There are many theories of motivation around, yet most of the ones that turn up on training courses hark back to the 1970s, 1960s and even the 1950s. Is there any new thinking on motivation, for the twenty first century?
It turns out that there is. And it isn’t just new thinking: this is research-based and supported by experimental evidence.
We are all motivated to satisfy three fundamental needs, which are described as ‘psychological nutrients’. If one or more of these needs is unfulfilled, we lose motivation. Critically, Ryan and Deci also see the fulfilment of these needs as essential to our sense of well-being.
These three psychological nutrients are:
Being able to make your own choices and live your own life
Feeling able and confident in what you are doing
Having safe, secure social relationships (which do not threaten your feelings of autonomy or competence)
So, the needs Ryan and Deci have identified are familiar – although not identical to those described by previous researchers. What is more convincing in their work is the greater subtlety they characterise in examining how these three factors act to motivate us.
They don’t try to describe all of the motivational phenomena that they observe in their experiments with one grand theory. instead, they have articulated five (to date) ‘mini theories’ to account for different aspects of motivation.
These make Self Determination Theory a very compelling model, worthy of greater study.
Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET)
How we assess our social context and how that evaluation affects our intrinsic (self) motivation.
Organismic Integration Theory (OIT) How we internalise external factors, turning them into motivators or de-motivators.
Causality Orientations Theory (COT) how we make behavioural and situational choices based on personality orientations towards autonomy, control and our need for competence.
Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) How autonomy, competence, and relatedness are basic psychological needs, essential to our well-being.
Goal Contents Theory (GCT) How intrinsic and extrinsic goals have different affects on our perceptions of satisfaction and well-being. There is a great animated video, made by a colleague of Ryan and Deci, below.