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Self-Determination Theory and Motivation

Self-determination theory developed by Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci in the 1980s adopt a humanistic view to look at motivation. This theory strongly believes in the innate positive propensities of human nature. This theory proposes that self-determination is one of the crucial factors which fire the intrinsic motivation in an individual.

Self-Determination Theory and Motivation

This theory states that humans experience the inherent need for growth and have control in their lives. They prefer to be the centre of focus when it comes to the causal factors of any events that may occur throughout their lifetime.

In other words, people naturally possess an internal locus of control over any life instances and this may or may not be influenced by the external factors that hamper its continual sustenance.

What are the two types of motivation?

1. Intrinsic motivation: When a person is motivated to pursue a certain activity because they inherently enjoy the activity and its process, it is called intrinsic motivation.

For example, taking up various hobbies during leisure time because one enjoys engaging in those activities.

2. Extrinsic motivation: The motivation to undertake any activity comes from external sources such as rewards; avoidance of punishment etc. is called extrinsic motivation.

For example, Sarah completes her assignments on time to save herself from getting reprimanded by her school authorities.

What is Self-Determination?

Self-determination is the capacity to make choices or choose between alternatives, without the presence of external pressures or influences that determines action. When an individual is self-determined, any action may spring out of choice rather than obligation or extrinsic rewards. When people are self-determined, they are aware of themselves and their needs and hence choose to take a course of action that helps them fulfil their instinctive needs.

For example, Paola chooses to work as a tutor because she experiences the need to contribute something towards the betterment of the community that she lives in and not just for the bulk remuneration she receives out of it.

Basic assumptions of Self-Determination Theory

The self-determination theory states that an individual strives for three important aspects in life. In other words, a human experiences the psychological need for the following three important things. And they are:

  1. Competence: This refers to the deep-rooted need people experience to gain mastery over tasks and acquire various skills. This need is backed up by the belief that when people hold the necessary skills, they are likely to take action on the path of growth and success.
  2. Relatedness: This is the need for belongingness and acceptance they look for in relationships with their family, friends etc.
  3. Autonomy: This is the need to be independent and take control over one’s behaviours and outcomes they face. The choice to take relevant actions brings in a sense of responsibility and thus fuels the behaviour leading to success.
self determination theory

Self-determination theory also says that when a person is intrinsically motivated towards achieving a set goal, they strive towards altering the external factors influencing their circumstances that may hinder their course of action or other aspects.

Implications for Self-Determination Theory

1. Psychotherapy: This is a therapeutic technique directly adopted from many behavioural theories such as classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Although this technique has proved to be very efficient in bringing about positive changes by keeping reward contingencies behind as the motivator, the result can’t be assured to sustain on the termination of the therapy.

Since this method is very mechanical , it is difficult to make the clients internalize and integrate this positive change into their lives after the extinction of the rewards. Hence, it is integral to bring in the concept of autonomy to help sustain the changes and generalize it in other aspects of the client’s life which have been adopted over the past few years to sustain the positive takeaways from therapy.

It can be achieved by exercising transparency and obtaining direct consent from the clients after educating them about the nature of the therapy and the goals devised.

2. Sport setting: Studies show that engaging in any form of sport can be an intrinsically motivated action. However, when many external factors such as external rewards, recognition, appreciation, fame etc. start playing a role, the nature of motivation is very likely to take a shift. Researchers also found that when players were given autonomy over their actions and performance, they were said to have performed better.

Positive feedback has been said to have improved intrinsic motivation whereas negative feedback decreased intrinsic motivation. Hence, this theory can be applied in sports, where players can be granted a certain amount of autonomy to boost their sense of competence and performance.

3. Work environment: This theory places a strong emphasis on the notion that extrinsic motivation leads to reduced intrinsic motivation. This finding has to be given integral consideration, especially in a work setting, where extrinsic rewards determine the intrinsic motivation to finish assigned tasks.

Employers should remember to not over amplify the number of extrinsic rewards given, but also not cut down too much as it presumably creates a feeling of underappreciation in employees.

Employers should also be considerate about the need for autonomy in employees and assign responsibilities, give them the space to decide their own goals etc. to enhance intrinsic motivation which would, in turn, boost their performance.

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