Unmotivated: How to find motivation using Self-Determination Theory

cloth with artistic design
Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

Have you ever had some of those days, weeks, or even months of feeling completely unmotivated to do anything? I know I definitely have times like this, it can be a terrible routine to get stuck into and is even more difficult to break free from.

The best place to start is to question what keeps you motivated. According to two psychologists, Deci and Ryan, we have two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within us and is based on the internal drive to reach our “ideal self” that can be based upon one’s morals, goals and values. Comparatively, extrinsic motivation is the result of external rewards, such as grading systems, employee rewards etc..

Deci and Ryan theorize deeper than extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and came up with the Self-Determination Theory. Self-Determination Theory has been cited in literature over thousands of times and defines three fundamental needs that facilitates our growth and leads to self-determination, which are competence, autonomy and relatedness.

What does it mean to be “Self-determined”?

In Psychology, self-determination is a concept referring to how people make choices and manage their lives. It allows people to feel in control of their decisions. Self-determination impacts motivation as people feel more motivated to take action when they know that what they do will effect the outcome.

The three fundamental needs as stated before that are necessary to achieve self-determination are competence, autonomy and relatedness.

Competence: is the need to experience our behaviours as effectively enacted which allows us to feel as though we’ve done a good job.

Autonomy: is the need to feel that we have control over our behaviours and what we do.

Relatedness: is the need to interact, connect and share experiences with others which can also be described as having meaningful relationships and interactions.

Therefore, if we fulfill these 3 fundamental needs, we will ultimately be self-determined and feel greater motivation and mental wellness.

A key factor to being self-determined is intrinsic motivation as stated before. An intrinsic reward can be described as intangible and for example, might be the internal feeling of respect and recognition. An extrinsic reward is tangible and can be seen as receiving a raise at work for your hard efforts.

Deci and Ryan said that extrinsic motivation can taint a person’s feelings about the basic worth of a project and can undermine the intrinsic motivation.

How can we use self-determination theory to support growth and motivation?

The social conditions in which we develop and function in, largely impact how human beings choose to be proactive and engaged. Social support tends to be key and through our relationships and interactions with others we can either have positive or negative well-being and growth.

Deci and Ryan theorized that when the three fundamental needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are satisfied, humans will then support enhanced self-motivation and mental health. However, when these three needs are compromised, motivation and mental health are derailed.

Behaviours that are purely self-determined, tend to be supported and driven by intrinsic factors. Such as, completing tasks because you enjoy them, excelling at work because you love and take interest in what you do. Non-self-determined actions are performed because they must be done. There is not as much interest or passion in this case.

Feeling in-control, passionate and interested in the things you do will allow you to feel greater motivation and commitment towards your work, projects or goals.

This can explain why some people perform poorly at work, school or in various other projects. The passion and interest to complete tasks must be there and the motivation should be driven from an internal place.

I personally find that the fewer external rewards that are provided either by yourself, friends, teachers, parents, employers etc. can actually allow for one to feel deeper intrinsic motivation and satisfaction. When children or adults begin to expect external rewards for their work or behaviours is when the intrinsic motivation to complete them is slowly lost. The behaviours and actions completed will be less about passion, personal interest or values, and will instead shift towards needing an external reward in order to complete them.

As stated before, to achieve self-determination, one must fulfill autonomy, competence and relatedness as outlined by Deci and Ryan. So how can we improve in these 3 fundamental areas?

How to improve your self-determination:

  • Increase your Self-Motivation
    • Get out of the habit of expecting a reward every time you accomplish something. If you’ve achieved something great, celebrate it because you are passionate about it and create an intrinsic value within the things you accomplish. This will allow you to feel deep meaningful motivation from within.
  • Take responsibility
    • People who are high in self-determination will take responsibility for their successes but will also accept blame for their own failures.
  • Control
    • Believe that you have control over your life. Have a strong understanding that your behaviours will have an influence on outcomes. People who believe they have control over their lives understand that through hard work and good choices they can overcome challenges.
  • Social Support
    • Finding the right social support is very important in self-determination. Strong supportive relationships contributes to greater motivation and well being. Whereas, poor relationships with others contributes to weakened motivation and a poor sense of self.

Comment down below and tell me about some projects that you feel intrinsically motivated to get done. Also comment on some projects that you have felt low intrinsic motivation to complete and only did for an external reward.

