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What if completing a task did not depend solely on you? What if your personality was governed by fundamental psychological needs and that meeting these needs could lead you to personal fulfillment? To be self-determined is to be able to respond to a sense of freedom, interest, appreciation and acceptance at the same time. Being self-determined is therefore fundamental to our well-being.

1. What is self-determination theory?


Self-determination theory comes from motivational psychology which was developed by Deci and Ryan, two psychology professors, in the 2000s. Self-determination is a theory about human motivation to perform a task. It is particularly used to understand the motivation of people in companies, schools, or activities. In other words, it is self-determination that will govern most of our lives.

2. What are these motivations?

These human motivations stem from three psychological needs fundamental to human beings: the need for autonomy, the need for competence and the need for social relationships.

a. Need for autonomy

The need for autonomy is the fact of being able to be master and to be at the origin of its actions. It is to be able to live, fully and consciously, in a chosen way, its experience. To truly be what we want them to be, our actions must be able to respond to our values. However, they take into consideration the environment and our surroundings. Being autonomous also means being able to assume the decisions that have been made. 

Autonomy allows you to have control over your life, and not let others run your life.

b. Need for competence

The need for competence is to be able to be efficient, and to continuously increase the level of difficulty of the tasks one has to perform. It emphasizes the fundamental efforts to meet a challenge or task. We are constantly looking to implement our knowledge, but also to go beyond it to meet higher capacities. The need for competence is therefore either to decrease the difficulty of the task or to increase personal skills. 

Fear of failure can sometimes go beyond our need for competence, and create avoidance behavior.

c. Need for human relations?

The need for social relations is inherent to man. By nature, human beings have need to belong to a group to survive. Being well in a group, with sincere and warm relationships reduces the risks of depression, anxiety, increasing life expectancy and well-being.  We connect with others in a search for wellness and to find ourselves through the other. Feeling a warmth and a common interest reassures man and gives him the tools to continue building himself. 

Belonging to a group is not just being part of a circle, it’s knowing that the other cares about us, and loves us. These relationships must be natural, filled with compassion, acceptance and mutual appreciation.

3. What are our needs?

The more these needs are met, the greater the motivation to perform the task. Conversely, the less these needs are met, the less the person invests in the tasks they have to perform. 

This lower motivation will lead to less commitment on the part of the person, and therefore to poorer performance and learning. Therefore, low task motivation hasphysical, behavioral and psychologicalconsequences.


4. What are the characteristics of these needs? 

These three basic needs have their own characteristics, which define each human being. These needs are inborn, that is, they exist in us from birth. They were not taught to us. Moreover, they are universal, regardless of our culture, upbringing or even age, since they remain throughout our lives. 

These needs are the basis of our personality and of our evolution in our lives. They promote our well-being and conversely, if they are not satisfied, increase our malaise. They are therefore essential to the development of the person.

5. What is the hierarchy of motivations?

There is a hierarchy of motivations like a hierarchy of needs. That is to say that when a motivation is satisfied, another one will, little by little, take its place according to the human hierarchy. It follows an order that goes from no motivation to perform the task to a motivation according to our values and internal motivations. This order goes from amotivation to intrinsic motivation.

6. What hierarchy of motivations?

Motivations follow a well-defined hierarchy, from no motivation to perform the task, to extrinsic motivation, to intrinsic motivation.

Being able to respond to the hierarchy of motivations, allows for better engagement of the person, and therefore better learning

Indeed, if a child understands the reason for having an operation, and that it represents something in his life, he will remember it much more easily.

a. Amotivation

Amotivation is when there is no motivation to respond to the task or challenge. The person feels no interest, no sense of ability to act to do this action. We feel like we are subjected to elements that are beyond our control.

In this first stage, there is a lack of commitment, little or no energy, and no regulation of emotions in the face of the requested action.

b. Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation comes from external components, whether in sanctions (e.g., I do my homework or I will be deprived of television), or in rewards ( e.g., the salary at the end of the month when one is employed). These extrinsic motivations can be introjected or identified.

Introjected motivation

This motivation comes from values and personal success. It joins the self-image. We don’t want to disappoint others, we are ashamed of what we can offer to others, we can feel guilty etc. We will expect others to value our actions (e.g., bonuses, referrals, positive feedback etc.).

Identified motivation

The actions are in line with the person’s values, and they have meaning for him/her. It identifies with the action it is doing and makes its activity one of its main values.  Here the person expects constructive feedback from their superiors..

c. Intrinsic motivation

It is governed solely by the pleasure and personal interest that the action provides. We want to do this action for no other reason than we love doing it. No external rewards are expected.

7. Can we change our motivations?

It is possible to change our motivations. On the other hand, it is more difficult to move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. Indeed, if someone offers to pay you for the same work, you will be much less likely to accept to do it for free, even if your motivations could be intrinsic. Interests and values are hard to change. On the other hand, you can be self-motivated and have a high degree of self-determination, even if you are paid.

So it’s important to remember that in order to motivate our peers, our colleagues, our children … all three needs (autonomy, competence, human relationships) must be satisfied. Each individual action forms the organization. Therefore, always pay attention to what you pass on to others in respect of these values and needs.

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