New Year, New You?
January is typically a time for resolutions, reflection and new goals. Like many people, self regulation is near the bottom of my list of strengths, so self improvement can be a challenge!. Often, we know what we want to change but we just can’t seem to find the motivation to do it. So what are the factors which influence motivation?
Well, of course there are many ways to think about this however, one theory I find particularly useful in reflecting on my own issues and in working with clients is Self Determination Theory (SDT, Ryan & Deci 2000).
Intrinsic or Extrinsic Motivation?
Motivation may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation occurs when we do something for the love of the activity itself in the absence of external reward, such as reading just because we want to (not because we have an essay to write). This is a wonderful expression of our desire to explore, investigate, create and integrate. Ryan & Deci (2000) suggest that this is a natural evolved human propensity, perhaps akin to Rogers (1967) idea of self actualisation. Research suggests that high levels of intrinsic motivation are associated with well-being. However, both SDT and Rogers agree that conditions need to be right for intrinsic motivation to be supported and it can be easily undermined.
Extrinsic motivation occurs when we do something due to an external pressure of some sort, such as to gain a reward or avoid unpleasant consequences. As we live in a society with other people, most of what we do is not intrinsically motivated but influenced by contextual demands. So how do we become motivated in a self regulated manner to do things which we don’t naturally want to do and how does this motivation influence the way in which we do things, our ability to keep going and our well-being? This depends to the extent on which we are able to internalise and integrate the values and responsibilities of our societal context. So a child might initially refuse to do homework because they don’t see the point, this could lead to a process of internalising and integrating such that the child does homework to avoid detention, then to please parents, moving to a means to gain qualifications to achieve a desired lifestyle. Ultimately the child could even find they love learning so that doing homework becomes intrinsically motivated (or maybe not).
Self Determination Theory
Research in SDT indicates that both intrinsic motivation and the adoption of extrinsic motivation is promoted by conditions which foster autonomy, competence and relatedness. These are seen as basic psychological needs which, if met, encourage self determination, promoting our natural inclination to growth and flourishing.
However, environments which are characterised by excessive control, undermine a sense of achievement or disrupt connectedness can lead to alienation, lack of responsibility, demotivation and in the extreme psychopathology.
As would be expected environments which foster autonomy, competence and relatedness have been seen to influence individuals to be both more productive and show greater well-being. However, these three needs are situated within a context of meaning and culture so that the expression or fulfilment of them may be seen as very different goals and orientations at different times, places, ages and contexts.
How Does It Help?
Knowing that autonomy (control), competence and relatedness are important underpinnings to motivation helps;Understand why people may be demotivated. For example GCSE students sometimes become demotivated because their predicted grades are very high and they consequently feel the most they can do is what is expected of them or fail, their sense of control and achievement is undermined, while their relatedness to parents and teachers is also threatened
- Understand why people may be demotivated. For example GCSE students sometimes become demotivated because their predicted grades are very high and they consequently feel the most they can do is what is expected of them or fail, their sense of control and achievement is undermined, while their relatedness to parents and teachers is also threatened.
- Think of ways to improve motivation for things we’re not keen on doing such as buddying with someone to exercise, increasing relatedness, or having very small goals to enhance a sense of achievement.
- Foster environments and responses to other people which encourage rather than undermine their motivation in our roles as parents, educators, managers and helping agents.
We also need to be able to look at how the psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness interact with one another and are balanced. For instance, do you tend to sacrifice autonomy for relatedness? We all make these compromises frequently and it is necessary to learn how to do this as a social being, but it is worth asking yourself if you’ve got your needs in balance. For example, giving in on decision making (autonomy/control) in a relationship to preserve connection (relatedness) is a necessary compromise sometimes, but if it is a pattern it could be unhelpful, leading to resentfulness which ultimately actually undermines relatedness.
Likewise, we need to be able to consider our personal developmental histories in relation to these needs. For example, those with a very successful sibling may be very sensitive to the need to feel competent, while those with a history of loss may heavily value relatedness over other needs. People who have suffered physical attack may have a greater need for control/autonomy. Each of us has a different current and developmental context and so bring different meanings to the need for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Exploring what these are for ourselves and those around us can potentially help foster our ability to regulate motivation.
Rogers, C.R. (1967). On Becoming A Person. Constable.
Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the
Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.
About the author: Sarah Monk