Self Determination Theory | Personal Motivation

Self Determination Theory

Self-determination theory attempts to lay out a framework what we as humans need to in terms of personal growth. This theory describes what motivates us and what drives us to act. In self determination theory, it is thought that there are specific innate forces that are at work that motivate us and cause us to act to met psychological needs without any influence from outside forces. Self determination theory examines how these innate, intrinsic drives motivate an individual to act.The intrinsic aspect is in some ways similar to some spiritual doctrines, such as that found in the Bhagavad Gita. In Hinduism, the concept of action without “attachment” to what fruit that action bears is an important step in becoming. One of the key tenants of self determination theory is that human beings act based on what is gratifying without any regard for an outcome. In essence, self determination theory suggests that even without external motivators, human beings already process specific intrinsic drives to improve their lives and achieve their goals.

Researchers have found there to be three important components that make up self determination theory. The first is “Competence” which essentially means that individuals want to control and become masters of whatever task is at hand. The second is “Relatedness” which is defined as the desire by every person to intact with and connect with other people.” The third part is “Autonomy,” which means that we as humans want to exercise power over our own lives in line with our internal motivations and drives, though this does not mean that we seek to sever ties with others.

Studies have shown that when it comes these three components, how others respond to us has a direct effect on the degree we are successful in whatever task we are attempting to perform. For example, one study demonstrated that when positive feedback was given to subjects who were not anticipating this feedback, their level of intrinsic “competence” was increased, as the source states. Another study showed that the opposite was also true when it came to negative feedback, determining that others can have a positive or negative effect on our internal drives to achieve a specific outcome.

This data suggests that, while we are driven to internal motivators that are intrinsic to our personality, our chance of achieving these goals can be affected by external forces, either positive or negative in nature. In other words, if there is someone in your life that repeatedly tells you that you are incapable to achieving a goal, this negative feedback may affect your internal drive and cause you to give up on achieving your goals. You might do this even though you may very well have succeed if the feedback from positive, or even if you simply were spurred forward my your own drive to succeed.

Self determination theory also points to the fact that if the motivating factors are not intrinsic, but rather extrinsic in nature, then there is little likelihood that an individual will remain motivated to complete the task or will lack the motivation to continue to complete said task until successful.

In laymen’s terms, self determination theory relates to our day to day struggles to achieve our goals and dreams while managing work, because we are more likely to succeed at these tasks if it is internally motivated rather than an action we take because of the pressures of others. For example, you may feel a sense of motivation to make a change in your life, such as going back to college to achieve a higher degree, which could in terms have a positive effect on other aspects of your life, including a sense of self-fulfillment. If, on the other hand, someone is pressuring you to return to college when you feel no drive to do so, the chances of successfully earning a higher degree is lessened.

When you feel a true sense of “autonomy” as you move forward to complete a task, your motivation to accomplish your goal is substantially higher, as opposed to when you feel that you have no personal control in achieving your task, and that someone else has that control. As another study points out, in determining how an individual perceives a situation a feeling of lack of autonomy was central, such as spending time alone versus being forced to be alone.

Also, self determination theory researchers believe that as long as the action is autonomous, the act can be one that is “vitalizing.” This means that while it may seem like extreme acts of self discipline to achieve a goal could be viewed as harmful, this is not the case. If you are acting as a result of your own drives and feel autonomous in your actions, you may actually achieve a feeling that is invigorating and even gratifying as you work toward your personal goals.