Para Saan at Kanino: How to set goals that make us move
As exhausted from the blinking as the line in my empty MS Word document, it was a cold weekend afternoon when I found myself glum and cloaked, holding a warm cup of coffee ever-so-tightly for the comfort of its warmth — it was the closest resemblance I could have to a much needed embrace.
For days, I had been setting myself up to write; performing rituals of applying my favorite font in size 11, tight spacing, justified and playing work-mood music time and time again. After a while, I had finally accepted the bitter truth… Going through weeks of education’s new normal has caused my productivity to plummet and I was swimming in waves of burnout. I had grown sick of the sight of my screen, felt imprisoned at my desk, and felt engulfed by my inability to concentrate in the motion of distorted work-life schedules.
THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF STUDENT THAT I WAS, WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Identical scenarios to mine have appeared in national surveys done in the United States concerning the sentiments of sampled undergraduate students about the learning transition. Majority of students think that the pandemic has negatively impacted their learning environment with fewer opportunities to collaborate with others, an elusive stimulus to do homework, and a decrease in course content interest (Fay et al. 2020, Digital Promise, 2020).
To my curiosity, I ran my own survey with fellow PUP Students as the respondents to gain local perspectives using a 5-section questionnaire. Due to the set limitations at the time of writing, I was only able to gather 217 responses from an assortment of college departments. More than half of the respondents were in their junior year (59.4%), followed by sophomores (27.2%), and freshmen (12.9%) who were mostly assigned to an online learning style (81.6%).
From what I observed during the enrollment period, most of the students I knew struggled with the dilemma of resuming their studies during the pandemic or not. Hence, I kicked off the survey with 10 questions determining the participants’ reasons (or the lack thereof) for continuing to undertake their chosen course.
The graph illustrated that 72.8% were “motivated to achieve well for future career prospects,” while 71.9% strongly agreed that they were motivated to “graduate on time.” Also, 65.4% of the respondents strongly agreed that they were “interested in learning from their assigned courses,” followed by 53% who found that they had the motivation to pursue studies if they, “continued for family or other external responsibilities.” Overall, it can be deduced that students who prioritized academic tasks for, “the genuine pleasure to succeed in academics,” at home, were sparse.
The succeeding section assessed their ability to perform in the new normal where the majority strongly agreed to the struggles presented. It was found that 77.4% “find it harder to learn with the absence of face-to-face collaboration with peers,” while 75.6% observed that it was, “harder to concentrate on their tasks,” and that 71.4% had their “work-life schedules distorted in the new normal.”
An evaluation of their overall satisfaction found that the majority of enrollees this academic year were only somewhat satisfied at 68.7% with regards to the quality of course content amid the pandemic. This was also followed by 61.3% being somewhat satisfied with the quality of online instruction given by professors and 54.3% with their learning fulfillment overall.
Lastly, I provided an opportunity to let students freely narrate their individual experiences. I asked if they had any sentiments to share about distanced learning or if they wanted to voice out any demands for improvement. The responses I received positioned me in a rollercoaster ride of emotions with gears made of melancholic and inspiring narratives.
“Just enjoying the time with the family so I can take care on my Grandmother since I lost my Lolo this July, even though it’s hard to lose someone special, specially my Lolo is my Idol, I look up to him since I was a child, and I want to thank him for all the help he gave me, I will finish my study no matter what.” — Respondent #102
“Isang buwan pa lang ng klase pero ilang beses na akong nagbreakdown…Pakiramdam ko para akong isang deck of cards. Ang hirap buoin pero sa isang pitik lang, napakadaling masira. Buti na lang yung mga kaibigan ko walang sawang pinapaalala sa akin na kaya ko lahat, kahit sa totoo lang nahihirapan na ako. Lalo na kapag nagsesermon na mama ko. Pero wala, para sa future, kailangang magtiis, kailangang magsurvive. Hanggat may isang taong naniniwala sa’yo na kaya mo, magpatuloy lang.” — Respondent #12
Tons of stories about breakdowns caused by feelings of inadequacy, particularly from comparing their performance before and during the pandemic, were uttered. Similar stories were about experiencing pressure and suffocation provoked by at-home situations, while others conveyed their newfound appreciation for face-to-face interactions that they claimed made their academic lives lighter.
