5 Tips for Staying Motivated and Focused in High School

Posted on January 14 2022

5 Tips for Staying Motivated and Focused in High School

Do you remember how excited you were about school when you were younger? If you feel less motivated about your studies than you did in elementary or middle school, you’re not alone. “Motivation often declines as students progress from elementary through high school. Upwards of 40% of high school students are disengaged from learning, are inattentive, exert little effort on school work, and report being bored in school, according to a 2004 analysis by the National Research Council” (Center on Education Policy). 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has not done anything to improve these numbers. In fact, according to EdWeek Research Center in 2021, motivation is even worse now: 


Why students start losing motivation toward the end of high school

What causes this decline in motivation for so many high school students? It’s hard to say. There isn’t one thing in particular that causes students to lose motivation. Instead, it’s a combination of factors that The Center on Education Policy describes as the four dimensions of motivation. 

According to the center, “The more dimensions that are met, and the more strongly they are met, the greater the motivation will be.” Let’s check out the dimensions: 

  1. Competence: The student believes he or she has the ability to complete the task.
  2. Control/autonomy: The student feels in control by seeing a direct link between his or her actions and an outcome and retains autonomy by having some choice about whether or how to undertake the task.
  3. Interest/value: The student has some interest in the task or sees the value of completing it.
  4. Relatedness: Completing the task brings the student social rewards, such as a sense of belonging to a classroom or other desired social group or approval from a person of social importance to the student.
These are all pretty scientific terms. What do these dimensions look like in real life?
  1. Competence: You believe you can get an A on your chemistry test because you studied your class notes and went to a review session to prepare for the test.
  2. Control/autonomy: Your history teacher assigns you a project but lets you pick what historical event you want to study. This small choice gives you a sense of ownership over the task, resulting in high motivation to do well on the project.
  3. Interest/value: Your English teacher teaches a unit on writing essays, which turns out to be helpful to you while you are answering questions on a job application. Even though you don’t love everything you study in English class, you can understand the value in the class because it has helped you in other areas of your life.
  4. Relatedness: You love Broadway musicals, so you audition for the school play and land a supporting role. While you enjoy performing, you also find a community of other students who have similar interests to you!

These are all best-case scenarios, which don’t happen as often as we’d like in real life. Throughout high school, you’re not always going to feel prepared for tests, and you could have a hard time making friends. By the time you’re a senior, you may feel like you’re losing control of your schedule because you have so many people asking you to do so many different things.

In short, your four dimensions of motivation are never going to be perfectly met in high school. Things like stress, the pressure to graduate, and hectic schedules from end-of-year activities can all affect your four dimensions of motivation.


The importance of staying motivated all the way to graduation

It seems like everyone loses motivation in high school, and they still stay motivated enough make it to graduation. Why should you care enough to stay motivated? Most importantly, you want to stay motivated and focused so that you can get the grades you need to graduate. You’d be surprised by how quickly your grades can drop. Staying motivated and focused on your work ensures that you’ll keep your grades where they need to be in order to graduate on time.

Not graduating on time is a big deal, but it’s not unsurmountable. It’s okay if you’ve fallen behind and you need a little bit more time to make it to graduation. The important thing is that you earn your high school diploma so that you can move on to what’s next, whether that be the workforce, community college, the military, or a four-year college.

For more information about why a high school diploma really matters, check out our other blog post


How to stay motivated in high school

There are a lot of things that could be affecting your motivation and focus in school. Here are a handful of tips that can help with the variety of factors affecting your motivation.

Tip 1: Develop Time-Management Skills

When things feel like they’re out of your control, it’s hard to stay motivated. It’s easy to give up and not even try because you’re constantly being told to do one thing after another that you don’t really want to do. You can reclaim some of your control by practicing time management.

Take control of the things you can – what time you wake up and go to bed, who you hang out with, and how you spend your free time. When you focus on managing the things you can control, you aren’t as irritated by the things you can’t control.

Tip 2: Practice Positive Self-Talk

It may seem a little bit weird at first, but you can encourage yourself through positive self-talk. What is positive self-talk? It’s pretty self-explanatory. You say positive and encouraging things to yourself to help motivate you.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re always practicing self-talk in the form of thoughts. If things aren’t going your way and you feel unmotivated, odds are, you’re experiencing some pretty negative thoughts/self-talk. Try flipping those thoughts on their head and finding a bright side to the situation or encouraging yourself by saying things like, “I’m going to have a good day today!”

Tip 3: Prioritize Mental Health

If your mental health isn’t in a good place, your motivation probably won’t be either. Spend time focusing on your mental health so you can be your best at school. A big thing you can do to improve your mental health is reduce your stress levels. 

An article from Emerson Hospital shared several ideas for reducing stress in teens, including:

  • Sleeping
  • Eating healthfully
  • Exercising
  • Spending time with friends
  • Getting outside

Try a few of these stress-reducing activities and see how you feel. You may be surprised by how much your motivation and overall mental health improves.

Tip 4: Explore New Hobbies

Many students lose motivation for academics because they aren’t interested in anything they’re learning or doing at school. Really dig into some of the topics you’re learning about or the extra-curricular activities you’re offered at school to find a hobby that interests you. Having just one thing that you’re passionate about can really help boost your general motivation – and can be a reward for you when you complete your schoolwork.

Tip 5: Build a Motivation Board

Create a bulletin board with photos and quotes that motivate you to wake up every morning and do your best. You can get a physical bulletin board from the store, make a scrapbook, or create a virtual board with a website like Pinterest.

Think about your dreams and goals for the future. Do you want to go to college? Be an Olympic athlete? Start your own business? Start a family and be the world’s best parent? Find photos and quotes that encourage you to work toward these dreams and goals and put them somewhere you’ll remember them – on the wall in your bedroom, on the front of your binder, or as the background photo on your phone. 

Staying motivated and focused in high school isn’t always easy, but it’s doable. High school plays a big role in the rest of your life, and finishing strong is important so that you can transition smoothly into whatever is next for you. We hope this blog post will help you learn how to stay focused in high school and increase your motivation as you continue on the path toward graduation!