During the lockdown, Sudha decided she wanted to pick up a new hobby. She was also experiencing the highs and lows associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. But she thought it was better to spend her time learning something new.

Sudha picked up a paintbrush and learned how to express herself on canvas. Sudha’s self-determination was driven by a motivation to paint because it made her happy.

Taking action, changing our ways of making choices are all driven by our inherent need to grow, learn and be happy. This phenomenon can be explained by the self-determination theory.

Understand how self-determination works, the theory of motivation and how internal and external factors determine our actions and behaviors.

  1. What Is The Self-Determination Theory?

  2. Self-Determination Theory Of Motivation

  3. Wellbeing And Growth With Self-Determination

What Is The Self-Determination Theory?

The self-determination theory (SDT) was developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in 1975. In their book Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior, they explained the human ability to make decisions, change behavior and manage actions.

High self-determination leads to success in several areas of life including work, family and health. It enables us to take charge of our lives because we feel that we have some control over important outcomes. For instance, you’ll be motivated to perform well at work if you know that it’ll help you grow professionally. Knowing that it’ll lead to improved results is what increases our self-determination. The self-determination theory defines three universal psychological needs:

  1. Autonomy

Autonomy simply means knowing that you have the freedom and liberty to make your own decisions. Being in control of your life, actions and behaviors is the mark of a self-determined individual.

  1. Competence

Self-determined individuals make an effort to learn and build skills because they know it’ll lead to better outcomes. Competence explains that efficiency or mastery leads to success. People are more likely to work on their ability to do something to achieve their goals.

  1. Relatedness

Humans are social creatures which means they need to be cared for and take care of others for a sense of belonging.

High and low self-determination is based on internal and external factors like satisfaction or external rewards.

The self-determination theory of motivation can be used to approach different types of motivation—intrinsic and extrinsic. The three basic psychological needs go hand in hand with internal or external motivation.

Self-Determination Theory Of Motivation

During the course of your life, you may be inspired or influenced by several factors to either make a choice or take action. These factors may be internal—satisfaction, happiness or competence—or external—appreciation, tangible rewards and social acceptance.

The self-determination theory of motivation explains how the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation theory affects our willingness to perform.

  1. Self-Determination Theory And Intrinsic Motivation Theory

The intrinsic motivation theory suggests that when we are motivated by factors like personal satisfaction or a willingness to achieve our goals, we exhibit higher self-determination. This stems from a feeling of being in control of our lives. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll likely go against all odds to do it. We find it easier to do things that interest us rather than things we have to do.

For instance, in the workplace, positive feedback, employee autonomy and a healthy work environment can drive higher self-motivation.

  1. Self-Determination Theory And Extrinsic Motivation Theory

The extrinsic motivation theory suggests that we’re motivated by external factors like rewards, incentives or praise. These factors may motivate us for a short period of time but they’re mostly never sustained. If we’re only motivated by how others perceive us, we probably don’t have any interest in the action itself.

For instance, in the workplace, too many incentives or rewards can motivate employees the wrong way. In the absence of a reward, they might not even work or put in any effort.

Self-determination helps us go for the things we enjoy—things that are driven by intrinsic motivation. You should aspire to improve your self-determination if you want to,

  • Set realistic improvement goals for yourself to succeed in every sphere of life

  • Make better connections and build lasting relationships at work

  • Be accountable and take responsibility for your decisions and their outcomes

  • Become the best version of yourself by learning and developing your skills

  • Enjoy a satisfactory personal and professional life

Wellbeing And Growth With Self-Determination

The importance of the self-determination theory is rooted in personal growth and wellbeing. To feel like we’re in charge is a healthy way to approach a situation. When you feel like you’re losing control, you may not be too keen to do your best.

Learn how you can build self-determination with Harappa’s Discovering Purpose course. Identifying what motivates you intrinsically will lead you on the right path. Find answers to the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ to identify your purpose in life. Identifying your beliefs and values will help you persevere and achieve your goals. Start your journey toward self-determination today!


Explore topics such as What is Gratitude, How to Practice Mindfulness, What is Self-DeterminationHow to be Successful in Life & How to Practice Gratitude from Harappa Education and identify your life purpose.

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