Some vented their condemnation of online learning such as being given too many activities with premature deadlines, lack of communication with professors, not fully understanding the modules, and inconveniences in group activities. While a great deal of correspondence students communicated their anxieties about feeling left behind in classes, as well as the uncertainty of their modules’ arrival.
“Since quarantine started, I have doubted myself more — in terms of my capabilities, my passion and dream, what I really want, and who am I becoming. Some people found themselves during the pandemic, while I became lost — more than I was before.” — Respondent #146
“At this point, it’s becoming harder and harder learning and studying almost all by yourself. Today I had a sudden breakdown because I found myself having a hard time comprehending fully and finishing one assignment in a major class for three days already and it freaked me out. I panicked and cried…Nothing beats traditional learning.” — Respondent #205
Alone, I felt powerless to admit that a lot had massively changed alongside my performance. However, these collective sketches of students’ daily lives in the pandemic brought consciousness that my experience is ubiquitous and profoundly human. Most of us have continuously presented ourselves well during meetings and activities, but these statements reveal what has been truly happening behind our screens — the turmoil of longing for what once was. I was then compelled to ask…
How can we maintain the momentum of our performance and the motivation in improving ourselves at a time of uncertainty and loss of a way of life?
WHY DO WE EVEN FEEL THE NEED TO DO THINGS IN THE FIRST PLACE?
To be motivated means to be moved to do something.
Having much time in isolation, combined with the drastic changes in the way we move amplified doubts about our routines and choices. It was in a 35-year old concept that I found an explanation (and perhaps the task of long personal self-reflection) of why we even do the things we do — an important question we hardly ask between life’s toing and froing.
Edward Deci and Richard Ryan gave rise to one of the most widely researched and applied theory in their field called the Self-Determination Theory, first introduced in their book, “Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior,” published in 1975. Self-determination is the term for a person’s ability to govern and have intentions set throughout their life. It provides insight as to why and how we can direct our thoughts and actions.
The proponents believed that curiosity, self-motivation, and the willingness to extend oneself and responsibly projecting talents were the best of and inherent in human nature. Unfortunately, we are also prone to lose this innate ardent spirit in our lives due to settings and circumstances; sanctioned dismissal of growth; and responsibilities in a certain activity. These concepts can be applied in all choices and behaviors that make up one’s life — from careers, lifestyle choices, even relationships.
For macro-matters as in areas of education, healthcare, psychotherapy sports, and the like, their research focused on designing or enhancing social-contextual conditions that fostered self-motivation, self-regulation, and healthy psychological development; those mentioned are what empower a person’s optimal growth, performance, and well-being to flourish. Findings have led them to suggest that (1) humans are motivated to improve and become self-determined towards an activity (2) but only successfully through the support and fulfillment of innate and universal psychological needs of AUTONOMY, COMPETENCE, and RELATEDNESS.
This led to the different orientations of motivation depending on the degree of having the needs met: Intrinsic (motivated due to internal satisfaction) and Extrinsic (motivated due to external rewards), in which the former relative to the latter is claimed to have more achievement, persistence, creativity, heightened vitality, self-esteem, and general well-being. Likewise, unfulfilled psychological needs call forth crushed motivation and well-being. Enlightening ourselves in applying these concepts can assist us to adjust our current at-home conditions to be in favor of determination — or to translate in my situation, provide an insight into what I truly need beyond my 5-step writing ritual and away from wailing into warm desserts.
OUR TYPES OF MOTIVATION AND FINDING THE REASONS WHY
Motivation is what constitutes activation and intention, directly affecting aspects of our lives such as energy, direction, and persistence. It is a prized possession that one should equip to ‘get out there’ for the fact that it makes a person produce. Still, given that everyone possesses motivation, the factors involving why individuals are moved vary.
To understand why the transition from face-to-face to distanced learning has impacted our ability to perform, one can use the key concepts and premises of Self-Determination Theory’s distinction of several types of motivation in defining the whys surrounding our academic pursuit.
