Students often get told that self-motivation is key to a good education. Usually by posters with cartoon animals, or blurbs in their school-issued spiral-bound planner. But students need a toolbox more than a platitude. So let’s break motivation down into its important implements.

Take control of your education. Depending on your age and situation, what control you can manage may vary, but there will always be something you can do. Look for choices that can be made, even as minor as which pages you do out of your math book. Make those choices with a goal in mind that is for yourself, not for the curriculum or the next big test.

Make successes for yourself. Even in a subject in which you’re struggling, you can set small tasks that are easy to handle. Do a single problem. Write a single paragraph. Find one article and cite it. Set yourself up for a pattern of small, easy victories. You’ll begin the larger tasks with that pattern as a trampoline.

Pick a big goal, but don’t reach for it yet. The yacht or the international career or the private airplane can wait, but it’s good to put it out there, on your horizon, so that every achievement in class feels like a tangible step towards it.

Reward yourself. Whether it’s for the tiny successes along the way, or another little push towards that big goal, treat yourself. Grades and test scores are measures of progress, not trophies themselves. A little extra push here can go a long way. Just don’t get so tied up in your blue ribbons that they become more goal than tool.

Finally, look for extra feedback. A letter grade and a single-sentence comment on your essay isn’t enough for you. Catch your teacher after class or during office hours, come prepared with actual questions about your work (NOT about your grade), and see how far that gets you. See how far it drives you next time.

Try a few of these, or all of them, and keep track of your progress. And of course, treat yourself to a reward as your grades inevitably begin to rise.