Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Rewiring the Way We Think About Goals

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Toronto chapter.

We have officially entered the third month of 2020, so it’s likely you’ve got your goals all written out and ready to go. However, often the very way we write our goals set us up for failure to complete them. Why is this? Often, the motivations for our goals set us up for disappointment, leading us to get discouraged at quit at those goals. In 2019, two of my biggest goals were to participate in a 10-kilometre race and a half marathon. Since March of 2019, when I made the decision to race my first 10K, I became an avid outdoor runner and HIIT class enthusiast. I can often be found at Barrys Bootcamp in Yorkville at 6am, or running through the streets of Toronto in the early mornings or after dark. Often people ask where my motivation comes from, for we all have different ways of motivating ourselves. However, there are two main types of motivations our goals fall into: intrinsic motivations and extrinsic motivations.

Intrinsic motivations are motivations based on meeting internal desires and positive feelings about yourself.

\"you got this\" on a letter board

Examples of intrinsic goals include:

  • Taking a yoga class once a week to improve your mental health and help you relax.
  • Reading one book a week to destress.
  • Getting 7 hours of sleep every night to feel less tired at work.
  • Joining a running or cycling community to meet new like-minded people


Examples of extrinsic goals include:

  • Losing weight to fit into a certain size.
  • Getting an A in a course to please your parents.
  • Practising a new sport 8 hours a week to outperform teammates.
  • Going to your professor’s office hours to get a good reference letter.


Due to the external nature of extrinsic goals, people tend to get more discouraged and quit extrinsically motivated goals. For example, let’s say your goal is to take on a keto diet to lose 21 lbs. If you fail to lose weight as fast as you expected to, you might be tempted to quit because you didn’t achieve the reward you were hoping for. Intrinsically motivated goals are more effective because they promote positive self-image and a feeling of autonomy, making it more likely that you will stick to and achieve intrinsically motivated goals.

So how do you turn your extrinsic goals into intrinsic goals?

According to psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan state there are three main aspects of intrinsic goals that your goal needs to encompass: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

summer girl hawaii yoga hiking exercise view high res version
Tessa Pesicka / Her Campus

Autonomy is the feeling of having options to achieve your desired goal. Factors that restrict options tend to decrease intrinsic motivation.

Competence is our need to achieve while building our knowledge and skills. Therefore, our goals must help us master our desired skills to achieve the goal

Relatedness is the degree to which other people share similar goals. We achieve a sense of belonging which fuels are motivation when achieving a goal. Therefore, seeking out communities and other people who are aiming for the same goals is a good way to succeed.


girl lounging relax 3
Kristen Bryant / Her Campus

Now its time to apply these principles to your own goals!

Let’s use the example of getting an A in a course as your goal. The extrinsic version of this goal would be to get an A to please parents. The intrinsic version would be to consistently study for the course to achieve a high grade. In terms of autonomy, your options for achieving this goal are attending office hours to get help with course assignments, joining a course study group once a week, and/or setting up a study schedule to ensure all your readings are done for this course weekly. This goal will build your skills through effective studying in the course, providing a sense of competence. To achieve relatedness, find other individuals in the course who are aiming for high marks (huge tip, these people can usually be found sitting in the first few rows of the lecture hall or in line waiting for office hours). Study with people who are aiming for high marks to keep yourself motivated.

The key to achieving a goal is knowing that big results don’t happen overnight. When I was aiming to achieve my 10k goal, my first training run was absolute sh*t compared to how I finished the race. However, each week I celebrated the little bits of progress I made, such as running a little faster, stopping less, and feeling less tired during the run. For your own goals, look for your little victories to keep yourself motivated! 

(Hons) BA Candidate at the University of Toronto. Olivia is a well-versed content writer having written and edited for Her Campus U Toronto for three years and now serves as the Managing Editor. Olivia is currently working as the Content Manager for Enso Connect and as a social science research contributor at U of T. In her spare time, Olivia competes and trains for long-distance road races with local run clubs in Toronto.