The developmental continuum of motivation types shows 3 major levels that range from non-self-determined to self-determined behaviors based on how it is controlled (regulatory styles) and what makes it a necessity (perceived locus of causality). Despite illustrating a continuum, the proponents do not state that people must progress along each stage of internalization before a person can feel motivated about an activity. Instead, what they heavily emphasize is that a person can internalize a new behavior at any point contingent on prior experiences and current situational factors. The following definitions of each can help a person define his/her current view and feel about an activity:
This is located at the far left of the self-determination continuum that signifies the state of not acting at all or doing without intent. Amotivated individuals simply go through a motion of events stemming from devaluing the activity, feelings of inadequacy towards the behavior, or inability to forecast a behavior to grant the desired outcome. An amotivated person can be called “unhappy-go-lucky” as they exhibit loose participation in events without clear objectives.
This is situated at the far right, reigns as the golden mean of motivation as it exhibits the positive potential of human nature in its classic state of doing an activity, seeking out novelty and challenges for its inherent satisfaction. The feeling starts from a genuine interest in the subject matter or having the sincere pleasure derived from the experience and exposure to the behavior.
Harter (1987) states that “children in their healthiest states, are active, inquisitive, curious, and playful, even in the absence of specific rewards,” accordingly, intrinsic motivation best demonstrates our natural inclination to mastery and exploration which are fundamental for our cognitive and social development.
Socio-contextual events such as feedback, communications, and rewards enhance motivation by bringing about feelings of competence towards an action, along with greater feelings of autonomy through choice, acknowledgment of feelings, and opportunities for self-direction. Conjointly, secure relational support can help, but many intrinsically motivated behaviors are contentedly performed in isolation due to authentic amusement.
Opposingly creates actions that are caused by factors external to the self, such as compliance, rewards or punishment, valuation regardless of interest, or a commitment. It, then, covers the continuum between amotivation and intrinsic motivation, varying in the intensity to which a person’s regulation is autonomous. The following classifications are identified:
I. CONTROLLED EXTRINSIC MOTIVATION (negative)
a. EXTERNALLY REGULATED (least autonomous) behaviors are performed to fulfill an external demand, conditional reward, or basically, to comply. The authors claimed when a person feels externally regulated, the lesser they demonstrate interest, value, and effort toward achievement and have an increased tendency to disown responsibility for negative consequences.
b. INTROJECTED REGULATION includes regulated behaviors, although not fully accepted as one’s own; commonly, they are performed to avoid guilt, failure, anxiety, or to attain ego enhancements such as pride or feelings of worth. Briefly, it represents regulation by conditional self-esteem. Doing the activity because it signifies a personal definition of self-worth, rather than doing it because it is important or fun. While it cultivates an internally driven behavior and exhibits a positive relation to expending more effort, it is not experienced as part of the self and relates to increased anxiety and poor coping with failures.
II. MORE AUTONOMOUS AND ASSIMILATED TO THE SELF (positive)
c. IDENTIFIED REGULATION involves the conscious valuing of a behavioral goal or regulation. Simply put, the action is accepted and owned as personally important. It is linked to more interest, enjoyment, effort, and positive coping styles.
d. INTEGRATED REGULATION (most autonomous) shares many qualities with intrinsic because behaviors from this type are fully embraced by the self in which its worth is assessed and congruent to a person’s other values and needs.
As noted by Ryan (2000), much of what a person does is not intrinsically motivated predominantly after early childhood when the freedom to be intrinsically motivated is progressively curbed by social pressures to do activities that are not customarily interesting, along with an assortment of new responsibilities. This speaks the truth about the current unappealing learning situation for many but on the bright side, intrinsic motivation or more autonomous extrinsic motivation can flourish if circumstances are adjusted.
Sometimes even, an external locus of causality could expose a person to an activity that would eventually merge to his or her identity and goals or develop an authentic predisposition to it. Attitudes towards behaving out of compliance can range from unwilling to passive agreement to active personal commitment.
FACILITATING BETTER SELF-DETERMINATION IN THE NEW NORMAL
After closer inspection and internalization of the motivation types, I was intrinsically motivated to run a correlation analysis to know if levels of the PUP students’ autonomous motivation have a statistically significant relationship to our ability to perform in the new normal.
I ranked motivation scores with Very High Motivation (29–35), High Motivation (22–28), Fair Motivation (15–21), Low Motivation (8–14), and Very Low Motivation (1–7) and grouped the ability to perform with scores of Strongly Unable to Perform (25–30), Fairly Unable to Perform (19–24), Neutral (13–18), Fairly Able to Perform (7–12), and Strongly Able to Perform (1–6).
