The Critical Connection Between Motivation and Self-Awareness

As the new year begins, many of us naturally start setting goals for the months ahead. When doing so, it’s important to consider not just the challenges themselves but also the reasons behind them.

For example, if you plan to write a novel, ask yourself why. Is it for the sheer pleasure of creating a fictional world with curious characters? Is it because you love literature and want to contribute to the cultural landscape? Perhaps you want to prove to yourself that you can be published, or maybe you yearn for fame, and writing a bestseller seems like a great path to recognition.

According to “self-determination theory,” each of these motivations represents a different source with distinct consequences for your performance and well-being. Research suggests that by choosing the right goals for the right reasons, you will be more engaged, more determined, and derive greater satisfaction from your success.

A Reward in Itself

Self-determination theory, like many scientific ideas, has evolved over years of research. Although its roots date back to studies from the 1970s, it gained serious traction after the publication of a seminal paper in 2000 outlining its core concepts regarding motivation, performance, and well-being.

At the heart of the theory is the optimistic notion that most humans have a natural desire to learn and develop. “It’s based on the assumption that people are growth-oriented,” says Anja Van den Broeck, a professor at KU Leuven in Belgium. This growth orientation is evident in young children’s insatiable curiosity and can also manifest in adults who find inherent fascination in certain activities, making the completion of a task its own reward, known as “intrinsic” motivation.

However, intrinsic motivation isn’t always enough, and we often need “extrinsic” motivation to tackle necessary tasks.

Types of Extrinsic Motivation

  1. Identification: You may not enjoy the activity itself, but it aligns with your broader values and goals, providing motivation. For a teacher, this might be the recognition of education’s importance, while for an aspiring novelist, it could be the sense of creating meaningful literature.
  2. Introjection: This involves putting pressure on yourself to maintain your ego and self-image. “Your self-esteem may depend on the activity,” explains Van den Broeck. You fear feeling shame or failure if you don’t meet your goal.
  3. External Regulation: This motivation comes from external rewards such as fame or money. In workplaces, it might be performance-related bonuses. You put in the work for the financial rewards, even if the tasks are dull.

Without sufficient motivation, people experience “amotivation,” leading to low productivity and engagement. This is often seen in education with disengaged students who put little effort into their studies.

Measuring Motivation

Psychologists have developed various questionnaires to measure these types of motivation across different contexts, revealing clear patterns. Van den Broeck’s analysis of 104 papers on workplace motivation found that intrinsic motivation predicted better job satisfaction, engagement, and proactivity while protecting against burnout. Identification also greatly benefited well-being and job performance.

Other types of motivation had mixed effects. Introjection could enhance job performance but increased stress and burnout risk. External regulation had the worst effects, with limited impact on engagement and performance and negative effects on well-being. People motivated purely by extrinsic rewards were also more likely to act dishonestly.

Understanding Your Motivation

Ian MacRae, a work psychologist, emphasizes the importance of understanding what you actually want from work. “Self-awareness is fundamentally important,” he says. Knowing whether your motivation stems from working relationships, learning, or development can help you find opportunities to capitalize on those elements.

Managers should listen to employees’ motivations and provide the necessary resources, which can be more effective than offering bonuses. Offering autonomy, where employees have some choice in their tasks and understand their work’s purpose, links to intrinsic and identification motivations.

Applying the Theory to Hobbies

Self-determination theory also applies to hobbies. For instance, learning a language out of genuine interest will make the hard work less of an ordeal compared to doing it for social status. Similarly, choosing enjoyable fitness activities over grueling ones can lead to greater persistence and long-term benefits.

Ultimately, self-determination theory reminds us to be selective about our activities. By focusing on personally meaningful and pleasurable goals and ignoring those imposed by others, self-improvement can become a source of joy rather than a chore.

Exit mobile version