What Drives Motivation?

Why is it easier to find motivation for some things in life where as other tasks seem to drag on forever? It is easy to see why people can find the motivation to browse social media but how does that differ from finding the motivation to pursue their life goals?

Today we will explore Self-Determination Theory which contains three different aspects: Competency, Autonomy and Relatedness. This theory outlines the idea that the psychology of motivation requires these three boxes to be ticked in order for a person to endeavour to try their best at something.

Competency is likely the simplest of the three aspects to understand. When a person performs an action repeatedly they grow in their confidence and ability. Humans have a psychological need to feel competent at anything they do and as such they will seek out a path where they can feel competent quickly to avoid judgment. We dislike being called on to answer a question in a classroom as we are afraid of the embarrassment of getting the answer incorrect (though this speaks volume about the education system).

Autonomy means the right to choose. In a sense it is the concept of freedom but towards the decisions one makes towards career and health. Humans want to feel autonomous and in control of their own destiny as being placed in the confines of other people’s expectations or a strict rule orientated environment creates a high amount of stress. This can be seen in the work place where the removal of micro management can lead to better results within staff as they self manage and realise they are responsible for getting a task completed.

Relatedness is the final aspect of self determination theory and it adheres to a primal need developed through evolution. Humans have a desire to be able to relate to one another as we are creatures with a tribe mentality. What we do and how other people perceive us is paramount to our sense of self. We want to relate to others and so often we mimic them when there is a lack of self confidence. Actions that bring us closer to the tribe are often performed though not all those actions are beneficial for wellbeing i.e. peer pressure.

With the overview of self determination theory it is easy to dissect why it is easier to find motivation for some things where as others are much more difficult. Using video games as an example it is easy to see why people are drawn to this form of media. You pick your character, learn the skills and become competent at the rules of the game and you have a community in which you can discuss the changes, updates and strategies to build even greater competency. This is often why it is easy to become lost in a video game for hours without feeling bored – there is a sense of competence, autonomy and relatedness.

So what is the best way to apply self determination theory to your life? Do not try to exercise solo if you find it a chore – pick up a team sport you have an interest in and allow the discussed aspects to develop naturally. If you are a parent then understand this theory also applies to children – do not set rules upon them but rather openly discuss with them the options they may lose out on if they are glued to a screen for extended periods of time.

If you feel unmotivated all the time this can be a sign of depression and you should seek professional help.

Therefore when you lack motivation in life ask yourself whether the task you are trying to undertake fulfils your need for competency, autonomy and relatedness and use that as a compass towards your goals.

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1 thought on “What Drives Motivation?

  1. andrewevolutionmccomau September 30, 2019 — 7:37 am

    Wow, Dr Le! Straight to the heart in outlining what is so true!
    Thank you for another insightful post!
    Keep being awesome 🙂


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