The results showed that most have scored very high to high motivation (23.5% and 54.4% respectively) and more than half (51.6%) scored as strongly unable to perform, 34.1% fairly unable to perform, while none scored strongly able to perform.
In creating a scatterplot, it turned out that the respondents’ level of autonomous motivation did not affect their ability to perform in the new normal. This implies that regardless of the strength of motivation a student embodies about his or her studies, the pandemic’s effect on college lifestyles still obstructed or boost his or her ability to perform.
Although the data has its limitations, it shed light on the need to adjust our new normal conditions to social-contextual environments that nurture the internalization of activities for our development. Alongside, it reframes motivations so that it makes individuals feel self-determined.
THE GUIDELINES: TURNING OUR MOTIVATION INTO INTENTIONS
The theory directs us with the self-determination equation of examining the degrees of the following thought process — enough competency to comply, added with having relevant reference groups that endorse the related activity, added with a context that is autonomy-supportive that facilitates a sense of choice — that can be useful in redirecting our motivation in exhibiting its practical advantage.
The authors proposed that the basic needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are essential to be satisfied across one’s life span. Through the fulfillment of those basic needs, a person will have an incessant sense of integrity, well-being, or “eudaimonia;” and that one cannot thrive without its simultaneous satisfaction. For instance, a student can afford to be competent in his/her course activities even under remote learning but will still need satisfying of relatedness. Failure to do so can result to decreased performance.
In another scenario, if a student is required by a parent to partake in a course for conditional reasons, this may result in reduced functioning because of the deprivation of freedom of choice. In short, failure to assist competence, autonomy, and relatedness thwarts our self-determination.
Here are simple reminders and tips from respondents to facilitate integration and internalization in all our activities:
1. CONDITIONING OUR AUTONOMY — Set clarity, foster determination, and gain confidence
“Sometimes, thinking about my goal is the only thing that pushes me to move out of my bed and do my school tasks. The pandemic drained my well-being, but it will never steal my dream.” — Respondent #202
Q: What is my intention from this behavior? Am I choosing to do this activity for myself or because of pressure or external factors?
In practice: The goal here is to identify one’s behavior and to integrate it with other life values and pursuits.
From here, we must believe that we have control over our own lives. Finding clarity about our goals so we can assess if our behaviors are aligned with them helps in confronting setbacks. This makes it easier for individuals to bounce back through diligence and determination. Our behavior should not be based on fear of punishment and shame of failure. We must choose the area of improvement for ourselves or at least, for the enrichment of the life of someone we care about.
What we do should have the intention of bringing us closer to the version of ourselves that we want to become — perhaps an efficient student, a great writer, a healthier person, or a role as simple as being a good friend. When we claim responsibility for how we act, we welcome a true celebration of our achievements, as well as taking account of our mistakes and failures, from which we can always choose to learn and ascend.
2. MASTERING COMPETENCY — Remember to take it one step at a time
“In a way, it made me more disciplined in terms of keeping my schedule even though it is not that structured like it used to be, there is this challenge that somehow keeps me going.” — Respondent #59
Q: What is challenging — is it the activity itself or is it my level of competency carrying out the activity?
In practice: Reaching competence is built from exercising the skill and continued exposure, or by simply doing.
If any activity is challenging, it is essential not to focus on the distance from the desired outcome. Instead, we can structure a plan with a breakdown list of doable actions. Say, if we want to be competent in a specific field of study, we can step-by-step know how to use relevant tools or software and/or train how to do a vital skill properly through repetition — just like building a muscle.
When starting to learn something new, it is common to feel incredulous of ourselves; that is when we have to carry on the strongest and believe that when given enough time, the craft will eventually become a part of ourselves as we become part of it. This behavior will solidify and manifest in turning out as our self-determination.
3. FINDING RELATEDNESS — Seeking foundation in social support systems
“If you’re not motivated enough, try to look for some like your interest or idols and get some motivation from it and apply to your studies or problems.” — Respondent #6
Q: Do the people I surround myself easy to relate to? Do I include myself in a community that values and supports the activities I pursue?
In practice: More especially now that we are physically distanced, it is crucial to have strong social support to feel the sense of a shared experience, connection, and warmth of caring for others.
