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“Motivation” refers to all the drives and impulses (motives) that cause us to become active and engage in goal-directed behavior. It’s what propels us take concrete steps in the desired direction.

What is motivating can be very different from person to person. We can say that motivation is generated if the current state (status quo) differs from the desired state (goal).
If the goal or result is imposed from outside, we speak of extrinsic motivation. If the motivation results from someone’s personal values and feelings, in contrast, we speak of intrinsic motivation.
So what is needed to motivate us to take concrete steps towards reaching our goals? On the one hand, we need specific plans and intentions. On the other hand, our goals must also havean emotional value for us. These two factors must play together for us to be motivated and move towards our vision.
If we don’t move forward, it’s probably because one of these two crucial factors is not as strong as it should be or has been neglected.

Staying motivated to stay sharp – but how?!

To be motivated, we have to focus on specific goals, deadlines, and plans but also on the emotional value of our goals.
In other words, you need to feel a tingle of joy or excitement when you think about reaching your goal. What would it feel like to pass that exam? What would it feel like to go travelling after completing your bachelor’s, before starting your first job?
Visions (“motto goals”) are essential for staying active in pursuing our goals. They describe an inner state that enables us to tackle the work that is needed to move forward.
At the same time, it is also necessary to take specific steps to get closer to what it is we want to achieve. That’s where the management theory concept of S.M.A.R.T. objectives or management by objectives comes in. These objectives for stepwise progress towards an overarching goal should be formulated in concrete terms, measurable, and bound to a specific time frame.

What this means in practice:
  • Keep a clear focus on your dreams and visions. They are what makes all the work, time, and energy you’re spending on your studies worthwhile.

  • Draw up plans on a regular basis. What do you need to get done next? Which milestones can you use to measure your success? What time frame are you aiming for?

  • Many roads lead to Rome – Be ready to evaluate and adjust your approach if necessary to make sure you achieve your goals. Especially in changing situations (new tasks, moving to a new home, family issues, dealing with the COVID-19 crisis), make “if-then” plans. Carefully planning your actions in small steps allows you to remain flexible in how you can reach your goals.

The Student Counselling team has put together a worksheet to help you reflect upon and develop this input with a view to your own personal goals. 


Storch, Maja: Motto-Ziele, S.M.A.R.T.-Ziele und Motivation. In: Birgmeier, Bernd (Ed.) Coachingwissen. Denn sie wissen nicht, was sie tun? VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften/ GWV Feuerverlage GmbH, Wiesbaden, 2009: pp. 183–205

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Time Management