Chapter 2: Goals and Motivations


If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

–Henry David Thoreau

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how time management plays a factor in goal setting, leading to short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives.
  • Identify your specific short, medium, and long-term goals.
  • Identify and apply motivational strategies to support goal achievement.
  • Explore the social aspects of achieving goals (networking, social media, etc.).
  • Brainstorm factors that might hinder goal achievement and possible ways to address these issues.

Time Management and Goal Setting

There is no doubt that doing well in college is a sizable challenge. Every semester you have to adjust to new class schedules, instructors, classmates as well as learning objectives and requirements for each course. Along with that, you may be juggling school with work, family responsibilities, and social events. Do you feel confident that you can attend to all of them in a balanced, committed way? What will be your secret of success?

Success Begins with Goals

A goal is a desired result that you envision and then plan and commit to achieve. Goals can relate to family, education, career, wellness, spirituality, and many other areas of your life. Generally, goals are associated with finite time expectations, even deadlines.

As a college student, many of your goals are defined for you. For example, you must take certain courses, you must comply with certain terms and schedules, and you must turn in assignments at specified times. These goals are mostly set for you by someone else.

But there are plenty of goals for you to define yourself. For example, you decide what you would like to major in. You decide how long you are going to be in college or what terms you want to enroll in. You largely plan how you would like your studies to relate to employment and your career.

Goals can also be sidetracked. Consider the following scenario in which a student makes a discovery that challenges her to reexamine her goals, priorities, and timetables:

Janine had thought she would be an accountant, even though she knew little about what an accounting job might entail. Her math and organizational skills were strong, and she enjoyed taking economics courses as well as other courses in her accounting program. But when one of her courses required her to spend time in an accounting office working with taxes, she decided that accounting was not the right fit for her, due to the higher-stress environment and the late hours.

At first she was concerned that she invested time and money in a career path that was not a good fit. She feared that changing her major would add to her graduation time. Nevertheless, she did decide to change her major and her career focus.

Janine is now a statistician with a regional healthcare system. She is very happy with her work. Changing her major from accounting to statistics was the right decision for her.

This scenario represents some of the many opportunities we have, on an ongoing basis, to assess our relationship to our goals, reevaluate priorities, and adjust. Opportunities exist every day—every moment, really!

Below is a set of questions we can ask ourselves at any turn to help focus on personal goals:

  1. What are my top-priority goals?
  2. Which of my skills and interests make my goals realistic for me?
  3. What makes my goals believable and possible?
  4. Are my goals measurable? How long will it take me to reach them? How will I know if I have achieved them?
  5. Are my goals flexible? What will I do if I experience a setback?
  6. Are my goal controllable? Can I achieve them on my own?
  7. Are my goals in sync with my values?

As you move through your college career, make a point to ask these questions regularly.

Aids to Successful Goal Setting

Watch the following overview of SMART goals - a memory aid in setting and evaluating goals to ensure that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound. After watching the video, complete Activity 2.1.

Activity 2.1: Identifying Your Goals

In order to achieve long-term goals (from college on), you will need to first achieve a series of shorter goals. Medium-term goals (this year and while in college) and short-term goals (today, this week, and this month) may take several days, weeks, months, or even a few years to complete, depending on your ultimate long-term goals. Complete the following Goals Activity to identify short and medium-term goals that will help you achieve your long-term goal.


  1. Identify 1 long-term academic or career goal.
  2. Identify two related medium-term and two related short-term goals that will help you achieve your long-term goal.
  3. Identify specific, measurable, achievable, relevant activities to achieve your identified goals by a certain timeframe.


  • Review the worksheet below, and fill in the blank sections to the best of your ability.


  • Phrase goals as positive statements: Affirm your excitement and enthusiasm about attaining a goal by using positive language and expectations.
  • Be exact: Set a precise goal that includes dates, times, and amounts, so that you have a basis for measuring your progress.
  • Prioritize: Select your top goals, and put them in order of importance. This helps you understand the degree to which you value each of them. It will also help you better manage related tasks and not feel overwhelmed.
  • Take the lead: Identify goals that are linked to your own performance, not dependent on the actions of other people or situations beyond your control.
  • Be realistic but optimistic and ambitious: The goals you set should be achievable, but sometimes it pays to reach a little higher than what you may think is possible. Certainly don’t set your goals too low.
  • Be hopeful, excited, and committed: Your enthusiasm and perseverance can open many doors! 

