Initiative is the capacity to take action, sustain motivation, and persevere through challenge toward an identified goal.

Related Domain


Initiative involves mobilizing and controlling motivation and attention. Many studies have shown that motivation depends on the alignment of many factors, such as understanding how to do an activity or feeling confident one can learn how. Initiative tends to be stronger if an individual is interested in the activity and in working with others.

In everyday life, there are numerous factors that can impact the strength of motivation, especially the sustained motivation required to reach more challenging goals. In these situations, it’s possible for individuals, for youth in particular, to get overwhelmed, lose interest, or just get bored of the work. Schoolwork, close friends, or romantic relationships can also compete for their attention. For young people to stay focused and motivated many separate pieces need to come together to create a cohesive whole: the task for young people is to learn how to manage and arrange those pieces.

In order to become an effective “doer,” youth must take action toward a goal and continue that effort over time to see that plan through. The abilities required include not just initiating effort toward a goal, but being able to regulate and sustain that effort through the challenges and setbacks that might be part of the journey.

Initiative is not just, “I want to do this, this matters!” It’s having the experience and resiliency to persevere through the frustrations, grinding work, disappointments, and doubt that often arise in the pathway to reaching a real-world goal.

Research has long shown that motivation grows when people experience positive relationships, feel competent in what they are doing, and feel that what they are doing matters. Well-run youth programs are rich learning contexts for youth to gain the experiences, skills, and dispositions for initiative. Staff play important roles in providing structures that help youth identify difficult personal goals that motivate their projects, and then staff help as needed to allow youth to experience success in persevering and working toward them.

Key Youth Experiences

Staff Practices

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