Motivational Strategies

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify motivational strategies to support goal achievement

Setting goals can be challenging, and staying motivated to achieve those goals can be even harder. Every day we have to make choices about what we spend our time doing. Our time and energy are precious resources and there is often not enough of it to go around when we consider all the different things that are vying for our attention. In school, you’re likely to have more responsibilities than you reasonably have time for. This intense demand on your time and energy can make it challenging to stay motivated to achieve your goals. Here are some strategies you can use to keep yourself on course.

A students desk with a laptop open and a motivational sign that reads "You got this"

1. Set Goals That Motivate You

If your goal is not something you are really interested in, you’ll likely have little motivational drive to achieve it. Think back to when you were much younger and some well-meaning adult set a goal for you—something that didn’t really appeal to you at all. How motivated were you to achieve the goal? More than likely, if you were successful at all in meeting the goal, it was because you were motivated by earning the approval of someone or receiving a possible reward, or you were concerned with avoiding something adverse that might happen if you did not do what you were told. When we’re motivated to achieve something because of an outside factor (for instance, the approval of a parent), that’s called extrinsic motivation. When we’re motivated to do something because we want to or because we enjoy it, that’s called intrinsic motivation. To get the most from the goals you set, you should try to make sure they are things that you are interested in achieving. If you’re truly interested in achieving the goal for yourself, you’ll be motivated intrinsically and are more likely to stick to your goal even without extrinsic motivators like a reward or approval from others.

2. Align Your Goals with Your Values

Another way to leverage intrinsic motivation is to align your goals with your personal values. Do you know what your personal values are? Do you value achievement in school? Then you probably are very intrinsically motivated to study to get the grades that you want. Do you value friendship? You will probably be intrinsically motivated to spend time with your friends, or even join student groups and be part of the campus community. Perhaps you value altruism and find yourself pulled towards volunteering on the weekends. Everyone’s values are different. If you can identify what yours are and find a way to align your goals with your values, you might be surprised how easy it is to stick with your goals over the long term. This ease occurs because when you remind yourself of the connection of your personal values with your goals, you will feel motivation from within to keep working to achieve them. Check out Brene Brown’s list of personal values and pick out a few that you identify with. How do those values relate to your current goals?

3. Reward Yourself

Maybe you’re working towards a goal for which you have no internal motivation, but that still needs to be done all the same. For example, let’s say that you have to take an introductory science course as part of your degree requirements, but you have no interest in the topic and you don’t find it interesting. The fact still remains that you need to take the course and pass it. Try setting goals for yourself within the course and remember to reward yourself when you achieve those goals. For example, if you set a goal to achieve a B or higher on the midterm exam, give yourself the extra push by saying that you’ll reward yourself by going out to the movies on the weekend or whatever else you might find enjoyable. This reward system can help you push through tasks that you have a hard time internally motivating yourself for.

Try It

4. Reflect on Your Accomplishments

When you’re facing test after test and assignment after assignment in school, you can start to feel like there is no end in sight. You may even start to doubt your abilities and start to feel tired. Is any of this even worth it? This is where it’s helpful to remember your past accomplishments. Write down the things that you’ve done in the past that you’re proud of and how it made you feel when you accomplished those things. You can return to this list later to add to it or to review it when you need a little inspiration and a reminder that you’ve done difficult things in the past and you’re completely capable of achieving your goals now and in the future!

5. Remember to Rest

Another reason why we may feel unmotivated to achieve our goals is because we are burned out and we need a break. This is perfectly normal. If you’re feeling this way, make time for yourself to rest. It’s actually incredibly important that you take time to rest, especially with all the new things you’re doing and learning. It can be hard to find time in your schedule, but if you’re strapped for time, try setting an alarm for 30 minutes or 60 minutes during which you will only do restful activities. It can also help to set aside at least one day of the week on which you do not do anything related to school. It may seem impossible to take that much time away from your responsibilities, and only you can know how much time you actually have in your calendar, but just remember that if you’re having trouble focusing or working productively, some rest can really go a long way to getting you back into a productive mindset and on your way to achieving your goals.

6. Treat Failure as a Chance to Learn

You are probably not going to achieve every goal you set out for yourself, at least not on the first try. Don’t let these “failures” bring you down. It’s completely normal to fail, and when things don’t go the way we planned them to, it can actually be a great learning experience. When you fail, take a moment to think about what went wrong. Did you underestimate the amount of time it would take to complete your goal? Did you have too many commitments to reasonably tend to them all? Did something unexpected happen? Once you understand what went wrong, ask yourself if there’s anything you can do in the future to help correct this failure. If you can, try to make a different choice next time. You can learn a lot from facing difficulties. Remember that tomorrow is a new day and you can still work towards your goals.

Responding to change

Haroon F. Mirza is the director of business development at Intel Corp. Mirza talks about defining moments, how life is all about choices, and how we can create defining moments that can change the trajectory of our lives.

Pay close attention to where he discusses adversity or hardships. He tells a story about a mother and daughter in a kitchen together in order to teach listeners about how we respond to change.

As you listen to this video, write down a few notes where he goes into detail about how we respond to hardships:

You can view the transcript for “TEDxYouth@Toronto 2011 – Haroon Mirza- The Power of One Moment” here (opens in new window).


intrinsic motivation: the impetus to achieve our goals that comes from our sense of enjoyment and a genuine interest in the work