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How to Take Control of Your Motivation

How to Take Control of Your Motivation

Sam Martin, mental performance coach, discusses the benefits of applying self-determination theory (SDT) to take control of our motivation levels.

Motivation is fickle. It often fails to show when we need it most, and even when it does show, its appearance is short-lived. 

These motivation features seem to have exacerbated over the past year in which millions of people throughout the UK have had their entire work lives disrupted. The novelty of working from home has worn off, cravings to see colleagues in person won't subside, and monotony is driving even the most regimented of us up the wall. 

But does it have to be that way? Is there a way in which we can take control of our motivation levels? 

Well, there is something. It's something that stops us waiting to feel inspired and helps us feel like we've got our spark back. It's something that taps into the fundamental needs we all have to feel a spring in our step. 

This something is called 'self-determination theory'. And it can help anyone get their mojo back. 

What is self-determination theory?

Self-determination theory, or SDT, is an intrinsic theory of motivation - this means that it refers to our internal sources of motivation. 

We all know that extrinsic motivators, those things outside ourselves, do little more than give us a quick pump or surge of desire. Think of that £3k pay rise; you're pumped up and inspired for a couple of days, then you quickly deflate. Other extrinsic motivators, like promotions and expense paid lunches, fail to keep the proverbial fire within us burning. 

But intrinsic motivators are the things that add daily coals to that fire. They may not give us the 'I'm feeling SUPER motivated today' surge, but they keep us focused and engaged on long-term goals and projects. They include things like a sense of challenge and finding whatever you're working on personally meaningful and purposeful. 

So SDT is a theory that puts these intrinsic motivators at its heart. It was developed by psychologists Ryan and Deci, who argued that all humans fundamentally have three inherent needs that need to be met to feel optimally motivated. These are:

  • Autonomy: a sense of personal freedom and choice in what we pursue.
  • Competency: a sense that we are skilled or developing skills and making progress towards our goals.
  • Relatedness: a sense of connection to others we collaborate with in the pursuit of goals.

So how can SDT help with motivation at work? 

What is often found in organisations is that team members show regular slumps in motivation because one, two, or even three of these needs are not being met. 

Employees who have little freedom or flexibility in how they go about their work can feel confined and resentful at restrictions. People who lack a sense of competency can feel out of depth and thus prone to burnout caused by the stress of imposter syndrome. The employee who thinks that their manager knows nothing about them is likely to feel detached from their duties. 

All businesses claim that 'our people are our most important asset' and that in of itself is part of the problem. Labelling people as 'assets' ignores the inherent needs each human being has to perform at their best. 

So if you're a leader, consider implementing the following tips and if you're an employee, consider asking for their implementation.