Example: Long-term goal I plan to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. My major will be Radio-Television-Film, and my minor will be Spanish I am attending the college of my choice and getting good grades in my major.
Example: Related medium-term goal I would like to study abroad in Spain before I graduate. I need to get busy with this!  I will inquire this week about what I need to do next.

Related short-term goal
I will need to get financial aid for at least a portion of my studies. I have filled out the forms for financial aid. Last week I applied for a part-time job.
Identify your

Long-term goal
 Identify a related

medium-term goal #1
 Identify a related

medium-term goal #2
 Identify a related

short-term goal #1
 Identify a related

short-term goal #2

Motivational Strategies to Support You

Every day we make choices. Some are as simple as what clothes we decide to wear, what to eat for lunch, or how long to study for a test. But what about life-altering choices—the ones that leave us at a crossroads? How much thought do you give to taking Path A versus Path B? Do you like to plan and schedule your choices, by making a list of pros and cons, for instance? Or do you prefer to make decisions spontaneously and just play the cards that life deals you as they come?

The videos that follow are about choices for success. The first video introduces you to "growth mindset" by Carol Dweck and the second video discusses "grit" quality by Angela Duckworth. Watch them with a keen eye and ear. Take notes, too. You might pick up some good ideas for strategies that can help you reach your goals.

The power of "yet" by Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck is a professor at Stanford and the author of Mindset, a classic work on motivation and "growth mindset." Her work is influential among educators and increasingly among business leaders as well. She researches “growth mindset” — the idea that we can grow our brain's capacity to learn and to solve problems. In this talk, she describes two ways to think about a problem that’s slightly too hard for you to solve. Are you not smart enough to solve it … or have you just not solved it yet?

Passion and Perseverance or "Grit" by Angela Duckworth

Leaving a high-flying job in consulting, Angela Lee Duckworth took a job teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ wasn't the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled. Here, she explains her theory of "grit" as a predictor of success. After watching the videos, reflect on how you can improve the ways you currently set goals to allow you the opportunity to apply "grit" and use your "growth mindset" in order to successfully accomplish your goals.

Social Aspects of Achieving Your Goals

Setting goals can be a challenge, but working toward them, once you’ve set them, can be an even greater challenge—often because it implies that you will be making changes in your life. You might be creating new directions of thought or establishing new patterns of behavior, discarding old habits or starting new ones. Change will always be the essence of achieving your goals.

You may find that as you navigate this path of change, one of your best resources is your social network. Your family, friends, roommates, coworkers, and others can help you maintain a steady focus on your goals. They can encourage and cheer you on, offer guidance when needed, share knowledge and wisdom they’ve gained, and possibly partner with you in working toward shared goals and ambitions. Your social network is a gold mine of support.

Here are some easy ways you can tap into goal-supporting “people power”:

  • Make new friends
  • Study with friends
  • Actively engage with the college community
  • Volunteer to help others
  • Join student organizations
  • Get an internship
  • Work for a company related to your curriculum
  • Stay connected via social media (but use it judiciously)*
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Congratulate yourself on all you’ve done to get where you are

*A note about social media: More than 98 percent of college-age students use social media, says Experian Simmons. Twenty-seven percent of those students spent more than six hours a week on social media (UCLA, 2014). The University of Missouri, though, indicates in a 2015 study that this level of use may be problematic. It can lead to symptoms of envy, anxiety, and depression. Still, disconnecting from social media may have a negative impact, too, and further affect a student’s anxiety level.

Is there a healthy balance? If you feel overly attached to social media, you may find immediate and tangible benefit in cutting back. By tapering your use, your can devote more time to achieving your goals. You can also gain a sense of freedom and more excitement about working toward your goals.

Dealing with Setbacks and Obstacles

At times, unexpected events and challenges can get in the way of best-laid plans. For example, you might get sick or injured or need to deal with a family issue or a financial crisis. Earlier in this section we considered a scenario in which a student realized she needed to change her major and her career plans. Such upsets, whether minor or major, may trigger a need to take some time off from school—perhaps a term or a year. Your priorities may shift. You may need to reevaluate your goals.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Below is a simple list of four problem-solving strategies. They can be applied to any aspect of your life.