Encouragement from peers and mentors foster room for growth. Low support is linked to a poor sense of self and decreased motivation. We should guarantee that we surround ourselves with people that are supportive and positive towards our goal or connect with or follow the people we admire in the spheres of our activity.
A PAUSE AND RE-EVALUATION
With every endeavor is a reason for why we want to make it happen — to solve a problem, to improve ourselves, or maybe for what was once a strong yearning, interest, or love. It is for the same reasons I wrote this article; to spread a fascinating theoretical perspective so it may land on the screen of an interested reader, especially another struggling student.
It is in my hopes that we start to act with, and from our intentions, provide a reminder to trust that our actions today will branch out to the brighter future we envision. Sometimes the desire to improve occurs in bits and pieces or in free-flowing states when fortune and inspiration strikes. Regardless of how it comes and goes, we must promise to keep going back to it.
Though life does not always work the way we imagine it — as demonstrated by this whirlwind of a year — we can always switch the way we view our situation and carve our paths from there. No matter where we are, the sun continuously rises for us to fulfill our jobs of unfolding our identities daily.
I started this article by asking how we could regain vigor in a phase of adversity, and I have provided an angle of the Self-Determination Theory of Ryan and Deci as the answer. Now, I end it by leaving all of us another question that we need to individually answer…
Para saan at kanino ka bumabangon?
Ø Motivation is not the only problem that students face in education’s new normal. Digital access and connectivity remain a pervading equity issue. You may learn more in the recent UNDERSCORE article about learning solutions amidst the pandemic: shorturl.at/fgzJ7 Let us most especially look out for each other during these trying times and raise our voices as well. Utilize our privileges well — para sa bayan!
Ø THE FOLLOWING DEMANDS WERE EXPRESSED BY THE STUDENTS IN THE FORM:
- “I’d like my professors to be considerate of their students with the tasks that they assign to them. I noticed that some of them act like we’re not in a situation where materials (such as art materials) may not be available to every student. They should consider giving tasks that are doable by everyone especially in light of the restrictions the pandemic has put us under.” — Respondent #40
- “Deliver the modules already because correspondence people feel obligated to attend online class. We are being left behind.” — Respondent #44
- “(1) Set a number of hours per session, (2) limited number of requirements per subject so the students won’t get burned out, (3) limit synchronous meetings, (4) allow students under the correspondence mode to submit requirements online, (5) make sure that all profs are informed of the latest memos regarding the online class, (6) have more compassion to students and teachers. Both parties are struggling so I hope the admin would be more understanding.” — Respondent #48
- “If online classes were to continue, Then I would suggest to have more teacher-student interaction. Consultation on the off days (asynchronous).” — Respondent #93
- “I hope that the professors can be more considerate that they can at least record their synchronous sessions so that students who did not able to attend on that particular schedule can still watch it when their internet connection allowed them to or if they can’t they can at least make recorded video lectures that they can upload in their class’ LMS which the students can access and watch anytime. In that case, students can understand better the lessons in the module.” — Respondent #95
- “I wish we can all come back safely to face to face classes. Kasi to be honest, I think there’s nothing more we can do to improve this learning experience.” — Respondent #115
 Cherry, K. (2019 October 07). Self-Determination Theory and Motivation. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-self-determination-theory-2795387#:~:text=Self%2Ddetermination%20theory%20grew%20out,Intrinsic%20Motivation%20in%20Human%20Behavior.
 Fay K., Bannister L., Lanton, E. & Dicken, S. (2020 May 1). How Remote Learning Has Affected Students Learning Environment and Motivation Levels. Retrieved from: https://www.colorado.edu/artssciences-advising/2020/05/01/how-remote-learning-has-affected-students-learning-environment-and-motivation-levels
 Lake, R. (2020 July 7). Student Count: Highlights from COVID-19 Student Surveys. https://www.crpe.org/thelens/students-count-highlights-covid-19-student-surveys
 Means, B., and Neisler, J., with Langer Research Associates. (2020). Suddenly Online: A National Survey of Undergraduates During the COVID-19 Pandemic. San Mateo, CA. Digital Promise. https://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/ELE_CoBrand_DP_FINAL_3.pdf
 Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000a). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychological Association, Inc. 0003–066X/00/$5.00 Vol. 55, №1, 68–78 DOI: 10.1037110003–066X.55.1.68
 Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000b). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67 (2000) doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020,