Citations:

My Anxiety is Dictating my Life

Photo by Bruno Henrique on Pexels.com

Are you living in fear? Do you *flop on plans with your friends because you feel so anxious to go? This one is a classic… you agree to plans that were made days in advance, but hours before, your anxiety feels debilitating, you begin to catastrophize and you cancel. Then instead of trying to enjoy your time alone after cancelling, you think about how lonely and isolated you feel. You then blame yourself, end up wishing you had gone and feel worse having cancelled.

Another common scenario is right before a shift at work. You feel anxious to go to work, anxious to see your managers and coworkers. You begin to ruminate on scenarios that have happened at work in the past. So hours before your shift you decide that it’s best to call in “sick”. Then instead of having a productive day after calling in “sick”, you reflect on your unprofessionalism and end up feeling worse than how you would have felt if you had gone in.

These anxious thoughts are dictating our behaviours to the point where we can’t do simple tasks that we might need to do. Doing groceries gets put off because you’re scared that people are watching what you buy, going to school is daunting because you’re afraid of what others think of you or you’re stuck thinking of a situation that happened in school years ago, you fear taking exams because you believe you will fail. The list of situational examples can go on and on.

Self blame, ruminating and catastrophizing have been shown to be positively associated with symptoms of anxiety.

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

3 Reasons My Anxiety is Dictating My Behaviours:

1. Self Blame:

Self blame is when we put the blame of things we have experienced on ourselves. Suddenly we are personally responsible for everything that happens around us.

2. Ruminating:

Ruminating is when we are continuously consumed with the same thought over and over. Ruminating is usually associated with reliving negative and unpleasant moments through a series of thoughts. This can cause people to relive emotions and feelings previously experienced. Additionally, this can cause deep feelings of guilt, shame, regret and can lead to more severe consequences such as chronic depression or anxiety.

3. Catastrophizing:

Catastrophizing is when we believe that all situations have negative outcomes. This results in emphasizing the terror in the outcomes we believe to be possible. We believe that the worst will happen to us no matter what the situation.

How To manage Anxiety IN 3 Steps:

1. Awareness/Acceptance:

Becoming aware of our negative thoughts is really the first step towards finding peace. Being able to pause and realize “my thoughts are really spiralling out of control right now” is a skill that seems so easy but is actually very tough. By accepting negative thoughts that are related to negative events we can reassign ourselves to what has happened instead.

Instead of ruminating about what has happened and catastrophizing about what will happen, we can accept situations that we have dealt with and begin to move on to the next step.

2. Refocus on Planning

A refocus on planning can allow us to take a step back and refocus on the steps we need to take to plan and take action of how we are going to deal with negative events. How am I going to direct my thoughts towards a better direction? How am I going to go grocery shopping comfortably and not catastrophize about what is going to happen? How will I take an exam and not catastrophize over what my results will be?

An example of this can be that you will create a grocery list before you go out so that you can map out your path and know exactly how long you will be there for. This allows you to be actively working towards relieving catastrophic thoughts about spending too much time in the grocery store.

Additionally, studying for an exam weeks in advance, feeling prepared and trying your best should diminish catastrophic thoughts, as you are taking action towards obtaining a positive outcome and your thoughts are refocused on studying.

3. Positive Reappraisal

Practicing positive reappraisal allows us to create positive associations and meanings with negative events. This can allow for self-growth and realizations in the darkest of thoughts.

For example, when dealing with a break-up (romantically or with a friend), concentrate on how you can refocus your negative thoughts towards growth that was experienced as a result of that relationship or that you will experience as a result of accepting the end of the relationship. Through acceptance, planning and positive reappraisal, negative or difficult events can always result in positive associations and moments of growth.

So don’t flop on plans with friends because you’re catastrophizing about what might happen if you do go, or because you’re ruminating on a previous negative experience. Don’t let your anxiety dictate your life!

*Flop = A slang word for when someone bails on plans at the last minute.

Have you ever found yourself to be catastrophizing, ruminating or placing blame on yourself? Comment down below if you can relate to these symptoms of anxiety! Also please comment some additional ways that helps you to improve your mental state in times of anxiety.

APA Citation:

Legerstee, J. S., Garnefski, N., Verhulst, F. C., & Utens, E. M. W. J. (2011). Cognitive coping in anxiety-disordered adolescents. Journal of Adolescence34(2), 319–326. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2010.04.008