I learn most effectively when I have a clear goal in mind—be it having the ability to speak a foreign language or create a web application. But often it’s hard to come up with a goal that naturally boosts motivation. This happens because if we’re not already excited about the learning process, we need to look for that sense of excitement and motivation externally. And although some goals might sound plausible in theory, they turn out to be different.

If you told yourself now that your next goal would be to learn HTML and CSS, that would be a vague goal. I’m not saying that it’s a bad goal. But it’s too ambiguous to spark motivation. You can attain that goal, but when will you really know that you’ve attained it? You need to measure it somehow.

Motivation is like attraction; it’s not a choice. No matter how hard you try to summon it, it won’t come to you magically.

So instead of setting a broad goal like “learn HTML and CSS”—or even worse—“learn web design”, why not aim at getting a certificate? If your goal is to learn HTML and CSS because you want to work as a web designer in the future, you can sign up to get a certificate from an institution. Not only will it drive you to learn the skills, it will also shine in your CV.

Getting certified means that you have to work toward a realistic goal, on a deadline. In other words, you have to pass the exam that you’ve paid for and meet the deadline. Having a clear goal and a deadline lets you know exactly what you have to do. Many certificates are reasonably priced, but if you slack off and end up screwing up on the exam, you know that you’re only wasting your money. You can take advantage of the fear of losing money to guide you on your path.

Signing up for a certificate provides you with motivation, a plan, a deadline, credentials (assuming you pass the exam), and the skills. Use these qualities to your own advantage.