Chapter 2: Setting Goals

Mindset & Motivation

What determines your intelligence?

Watch the following video to learn if your intelligence can change or if it basically stays the same as you grow. After you watch the video, reflect on the implications for yourself as a college student.

Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it. – Steve Maraboli

Cartoon of human brain lifting barbell


One of the main purposes of college is to develop our minds and become more complex, flexible thinkers. Our brains can be shaped, developed, and changed throughout our entire lifespans. The extent to which we can develop our minds depends on our beliefs about how our minds work. We all set our minds to believe certain things, and our beliefs help or hinder us as we move through life. Our beliefs and our ways of thinking develop into habits of mind. Numerous psychologists have researched this topic. One of the best-known researchers in this area is Dr. Carol Dweck, who has studied these habits of mind extensively and explored the effects of fixed and growth mindsets on individuals’ learning.

When people have a fixed mindset, they generally believe they are born with a certain amount of talent and intelligence that can’t be changed or can only take them so far in life. Students with a fixed mindset might say, “I just can’t do it!” or “I’m not good at math”; “I guess college isn’t for me!” or “I’m not smart enough” because they compare themselves to others or feel that effort is futile. These students tend to focus only on results, so a low score on a test may indicate to them what they already believed: they’re not smart enough to succeed.

When you have a growth mindset, you tend to think that your intelligence can change through experience and effort, and that you can do anything you set your mind to doing. Students with a growth mindset might say, “I made a mistake, but I can learn from that and do better next time,” or “If I give myself more time and utilize resources, I can write a better essay next time.” This is because they believe that putting in effort and practice will lead to positive results and increased competence. Students with a growth mindset tend to focus on the processes of learning in each discipline, so a low paper score may indicate to them that they need to review the rubric and identify which stages of the writing process they could spend more time on to do better on the next assignment.


Which way do you think? What kind of mindset do you have? Take this assessment and find out:

Mindset Quiz


Our internal conversations matter because what we tell ourselves often becomes our reality, so if what we believe is what we become, we should strive to develop a growth mindset by reframing any negative self-talk. Consider changing your internal dialogue by adding the word yet. Yet turns negatives into positives. For example, instead of telling yourself, “I’m not good at math,” tell yourself, “I’m not good at math yet.” Tell yourself things like, “I’m not an A writer yet,” or “I can struggle and grow to get better at being a college student.”

Another form of positive self-talk is to set some intentions about what you’d like to work on over the next week, month, or throughout the semester. Some examples of setting academic intentions are below:

  • “I will go to my professor’s office hours and the Math Learning Center to get extra help to feel more confident about the math material.”
  • “I will review my notes and the reading before each class session.”
  • “I will exchange phone numbers with at least one of my fellow students in every class.”

Like intentions, affirmations can also help as you work toward success. An affirmation is a special kind of self-talk designed to help manage anxiety as you strive to develop the qualities you want to have. Here are a few examples:

  • “I can handle any situation with grace.”
  • “I deserve to have my needs met in a kind and gentle way.”
  • “I am competent, and I have something to offer.”
  • “I will develop a growth mindset by rephrasing negative self-talk into positive affirmations.”

It’s important for college students to set themselves up for success by engaging in positive self-talk. That kind of encouragement, along with effective habits of mind and a growth mindset, can go a long way towards reaching your academic and life goals.

Mindset videos

Examine and summarize one of the following videos:

Carol Dweck on Mindsets

Famous Failures

Habits of mind for student success

Review the following article in the link below about habits of mind:

16 Habits of Mind That Contribute to Student Success:

What habits have you used in your courses so far this semester? What habits do you think you’ll need to use the most in this class? your other classes? throughout your academic career? on the job?

