If you’re like most students, you will face big challenges every day, from studying for exams and making time for work and college to facing money troubles and taking care of family members. At some point in your college career, things will go wrong no matter how much you plan ahead and how hard you work. When you’re facing such challenges, how you think and especially how you feel have a huge effect on your ability to keep going.

What if you have a work shift this afternoon, and a test tomorrow, and you haven’t studied enough? What if your car breaks down on the way to pick up your kids and you have a paper due tomorrow? In these tough moments, how you think and feel will make all the difference. If you feel powerless and overwhelmed, you’re more likely to give upto skip studying, miss a shift at work, or may even leave your kids stranded! But if you believe you can overcome these challenges, you’ll feel energized to keep going and figure out solutions.

The good news is that everyone faces tough moments like these and that you can learn the skills you need to handle them. And remember, you’re not alone. Although your classmates might not admit it, many of them share your challenges and fears. In this section, we’ll go over habits of mind, and we will give you strategies that will help you achieve your goals. These include staying motivated, keeping a good attitude, and developing a growth mindset, all of which we’ll explain below.


Among the most important factors that will help you to achieve college success is your motivationyour desire to make an effort. Motivation involves having a high level of commitment and energy that you will focus on a goal. When you are motivated, you are determined to follow a course of action. You keep making an effort, and when you hit obstacles, you make adjustments to work around them, or you deal with them head on. Sometimes being motivated involves pledging to yourself and to others to do your best to reach your goal.

Components of Motivation Think about how the words used in the word cloud relate to motivation.
Rob Wilson/Shutterstock.com

Different people are motivated in different ways. You might need a better car and a bigger apartment or want to work in a career field that truly interests you. You might want to build a better life for yourself and your family so you need to earn a college degree to earn more income. Perhaps you can no longer meet the physical demands of your construction job, and you need to earn a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for a management position. Or perhaps you’ve enjoyed working as a physical therapy assistant and have decided to go to nursing school because you are truly committed to helping others and are ready for more responsibility. Whatever your motivation for attending college, you need to stay mindful of the goals you want to achieve, particularly when you face challenges on your path.


In general, there are two kinds of motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from a desire inside yourself to make something happen, and the internal reward is the feeling you get inside when you achieve itlike the nursing student we just mentioned who wants to help others. Extrinsic motivation comes from the hope of an external reward or the fear of an undesirable outcome or a punishmentlike the student training for a management position fearing that his days doing manual labor are coming to a close. In real life, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation work together. As the construction management student spends more time in classes, he enjoys getting to know his instructors and finds he has a lot in common with them. He feels less nervous about becoming a boss and no longer being “one of the guys.” This excitement becomes the intrinsic motivation that will help him keep going over the long haul. The future nurse will not only be helping patients, but as she comes to appreciate the good salary she will earn, this hope of external reward becomes part of her motivation for becoming a nurse.



Think about the goalsacademic, personal, professionalthat you are working toward now. Using the table below, select one goal in each category and write it down. What is motivating you to work toward each goal? Name one or more factors, and circle whether each is an intrinsic or extrinsic factor. You can expand on this exercise in a journal entry or in a group discussion.

My Goal My Motivation Extrinsic or Intrinsic?
Academic goal: What motivates me to achieve this goal is _______________. Is my motivation extrinsic or intrinsic?
Personal goal: What motivates me to achieve this goal is _______________. Is my motivation extrinsic or intrinsic?
Career goal: What motivates me to achieve this goal is _______________. Is my motivation extrinsic or intrinsic?



Attitude is the way you are thinking and feeling in relation to the events around you. Attitude has a lot to do with how well you can stay motivated, whether it’s being motivated to land a better paying job, to do well in your college courses, or to get to the gym or the grocery store. Attitude is an important part of staying motivated because your attitude shapes your behavior. For instance, if you have a bad attitude about math because you’ve had trouble in math in the past, you will be likely to give up on your math courses before you even give yourself a chance to do well.

Whether positive or negative, attitudes often come from our previous environments and experiences with others. Have you ever wondered whether you were “college material”? Has anyone, a family member or teacher, ever told you that you aren’t? How has a comment like this affected your attitude about starting college? Or maybe a friend or family member has told you how proud they are that you are in college, and this has made you feel determined to work hard.

A good starting place to developing a more positive attitude is to think honestly about the attitude you’re likely to have in certain situations. How would you handle stressful or surprising situations such as these?