  1. What is the problem? Define it in detail. How is it affecting me and other people?
  2. How are other people dealing with this problem? Are they adjusting their time management skills? Can they still complete responsibilities, and on time?
  3. What is my range of possible solutions? Are solutions realistic? How might these solutions help me reach my goal/s?
  4. What do I need to do to implement solutions?

You may wish to also review the earlier set of questions about focusing with intention on goals.

Be confident that you can return to your intended path in time. Acknowledge the ways in which you need to regroup. Read inspiring words from people who have faced adversity and gained. Line up your resources, be resolved, and proceed with certainty toward your goals.

Key Takeaways

Success with goals (any goals—education, family, career, finances, etc.) is essentially a three-part process:

  1. Identify your goals (specifically long-term, medium-term and short-term goals).
  2. Set priorities to accomplish these goals.
  3. Manage your time according to the priorities you have set.

By following these three straightforward steps, you can more readily achieve goals because you clearly organize the process and follow through with commitment. Focus your sights on what you want to acquire, attain, or achieve. Prioritize the steps you need to take to get there. And organize your tasks into manageable chunks and blocks of time. These are the roadways to accomplishment and fulfillment.


In the following passage from Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom, former political-science student Patricia Munsch—now a college counselor—reflects on how a structured, conscientious approach to decision-making and goal setting in college can lead to fulfillment and achievement.

What Do You Enjoy Studying?

There is a tremendous amount of stress placed on college students regarding their choice of major. Everyday, I meet with students regarding their concern about choosing right major; the path that will lead to a fantastic, high-paying position in a growth industry. There is a hope that one decision, your college major, will have a huge impact on the rest of your life.

Students shy away from subject areas they enjoy due to fear that such coursework will not lead to a job. I am disappointed in this approach. As a counselor I always ask—what do you enjoy studying? Based on this answer it is generally easy to choose a major or a family of majors. I recognize the incredible pressure to secure employment after graduation, but forcing yourself to choose a major that you may not have any actual interest in because a book or website mentioned the area of growth may not lead to the happiness you predict.

Working in a college setting I have the opportunity to work with students through all walks of life, and I do believe based on my experience, that choosing a major because it is listed as a growth area alone is not a good idea. Use your time in college to explore all areas of interest and utilize your campus resources to help you make connections between your joy in a subject matter and the potential career paths. Realize that for most people, in most careers, the undergraduate major does not lead to a linear career path.

As an undergraduate student I majored in Political Science, an area that I had an interest in, but I added minors in Sociology and Women’s Studies as my educational pursuits broadened. Today, as a counselor, I look back on my coursework with happy memories of exploring new ideas, critically analyzing my own assumptions, and developing an appreciation of social and behavioral sciences. So to impart my wisdom in regards to a student’s college major, I will always ask, what do you enjoy studying?

Once you have determined what you enjoy studying, the real work begins. Students need to seek out academic advisement. Academic advisement means many different things; it can include course selection, course completion for graduation, mapping coursework to graduation, developing opportunities within your major and mentorship.

As a student I utilized a faculty member in my department for semester course selection, and I also went to the department chairperson to organize two different internships to explore different career paths. In addition, I sought mentorship from club advisors as I questioned my career path and future goals. In my mind I had a team of people providing me support and guidance, and as a result I had a great college experience and an easy transition from school to work.

I recommend to all students that I meet with to create their own team. As a counselor I can certainly be a part of their team, but I should not be the only resource. Connect with faculty in your department or in your favorite subject. Seek out internships as you think about the transition from college to workplace. Find mentors through faculty, club advisors, or college staff. We all want to see you succeed and are happy to be a part of your journey.

As a counselor I am always shocked when students do not understand what courses they need to take, what grade point average they need to maintain, and what requirements they must fulfill in order to reach their goal—graduation! Understand that as a college student it is your responsibility to read your college catalog and meet all of the requirements for graduation from your college. I always suggest that students, starting in their first semester, outline or map out all of the courses they need to take in order to graduate. Of course you may change your mind along the way, but by setting out your plan to graduation you are forcing yourself to learn what is required of you.

I do this exercise in my classes and it is by far the most frustrating for students. They want to live in the now and they don’t want to worry about next semester or next year. However, for many students that I see, the consequence of this decision is a second semester senior year filled with courses that the student avoided during all the previous semesters. If you purposefully outline each semester and the coursework for each, you can balance your schedule, understand your curriculum and feel confident that you will reach your goal.

—Dr. Patricia Munsch, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom


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