Motivation and Persistence

Studies of high-achieving students reveal they find motivation by believing they can attain the goals they have set for themselves. Successful people keep their goals in their sights, tell themselves they can reach them, and engage in consistent actions that move them closer to the achievement of those objectives. To maintain their initial motivation along the way, many successful people set up a personal reward for completing a specific action or even a penalty for not doing what they said they’d do when they said they’d do it. Websites, such as Healthy Wage, enable users to make a public weight loss goal and pay/earn money or services when they achieve it or not. This commitment strategy can be applied to other areas of life, especially academics. For some people, this form of public pronouncement makes them feel more accountable to take the actions that will lead to reaching their goal.

Whether or not a reward or penalty is involved, positive self-beliefs join together with strategic, concrete behaviors to produce the motivation and persistence necessary to succeed in college and in life.

Never underestimate the power of small improvements in systems and habits.

What is Motivation?

Motivation is the desire to do things or get something accomplished. Other words for motivation include incentive, inspiration, drive, enthusiasm, stimulus, and provocation. Motivation can be described as the goal, purpose, or reason that drives you to take action, and those motivations can be either intrinsic or extrinsic.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from within and happens when we take pleasure in doing something or see the value of doing it. Intrinsic motivators include learning about a subject you are really interested in, uncovering the relevance of what you are learning to your own life, enjoying a sense of mastering a subject or feeling called to do the work. Students who are intrinsically motivated might say things like, “I am enjoying the reading in my sociology class,” and “My English class helps me organize my thoughts.” Intrinsic motivation is self-sustaining. Making connections between what you value, your goals, and your daily work can help develop your intrinsic motivations.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation involves the desire to do something, not because of the act itself, but because completing the activity will lead to something else. Extrinsic motivators include living up to parental figure’s expectations, getting grades for a scholarship, or the earning potential of a certificate or degree. Students who are extrinsically motivated might say, “I need to keep my average a B, so I can keep my scholarship,” or “Our instructor will buy pizza if we all complete our presentations today.” Extrinsic motivators can have a negative impact on intrinsic motivators because if you are rewarded for completing a task, your motivation can disappear once the reward disappears.

How motivated are you?

Locus of Control

Locus of control refers to how we view the factors that contribute to our failures or our successes. As with motivation, the locus of control can be inward and outward. Someone with an internal locus of control attributes their success and failure to their skills and abilities, whereas someone with an outward locus of control attributes their success or failure to luck or fate. If a student has an external locus of control, they may not be as motivated to learn or they may feel anxious because they don’t connect how their actions result in certain outcomes. In contrast, a person with an internal locus of control tends to bounce back and be more resilient because they believe their life is in their hands.

Students who have an external focus of control tend to blame teachers, parents, friends, or anyone else when things go wrong. They will blame the situation and say that life just doesn’t work out for them. The trouble is when we spend our time focused on blaming others, we aren’t spending energy on fixing the problem and taking action toward success. When we are honest with ourselves about what we did or did not do that led to the circumstances we are in, then we can take control and set goals that will move us forward.

Students can develop an internal locus of control by taking personal responsibility for their thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and actions.

What do you control?

It’s often been said that the only thing we can control is our own attitudes and behaviors. Can you think of examples where that’s true? Can you think of any time when that’s not true? Would you agree or disagree with the following statements?

  • It’s your choice how you respond to others.
  • It’s your choice how you feel.
  • It’s your choice how you react.
  • It’s your choice how you think.
  • It’s your choice what your next step will be.
  • No one is responsible for how you feel except you.

The video below focuses on the importance of taking small actions every single day that eventually lead to success and how those steps can’t be taken by anyone but you.

Positive self-talk to maintain motivation

The way we speak to ourselves and others can have a huge impact on many aspects of our lives, including self-esteem and motivation. Revise the following statements to be more positive and reflect who is in control.

Original Statement Revised Statement
I hate math.
I’m not college material.
That test was poorly written.
The material was boring.
If people here were nicer, I’d have more friends.
I’ll never be able to understand that.
I have to do my homework.
I’m not talented enough to be a good writer.


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