, organized, and overall excited to be starting a fresh, new semester. But, as time goes on, and the work piles up, your motivation wanes, the frequency of Netflix visits increases, and you fall into a slump. If you’re still not convinced this happens to you, think about how many of your New Year’s Resolutions you’ve actually completed since the start of this year.

Part of the reason so many of us struggle with motivation is that we don’t mentally prepare ourselves for this slump ahead of time. We kid ourselves into thinking that our willpower will overcome any obstacles and that we are somehow immune to the law of entropy. I’m here to tell you that you’re lying to yourself. But what can we do about it? How can we slow or even stop this from happening to us?

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

A lot of the goals we set for ourselves are what I consider V.A.P.I.D. goals. Vague, amorphous, pie in the sky, irrelevant, delayed. For instance, “I will clean the entire apartment” is VAPID because there is always more to clean so you will never reach a tangible goal. Instead, focus on creating SMART goals, that is, goals which are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, for which you are time-bounded to complete. “I will get the primer function to pass these ten test cases by 5 p.m. today” is a perfect example of a SMART goal.

There are other reasons to create SMART goals besides just being more well-defined. By setting SMART goals, you’re almost guaranteeing that you succeed because they are by definition realistic goals. Therefore, you feel a sense of accomplishment and that drives you to create more SMART goals to reach that same feeling again. In this self-perpetuating cycle, moving toward an ultimate goal becomes easy as the path is well-defined and your progress can be mapped.

Know your why.

It’s not enough to rely on good goal-setting technique to prevent the demons of procrastination. To achieve maximum success, you should not only define specifically what you’re doing at any given point, by why.

I’m sure you have a general reason for waking up in the morning. It might be something along the lines of: “I have to go to my internship because I need to work 40 hours a week so I can get paid.” Or maybe it’s something like, “I need to go to my internship so I can learn from other experienced developers about machine learning.” While both of those seem like valid reasons to be going to your internship, there is one key difference that will transform these reasons into motivational tools. Try replacing “have to” and “need to” with “want to” in either of those sentences. You’ll notice the entire sentiment changes.

At the end of the day, you should be doing what you want to. Obviously, it might be true that you need to go to your internship because they would fire you if you stopped going, but I hope that isn’t the only reason you’re working there.

Sometimes we all get lost in the commotion of daily life. We do things without really thinking about why we’re doing them, and that causes a disconnect between our actions and what we perceive as a valuable use of our time. It’s this disconnect that leads to disillusionment and poor performance. Trust me, if you take the time to proactively think about why you’re doing something before you do it, you’ll notice not only an increase in life satisfaction but also performance.

Over time, our brains naturally tend to gravitate toward negative thoughts. Self-doubt, worry, and helplessness are all fundamental pieces of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. Just remember that you always have a choice when it comes to where you spend your time and you’ll be far more motivated to use it the way you see fit.

The Long Game

“Knowing your why” isn’t a one-time deal either. You can’t just declare that what you’re doing is meaningful once and expect that you’ll continue to feel that way. What you’re doing and the goals you set will also continue to evolve as time goes on. What I’m trying to say is that none of this static. Knowing your why and setting SMART goals should be built into your routine on a regular basis.

Fighting entropy is an impossible task. No matter what you do, negative thoughts and disorganization will naturally occur. But, by setting up a check-in system for yourself, you can be proactive in staving off disorganization and pessimism before it spirals out of control. It’s hard work keeping yourself organized and motivated, but it’s even harder work trying to pick up the pieces after entropy has taken the wheel.