Deep enjoyed socializing at work. From making time for his coworkers to scheduling catch-ups with his manager, he found networking immensely fulfilling.

His coworkers, on the other hand, assumed that he was trying to win brownie points with his seniors. This was, in part, because they didn’t find similar joy in professional networking. They felt they had to do it if they wanted to be in everyone’s good graces.

Deep’s actions are a reflection of his high self-determination. He’s motivated by internal factors like personal satisfaction rather than external factors like praise or appreciation.

Let’s understand the meaning of self-determination and how it can improve—or impair—your professional life.

  1. The Self-Determination Theory

  2. Self-Determination In The Workplace

  3. Improve Your Self-Determination To Achieve Your Goals

The Self-Determination Theory

In the 1970s, two psychologists, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, introduced the self-determination theory in their book Self-Determination in Human Behavior. According to the theory, our ability to make choices, change our behavior and take action depends on three psychological needs:

  1. Competence

This explains our desire to be the best at what we do. People want to gain mastery in their areas of interest by refining their skills.

  1. Autonomy

Having the freedom to take action or make decisions reflects autonomy. Everyone needs a certain amount of autonomy for a fulfilling, meaningful and growth-oriented personal and professional life.

  1. Relatedness or Connection

Human connection motivates us to interact with others, keep company and make friends or build relationships.

These three psychological needs are universal i.e., every person is motivated by competence, autonomy or relatedness to some degree. Your self-determination is based on whether you believe you have control over the outcomes in your life. At the same time, it’s determined by how willing you are to step back and let someone else take charge.

If you’re self-determined you’re more likely to:

  • Own up to your mistakes and take pride in your decisions

  • Get along with your coworkers at work

  • Find joy in the things you do without waiting for external rewards

  • Set achievable goals for yourself because of your self-awareness

  • Act on feedback without taking it personally

These characteristics define the importance of self-determination. This is especially relevant in the workplace, let’s see how!

Self-Determination In The Workplace

Although the self-determination theory is applicable in all areas of life be it health, education, family, work or others. It’s particularly important in a professional setting. This is perhaps due to an organization being a high-powered, competitive environment. Carving a niche for yourself becomes all the more challenging when you’re trying to work in a team, communicate with others and meet your targets.

Some examples of self-determination in the workplace are:

  1. Rohan was having trouble completing his tasks on time. Even though he enjoyed his work, the workload was taking a toll on him. He recognized that he needed to approach his manager and request a lighter workload.

  1. Preetiksha was a graphic designer with a highly-creative mind. Her designs impressed everyone from her colleague to the CEO of the organization. But one of her teammates thought that some of her designs didn’t align with the brand. She took their feedback into consideration and promised to act on it.

  1. Chinamma was a manager overseeing a four-member team. He noticed that his team performed well when they weren’t given a play-by-play on how to do a task. He decided to take a step back and let them take the lead on some projects.

These examples of self-determination reflect each person’s willingness to change or make decisions on their own volition. Self-determined individuals don’t shy away from criticism, instead, they’re comfortable enough to acknowledge their weaknesses. Knowing that their efforts will significantly impact the outcome is what drives them to be better.

Improve Your Self-Determination To Achieve Your Goals

To improve your self-determination, you need to be sure of your purpose. If you’re comfortable with where you are (and where you want to be), you’ll likely make better decisions. Harappa’s Discovering Purpose course is designed to teach you to arrive at your purpose. With the concept of Ikigai, you’ll figure out what you want to achieve in life. Learn to be your best possible self, become resilient in the face of challenges and improve productivity at work. Self-determination can simplify your life and make your professional journey a lot more satisfactory.


Explore topics such as What is Gratitude, How to Practice Mindfulness, The Self-Determination Theory & How to Practice Gratitude from Harappa Education and identify your life purpose.

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