Chapter 1 Adult Learner Awareness

1.3 Dimensions of Self

Succeeding in college is rather like succeeding in life. It’s really much more about you than it is about school. So, the most important place to start is to consider why you’re here, what matters to you, and what you expect to get out of it. Even if you have already thought about these questions, it’s good to reaffirm your commitment to your plan as we begin to consider what’s really involved in being a  student.

What’s Your Plan?

Take a few minutes and write down short answers to the questions below. Be honest with yourself, and write down what you really feel. You are not writing for an instructor here—so don’t answer what you think someone expects to hear—and you are not being graded on your answers! This is for you.

Exercise: Your Post-secondary Plan

  1. How long do you anticipate being in college or university?
  2. How many courses will you need to take per term to finish school in your planned time period?
  3. What do you anticipate will be the most difficult part of completing your program?
  4. Are you confident you will be able to overcome any possible difficulties in completing your program?

Were you able to easily answer the questions? How confident do you feel about your plan?

These are important questions to think about for the simple reason that students who have a clear plan and who are prepared to overcome possible obstacles that may arise along the way are much more likely to succeed. In other words, just thinking in a positive way about your future can help that future come true!

What Matters to You?

The word values refers to “important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable.”[1] What makes you feel good? What things would you be doing if you had all the time, money, and opportunities in the world? Questions like these help us define our own values.

A group of people sit on the top of a moutain, looking out across a valley

Author’s story

I am very fortunate to live in the Rocky Mountains. It is absolutely gorgeous, and I never take it for granted: the stunning views, the fresh air, the smells of nature, the sounds of birds singing, the wildlife. I love that I can literally step outside my door and go for a beautiful walk in the woods. I can also go for a hike to a mountain peak with friends and be home for dinner. I value this time immensely, and it is an activity I wouldn’t willingly give up. It contributes to my physical, spiritual, and emotional dimensions of self and helps me be more effective in all areas. Taking time for hiking up mountains pays off enormously. What do you value that is non-negotiable?

— Mary Shier, College of the Rockies

Thinking about your own values can help you know what you want from life and from your education. Take a moment and consider the list of things in the following activity that are valued by some people. For each value, rate how important that thing is to you.

Exercise: Your values

Following is a list of things that different people say they value. For each item on this list, indicate how important it is to you by ranking it as very important (5), not important (0), or somewhere in between.

What do you value?
Value Ranking (From 0 to 5)
Making a good income
Having good friends
Learning new things about your interests
Having a nice car
Having intelligent conversations
Staying current with the news
Playing sports
Hanging out with friends
Playing computer or video games
Online social networking
Reading a good book
Travelling to new places
Being liked by others
Studying and reading textbooks
Having nice clothing
Watching television
Enjoying time alone
Getting out in nature
Working your job
Looking good, personal hygiene
Meeting new people
Going to movies or entertainments
Eating nice meals out
Exercising, being physically active
Being your own boss
Having a positive romantic relationship
Engaging in your hobbies
Setting your own schedule
Volunteering your time for a good cause
Cleaning house
Attending classes
Going to religious services
Talking on the telephone, texting, email
Going to parties
Participating in clubs, organized activities
Other: __________________________
Other: __________________________

Look back at the values and activities you rated highly (4 or 5), which probably gave a good indication of how you enjoy spending your time. But now look at these things you value in a different way. Think about how each relates to how you think you need to manage your time effectively while in school. Most students feel they don’t have enough time for everything they like to do. Do some of the activities you value most contribute to your college experience, or will they distract you from being a good student?

Students who enter college or university with their eyes open and who think about their own values and motivations will be more successful. If you have a good idea of what you want from life, the rest of it can be learned. In this book you’ll learn how to stay motivated, manage your time well, study well and many other things that will help lead you to success.

As you consider your values, it can be useful to think of them in terms of the dimensions of self: physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional. Changes in your goals and routine will impact all these dimensions. Have you considered the impact returning to/continuing in school will have on the different dimensions of your self?

For example, the intellectual side of yourself will likely be stimulated and stretched. However, if you normally tend to spend a lot of time with friends but have to cut down on socializing time in order to implement good study skills, how will that impact your emotional self? Can you incorporate study groups into your study plan to help feed the emotional self’s need for interaction with people? If you need to stimulate the physical self through fitness, can you plan to review and listen to lectures while going for a run or bike ride? It may just take getting into the habit of downloading lectures onto your cell phone and taking them on the go. What are some ways to keep your spiritual self nourished through your demanding load at school?

Exercise: Dimensions of Self

Evaluate the spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional dimensions of self in relation to returning to school.

  1. For each dimension, evaluate how important it is to you currently and the kinds of the things you currently do to nourish these dimensions (e.g. exercise, read, attend church, etc.).
  2. For each dimension, evaluate how these activities and practices may change or be impacted when in school. This could be due to time limitations or change in location or other factors. Which dimensions may suffer the most while you are in school?
  3. What adjustments can you make to minimize negative impacts and maximize a healthy balance in your dimensions of self? What are some sacrifices you may need to make in order to make it all work?

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from “Who Are You, Really?” in University Success by N. Mahoney, B. Klassen, and M. D’Eon. Adapted by Mary Shier. CC BY-NC-SA.

  1. What are Values? (2016). Business Dictionary. Retrieved from:


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1.3 Dimensions of Self Copyright © 2020 by Mary Shier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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