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Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan developed a theory of motivation which suggests that people tend to be driven by a need to grow and gain fulfillment. The first assumption of self-determination theory is that people are activity directed toward growth. Gaining mastery over challenges and taking in new experiences are essential for developing a cohesive sense of self.
While people are often motivated to act by external rewards such as money, prizes, and acclaim (known as extrinsic motivation), self-determination theory focuses primarily on internal sources of motivation such as a need to gain knowledge or independence (known as instrinsic motivation).
According to self-determination theory, people need to feel the following in order to achieve such psychological growth:
Deci and Ryan suggest that when people experience these three things, they become self-determined and able to be intrinsically motivated to pursue the things that interest them.
How exactly do people go about fulfilling these three needs?
It is important to realise that the psychological growth described by self-determination theory does not simply happen automatically.
While people might be oriented toward such growth, it requires continuous sustenance. According to Deci and Ryan, social support is the key. Through our relationships and interactions with others, we can either foster or thwart well-being and personal growth.
What other things that can help or hinder the three elements needed for growth?
According to Deci, giving people extrinsic rewards for already intrinsically motivated behaviour can undermine autonomy. As the behaviour becomes increasingly controlled by the external rewards, people begin to feel less in control of their own behaviour and intrinsic motivation is diminished.
Deci also suggests that offering unexpected positive encouragement and feedback on a person’s performance on a task can increase intrinsic motivation. Why? Because such feedback helps people to feel more competent, one of the key needs for personal growth.