I could not "define" myself for a long time. I even went on a journey to Morocco to find myself.


Did you know?

Those who think thoroughly about which values fit, which goals to pursue and what fascinates them develop a strong internal compass. You can make your own choices and have the feeling that you can be yourself and commit yourself. If you have not yet taken much time to think about these things, your compass may be a little less developed. This can cause you to feel doubt more often and have a tendency to avoid making important choices. By getting in touch with your internal compass, you increase your chance of autonomous motivation.

Different themes


The internal compass brings together your personal values, goals and interests that give direction and meaning to your identity development.

  • Values: "What do I find important?" "What do I believe in?"
  • Goals: "Where do I want to go?" "What do I want to achieve?"
  • Interests: "What do I find interesting?" "What fascinates me?"

Questions such as "Who am I?" and "What do I want to achieve in life?" are part of healthy identity development.

During puberty, you start a strong search for your own values, interests and goals. The transition to higher education also offers you many opportunities to further develop your identity.

Functions of your internal compass

The compass performs three functions.

Charting your course

The internal compass acts as a guide to make important identity choices. At key moments, the compass helps you make the choice that suits you best. It is not a question of right or wrong choices, but of appropriate and less appropriate choices that are really in line (or not) with what you find really important.


Especially when there are many choices, the internal compass brings inner peace. The compass provides you with criteria to evaluate yourself and others. In this way, you can make conscious choices that really suit you and set your course.

Staying on track

Your compass also ensures that you can stay on course in your daily activities. It helps you to align daily choices and goals with your identity, and makes it easier to continuously make voluntary identity choices and determine life goals. This means you can stay true to your authentic goals, values and interests.

Responding resiliently

The compass helps you to stay true to yourself when you are going through a period of change. When you are under pressure, and have to deal with difficult situations, your internal compass ensures that you do not end up being unsteady, but have a handle to (quickly) reorient yourself.

It offers protection against influences that threaten your own development, such as study pressure and social pressure from your family or friends.

The compass offers you the opportunity to assess your position and the direction you want to go. This resilience helps you to face the storms.


The extent to which this internal compass is developed can vary greatly.

If you have a strong internal compass, you have identified a set of values, goals and interests that you fully support. This gives you a good picture of who you are, what you stand for and where you want to go in life. You can make your own choices and have the feeling that you can be yourself and commit yourself. You can indicate what you find important and what you want to stand for.

It can therefore be stated that those who spend time considering their own internal compass help to nourish their own basic psychological need for autonomy.

If you have a less developed compass, you feel doubt and more often tend to avoid making important choices. Or you may continue to fret and ponder over what would be an appropriate choice because you are afraid of making an inappropriate one.

It pays to connect with your values, goals and interests.

And how about motivation?

The internal compass and motivation are related.

Autonomous motivation

When your internal compass is well developed and you make daily decisions that are in line with your internal compass, it is easier to experience autonomous motivation. You act from an inner drive and make choices that create added value for yourself and your environment.


You can remain authentic to yourself, listen to your heart and clearly state why you consciously do or do not go along with a certain choice or why you act in a certain way.

This assertive attitude of consciously not accepting certain choices helps you to experience less external and internal pressure.

Controlled motivation

When there is, as it were, a layer of dust over your internal compass, you notice that you are less connected to it. This can manifest itself in experiencing external and/or internal pressure for certain choices.

When there is external and internal pressure, we speak of controlled motivation - then you feel doubt and you notice that it is sometimes more difficult to make choices that are authentic to you.

It may be that you place what others think or what you think others expect of you above your own internal compass. This causes your compass to get out of balance. Usually you notice this as an inner dilemma. On the one hand you want to do good by others, but on the other you have your own desires.

Strengthening your internal compass

Being who you are is important. Learning to discover your own values, interests and goals takes time. It is worth investing that time. By paying attention to your own internal compass, you feed your basic psychological need for autonomy and you can more easily set your course, stick to it and react resiliently during more difficult periods. Through these exercises you can discover your values, interests and goals. Each exercise focuses on a different aspect of an internal compass.

Seek help, and do something. If you stay in the station and don't take a train, you won't go anywhere.


Talk about it


Don't feel good about yourself? Do you keep struggling with who you are or what you want to do?

Talk to somebody you trust and feel good around, preferably someone you know, like a good friend, your parents or your siblings.

If you struggle to talk to someone in your immediate surroundings, try to approach a person who is familiar with similar experiences, such as a GP or a student advisor at your college or university. A conversation with a study advisor and/or psychologist can be useful to support you in dealing with your fear of failure.

Would you prefer to share your story anonymously? You can always contact Awel (102 or awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or tele-onthaal.be). For questions about suicide, reach out to the Suicide Hotline (1813 or zelfmoord1813.be)

Worried about a friend?

Do you notice that a friend is searching for himself or herself, or can be difficult? Then you may not know what to say. Discuss the problem – don't judge, but talk about your concern. A sentence like "You are quieter than I am used to you being" can open the door for your friend to acknowledge the situation.

Standing stronger: students and expert sharing experiences

Host Carola talks to student Mathias and Maarten Vansteenkiste, professor in developmental psychology at Ghent University. The topic of this episode is the ABC of psychology. The ABC of psychology is a framework that revolves around the three basic psychological needs for mental well-being.

Keep to learn, read or hear more about this topic?



TED Talks


Books and articles

  • Vansteenkiste, M. & Soenens, B. (2015). Vitamines voor groei. Ontwikkeling voeden vanuit de zelf-determinatie theorie. Acco.
  • Vandenkerckhove et al. (2016). Het noorden kwijt? Het intern kompas als houvast bij het studiekeuzeproces. Caleidoscoop, 28(4), 26-34.