Basic Psychological Needs of Motivation

People can be motivated externally through money, grades, even likes on social media. Extrinsic motivation is doing something because the reward comes from outside of yourself. Intrinsic motivation on the other hand is a behavior or performing a task because it is personally or internally rewarding. Extrinsic motivation is behaving in a certain way to receive a reward or avoid a punishment whereas intrinsic motivation is behaving a certain way for it’s own internal rewards.

Self determination theory is a meta theory about human motivation focusing on innate growth tendencies and psychological needs. It started with research comparing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation back in the 1970’s but wasn’t formalized until the 1980’s when Edward L. Deci and Richard Ryan wrote a book called “Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior”. Self determination theory challenged the leading idea that the only way to motivate people was through extrinsic rewards. While people can be motivated extrinsically, Deci and Ryan found that motivation did not last beyond the reward. Instead they found that people tended to remain motivated when certain psychological needs were met.

Through their research, Deci and Ryan determined three basic psychological needs that lead to intrinsic motivation. These needs underlie growth and development as a human. They are competence, relatedness, and autonomy. When met and supported the research shows that people are more persistence and consistent in their behavior and the motivations behind those behaviors.

Whether you are leading a team, working solo on a project, or just a cog in a bigger machine understanding these three psychological needs will help to maintain motivation when the rewards or payoffs seem too far away to matter. Extrinsic motivation is not inherently wrong or bad, especially when it is used to develop intrinsic motivation. We all want to get paid for our work, but that should not be our only motivation. Use the information here to not only understand yourself but understand others around you. If you experience a lack of motivation or see that someone who is usually going strong slacking and appearing unmotivated look for which of these three needs is not being met. You may not have the authority or ability to raise someone’s salary but you can motivate them through meeting these needs.

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