Situation Describe your attitude: How would you react?
You ask for time off from work to study for a final exam, and your boss refuses your request.
Your financial aid check doesn’t arrive in time for you to purchase your books.
Your babysitter doesn’t show up before you need to leave for class.
You lose a major paper or report because your computer crashes.
You need to finish a paper the evening before the due date, and your child gets sick.
As a non-native English speaker, you’re struggling in many of your classes.
Your commute to campus is taking twice as long due to major construction.
You fail a pop quiz that caught you entirely by surprise.
You lose your psychology notebook, and the final exam is next week.
A group project isn’t going well because other members of the group aren’t doing their share of the work.


Any of these things can and do happen to students just like you. Most college students have many responsibilities, which can make it hard to maintain a good attitude and stay motivated. When you face these kinds of frustrations, do you get really stressed or mad? Do you expect the worst? Do you stay relaxed, do your best, and keep going?

If you’ve been told by people who know you well that you’re negative or pessimistic or you realize that you always expect the worst, maybe it actually is time for an attitude adjustment:


Another way to look at motivation is to examine what are called “mindsets.” Mindsets refer to what you believe about yourself and about your most basic qualities such as your personality, intelligence, or talents. If you have a fixed mindset, you are likely to believe that your characteristics and abilitieseither positive or negativeare not going to change through any adjustments to your behavior or effort. A growth mindset, however, means that you are willing to try new approaches and that you believe that you can change.1

People with a fixed mindset are often trying to prove themselves, and they’re very sensitive about being wrong or making mistakes. They also think that having to make an effort means they are not smart or talented. Many new college students are “fixed” in their beliefs about themselves and their abilities. People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can be improvedthat there is no harm in being wrong or making a mistake. They think that the effort they make is what makes them smart or talented. Some of us have a different mindset for different tasks. For instance, you may find that you have a fixed mindset for your athletic abilities but a growth mindset for music.

Consider Amber, a second-year college student. Amber was her high school’s valedictorian, and before college she had never earned a grade lower than an A minus. Her high school was pretty small and lacked some advanced courses, but Amber assumed that she was prepared for college. During her first college year, however, Amber earned Bs, Cs, and even a D in college algebra. The extrinsic motivation that had come from good grades was long gone, which turned her fixed-mindset world upside down. For several months, Amber was disinterested in almost everything; she completely lost her motivation to study and learn when earning an A had seemingly become impossible.


Slowly, though, Amber turned things around. She began watching how others studied and interacted with instructors. Not all the examples were good ones. Some students would brag about skipping class and staying up all night to study instead of managing their time better. But others had a deliberate plan that included taking really good notes, studying every day, trying to sit close to the front of the classroom, and talking with instructors after class. Amber started adopting these behaviors. Little by little, she practiced new study strategies, began to accept criticism without falling apart, and gained an understanding that sometimes she could learn more from her mistakes than from her successes. It took Amber about a year to regain her positive attitude and a willingness to do her best, no matter what the outcome. She stills likes to see an A at the top of a paper, but she has realized that she is motivated intrinsically more by what she learns than by what grade she earns.

How would you describe how Amber’s mindset changed? How would you describe your own? What can you learn about your mindset by walking through the exercise in Table 2.1?

For each pair of statements, select the one that sounds more like you.

a. You believe that your efforts won’t change your grades.

b. You believe that with effort you can improve your grades.

a. You believe that a good grade means you have learned everything you need to know.

b. You believe that you can always learn more, even if you have received an A.

a. You tend to blame the world around you when things go wrong.

b. You try to solve the problems when things go wrong.

a. You are often afraid to try new things because you fear you will fail.

b. You believe that failure is an opportunity to learn more.

a. You believe that some jobs are for “women only” or for “men only.”

b. You are open to exploring all job opportunities.

a. You believe that leaders are born, not made.

b. You believe that leadership can be developed.

a. You tend to believe negative things that others say about you.

b. You don’t allow others to define who you are.

If you selected mostly “a” statements, you likely have a fixed mindset; if you selected mostly “b” statements, you have a growth mindset. As mentioned above, your mindset can change depending on the task. Which tasks do you approach with more of a growth mindset? Which tasks do you approach with more of a fixed mindset? Remember that a mindset that is fixed today might not be fixed tomorrowwith some motivation you can challenge yourself, take some risks, and develop a positive attitude about your ability to grow and change.

Table 2.3: Table 2.1 > Mindsets: Which Sounds More like You?


Embrace Change “The same old thinking yields the same old results.” “Stay positive.” “Attitude is everything.” We’ve heard sayings like these before. As you’re reading this section, you might agree that these sayings ring true.

Whether you’re in your college classes, your job setting, or your home, your mindsetsimilar to your attitudecan influence how you think about yourself and others, your opportunities, and your relationships. A fixed mindset will cause you to limit the things you do, the people you meet, and even the classes you take in college. A growth mindset will help you be more willing to explore classes and activities out of your comfort zone. It will help you stay motivated because you will see disappointments or failures as opportunities to learn.