How much better would life be if only we had more motivation to study for that difficult class, spend more quality time with close friends, or even join that swimming class we’ve been thinking about? While the idea of needing more motivation to attain our goals seems generally compelling, deeper investigation of the mechanisms of human motivation reveals that motivation may not actually work this way.
ccording to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, leading researchers in the psychological science of human motivation, the question may not so much be about how much motivation we possess, but more about the type of motivation we are inclined towards. Ryan and Deci proposed that there are two main orientations in motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is the innate tendency of human beings to pursue goals out of enjoyment and genuine curiosity to learn. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is the inclination to pursue a goal to obtain a reward outside of the task itself, be it a social or a monetary reward. In order to enhance our intrinsic motivation, our basic psychological needs must first be fulfilled.
At the University of Rochester, Deci and Ryan developed Self-Determination Theory, which states that human beings have three basic psychological needs: the need for autonomy (the extent to which our goals are personally endorsed), competence (the extend to which we feel competent in a given domain), and relatedness (the extend to which we think we belong or connect with person, a group or a culture). When these needs are satisfied, intrinsic motivation is boosted.
So why are choosing and establishing goals that we are intrinsically motivated about important?
Research reveals that when we set intrinsically motivated goals, not only are we more likely to persevere when difficulties arise, but we are more likely to report higher subjective well-being and succeed in achieving them!
In a study by Sheldon and Krieger, the researchers were interested in the relationship between the intrinsic motivation of law students and their reported subjective well-being and academic performance. The results showed that law students who were intrinsically motivated reported higher academic achievement and subjective well-being. Also, in terms of relationships, a 2012 study revealed that participants whose partners were autonomy-supportive for their personal goals (e.g., provided support for their partner’s self-endorsed goals), reported increased intrinsic motivation over time, as well as higher goal progress, and better relationship quality!
Although goals of an extrinsic nature are often unavoidable to fulfill our responsibilities in life, preserving and applying our intrinsic motivation as a paradigm for personal goals is nonetheless essential, as we are more likely to persevere when challenges arise, and are more likely to succeed at them. So next time you are reassessing your fitness goals, for example, it might be useful to explore the reasons why fitness is meaningful to you, and to think about your overall interest in exercising.
By being aware of the benefits of intrinsic motivation, goal selection and setting can be more efficient, successful, and fulfilling!