When it comes to understanding how to motivate ourselves and others, psychologists have been arguing the pros and cons of different theories for decades. Most of us have grown up on a diet of theories provided by such trailblazers as Maslow, McClelland, and Herzberg and more recently Robbins. But psychologists now tend to be in broad agreement with the findings of two researchers, Deci and Ryan who tell us that there are basically three sources of intrinsic motivators:
It appears that these three basic intrinsic motivators are at the root of most if not all human behaviors, and form the basis for what is now known as Self Determination Theory (SDT). From a young age and throughout our lives, we strive to become more and more capable at living in this world, (competence) all the while seeking to gain more control over our life decisions and path, (autonomy) while remaining connected to others (relatedness).
So that’s it. If you want to motivate yourself or others, focus on understanding which of these motivators are at play at any given point in time. The researchers also found that at any point in time, we are operating at a level within a hierarchy:
- Global (how I tend to be intrinsically motivated in general)
- Contextual (how I tend to be intrinsically motivated within a life context, e.g. leisure, work, inter-personal relationships)
- Situational (how I tend to be intrinsically motivated when pursuing a course of action or performing a specific task)
So while I may be motivated by autonomy at the global and contextual levels, in performIng a task at the situational level related to the context, I may seek less autonomy and more direction in order to increase my competence.
Seems to make sense! Then of course there are the extrinsic motivators…but that’s a discussion for another day.
Brian Ward is a coach and consultant who works with successful leaders and their teams to help them archive breakthroughs to the next level of performance. His website is at http://www.affinitymc.com where you can download a free copy of his book Lead People…Manage Things