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  • Writer's pictureDr Sally Ayesa

Finding the motivation

Motivation is something that everyone struggles with at one stage or another, some more frequently than others. This year in particular has been a difficult one given shifting deadlines, milestones and expectations. Whole workplaces and homes have been thrown upside down, and the uncertainty and impermanence of the arrangements taking their own unique mental toll. I know it has been particularly tough for those who were ready to sit radiology exams only to have them postponed to an unknown date.

Professionally, for the last few months I have had trouble finding the brain space for anything outside of the essentials of work - including writing, research, teaching and even reading. Motivation had been very hard to come by, so I have been reflecting on some ideas to get back into the swing of things.

Try it a different way

Changing up how you learn or interact with the subject material can breathe new life into it. If you usually read books and write notes, try a video lecture or a podcast. The quality of video lectures is forever increasing. make free video lectures available on their website created by some of the world's most enthusiastic teachers of medical imaging*. Youtube is also a rich resource of lectures and videos on certain radiology topics. RNSA's two premier journals Radiology and Radiographics produce short podcasts which can keep you up to date on what is emerging in the world of medical imaging.

You may be able to spark a little excitement if you interact with the subject in a different way. If you are a visual person, sitting with coloured pencils or pens and drawing out the subject might pique your interest. If you usually hand write notes, try typing or vice versa. Try organising your ideas into a PowerPoint presentation or other learning resource that you can revisit at a later date, or even share with others if you feel so inclined. For me, this last one was particularly useful as I can now use those resources to teach others.

Ditch the plan (for a little while)

You may be halfway through studying the ins and outs of the musculoskeletal system and find that you have completely lost interest. If this happens, even sitting down at the desk can pose a challenge. Study plans are very useful, and making sure you cover the entirety of the examinable content is a must, but this doesn't mean that you always have to stick to the road. To give yourself a mental break while maintaining forward momentum, try switching to something you find easy or stimulating. For me, it might have been reading a chest case book. If neuroradiology is your thing, it might be clicking through a playlist or watching a lecture about white matter pathologies. If you deviate and gain some momentum and enthusiasm which had been lost, if will be easier to dive back into the study plan with vigour.

Introduce some accountability

The strategy of outer accountability is not for everyone, but can be a powerful tool to help keep you motivated and get things done. This concept was introduced to me through Gretchen Rubin and her Four Tendencies framework which helps readers better understand how they form habits based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations. As someone who finds it much easier to respond to the expectations of others, rather than just my internal goal setting, this strategy has worked well for me.

This year for me, a large research and writing project has proved elusive. I have struggled to get into the groove and produce meaningful or substantial work. So I enrolled myself in a course which required me to bring along samples of my own work. Did that kick me into gear! The fear of embarrassment of turning up empty handed pushed me to put aside time and get things done. Happy to report that I have a lot more writing under my belt than three weeks ago.

For sitting radiology exams, an example could be signing yourself up to provide a lecture or lead a meeting which requires relevant preparation. It could be signing up for a virtual course which requires certain actions on your behalf. It could be presenting a topic to your study group, or even just turning up to your study group. When other people count on you, it can be a very solid motivator.

Work with others

At the beginning of my run up to radiology part II exams I was given an excellent insight. Our group was told that the challenge we were able to undertake would bring us together in a unique way, and that some people within the room would end up our lifelong friends. This hammered home the importance of community in what we were doing. There was no reason that we couldn't all pass the hurdles of exams, which would be easier if we worked together and built each other up. We were a team.

A team atmosphere can build accountability and boost support when you need to keep going

Whether it is your study group, fellow candidates or colleagues within the same hospital, those around you can be an important force in staying motivated. You can arrange time to learn together, support when you are down and celebrate the small victories (which may be hard to come by at times). When the study process is protracted and the endpoint uncertain, having a support network in place who understands the unique mental state and challenges can be invaluable for getting through.

Give yourself a break

Motivation will wax and wane, but it is much easier to be engaged with the topic if you are healthy in yourself. You don't have to be in top gear all the time to be successful, although the pressure to perform in this way can at times be overwhelming. As adult learners, it is hard to set a pace for yourself when the sky is essentially the limit. With this in mind, it is important to step back and give yourself permission to take a break or slow down for a period.

Finding this balance can be hard. You know that you need to keep moving forward in order to reach your goal, but at the same time you may be burning out and losing energy. Depending on what you are working towards, you may need a break of an hour, a weekend or a week to clear your head and quiet the sense of disorganisation and desperation that burnout can bring. If you are interested in learning more about tackling burnout, the (founded by Tasmanian Dr Amy Imms) is a great place to start.

Some final thoughts...

Finding motivation at the moment is really tough. I'm struggling, and I am sure I'm not the only one. Remember that everyone will be tackling unique challenges, and may not always present their best selves (myself and yourself included). Keep going - you've got this.

* Disclaimer: I have contributed lecture content to as part of their recent virtual conference and am a financial supporter.

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