Self-Regulation: Keys to Success
(Outline Draft)

Author: W. Huitt
Developed: May 1998

Return to: | Conative Domain | Educational Psychology Interactive |

As we change from an agricultural/industrial society with its relatively clear-cut rules for success towards an information/service economy with its constantly changing conditions, it is necessary for the individual to take more responsibility to guide him- or herself towards a personally-defined goal of success. There are a variety of paradigms for success, all of which are viable today, and all of which are being modified constantly. For example, Rifkin (1995) outlines different possible career paths that combines activity in the economic sectors of business and industry, government, and volunteerism. Dent (1995) profiles different success paths for the Specialized Generalist (a front-line information user focusing on meeting customer needs) and the Generalized Specialist (a back-line information provider focusing on making sure the front-line provider has the correct information.) Pilzer (1991) discusses the changing importance of the functions of manufacturing and distribution. Dent (1998) identifies possible investments that will be important during the transition.

It is clear that the boundaries and rules for success (the paradigm for success) is rapidly shifting. All of the scenarios place more responsibility on the individual in a context of less structure in the work environment (Bridges, 1995). It is critical that an individual's motivation (i.e., that which provides energy, direction and perseverance) come from within; the environment is in too great a flux to depend on motivation from the environment.

There are five aspects of success that will be discussed in this paper: (1) vision, aspirations, and dreams; (2) goal-setting, (3) imagery, (4) self-talk, and (5) self-monitoring.

Vision, Aspirations, Dreams

By vision is meant a view of how the world works and one's picture of how he or she would like the world to  operate in the future. It is generally holistic and somewhat vague. To the extent that it can be made more specific it becomes more powerful.

Aspirations or dreams are pieces of the vision. For example, one may have a vision of personal freedom. One dream would involve being debt-free and retired at a young age. Another dream might be to have one's children's education completely paid for from savings. However, in order for the dreams or aspirations to become reality, they must be translated into specific goals, which is the next topic.


There is a voluminous literature on goal-setting. Most of it separates goals into two categories: process and product. Process goals are also called learning (Ames, 1992) or mastery goals (Barrell, 1995) and are exemplified by Deming’s (1986; Walton & Deming, 1988) work in the area of Total Quality Management. Product goals are also called outcome goals (reminiscent of Tyler’s Management by Objectives (see Ball, 1997) and are further subdivided into meeting a standard (criterion-referenced) or rank-ordering (norm-referenced). The latter have been labeled ego goals (Blumenfeld, 1992).

In structured settings, such as school learning, where general parameters are set, process/mastery goals have demonstrated superiority. This may be because the achievement goals for students have been selected by school personnel. Students who have mastery or learning goals have accepted the goals designed by others. Students with performance goals have not adopted those goals as their own and merely want to perform well enough so that they have time and energy to devote to goals of their own choosing.

That may not be true when the learner has to decide among many competing alternatives, some of which are more likely to lead to success than others.

It is my opinion, that both types of goals must be used.

The following steps are recommended:

  1. First establish desired outcomes in broad terms (dream, vision statements)
  2. Prepare personal mission statement
  3. Compare mission statement and desired outcomes and revise as necessary
  4. Set long-term goals and objectives (put a date on the desired outcomes)
  5. Use backwards planning to establish intermediate goals and objectives
  6. Develop action plan (establish plan for success)
  7. Focus on implementing process to excellence
  8. Check progress vis-a-vis objectives

In general, outcome statements (e.g., dream, vision, mission, goals) must be written if they are to be motivating. Short-term goals seem to be absolutely necessary to provide the energy and direction to get started. However, the emotion associated with dreams and vision may be more necessary for perseverance.

If reasonable progress is not made towards goals in a reasonable amount of time, then make changes in process.


See yourself accomplishing goals, being successful

Mental rehearsal

Clear, concise

Review data on goals versus imagery

Discuss techniques


Neurolinguistic Programming -- Anthony Robbins

Rational Emotive Therapy -- Ellis, Beck

Optimism versus Pessimism -- Seligman

Systematically train self to focus on positive


Keep record of daily, weekly, monthly actions

Feedback--without taking action and assessing feedback, establishing dreams and vision or setting goals becomes an academic exercise not likely to make a meaningful contribution to success.


Establish aspirations, dreams and goals

Develop and implement plan of action

Imagine yourself taking action and being successful

Use self-talk and stay focused on positive

Collect and review feedback

Stay abreast of changing conditions and the need to modify dreams, goals, and plans to take advantage of new opportunities.


All materials on this website [] are, unless otherwise stated, the property of William G. Huitt. Copyright and other intellectual property laws protect these materials. Reproduction or retransmission of the materials, in whole or in part, in any manner, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, is a violation of copyright law.