Unlike my last post on how to set goals for 2020, this one is going to focus on motivation, which may already be dwindling for you one month into the new year, yet is crucial in helping you achieve your goals.

Motivation can be a powerful force in shaping who we are and how we behave. It is our desire or willingness to do something and is our reason for acting or behaving in a particular way. And our levels of motivation can be the determining factor in the level of success we have.

Ryan and Deci, both psychologists and key motivation researchers, have suggested that motivation exists on a spectrum that essentially includes four points. At one end, people are extrinsically motivated by a reward or punishment. Next, people are motivated externally by a sense of guilt or feeling they should do something. Further along, people are internally motivated as their actions align with their values. And at the other end of the spectrum, people are intrinsically motivated when they do something because they want to do it for enjoyment and satisfaction.

So how do we become more intrinsically motivated?

Self-Determination Theory, developed by Ryan and Deci, posits that there are factors necessary for our psychological wellbeing, just as food, water, sleep and shelter are important for our physical wellbeing. They suggest that we will be more intrinsically motivated when our goals satisfy our three psychological needs:

  • Competence – we want to build our knowledge and develop our skills relating to certain tasks
  • Autonomy – we want to feel we have control and choice over our actions and direction in life
  • Relatedness – we want to belong and feel good connections with others.

Building these three psychological needs into our goals will help us achieve what we set out by creating the energy we need to persist. When our goals are self-determined, we are not driven by external sources, as our aims are consistent with our values and sense of self, and support us to change, grow and be more engaged.

How to drive motivation in the workplace

For years, SDT has been influential in education and sport as well as at work. It was one of my key learnings years ago and was frequently drawn upon when leading my team – I referred to it as putting the team in the CAR!

These days, the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ approach doesn’t cut it anymore as a way of motivating employees, and can even be detrimental by reducing intrinsic motivation (although sometimes this is necessary e.g. if a particular task is boring or behaviour needs to be controlled).

Employees today are looking for intrinsic motivation. Leaders therefore need to find ways to create an environment that enhances their team’s performance by promoting their sense of competence, autonomy and belonging. This can be done by involving team members in setting goals so they have a stake in achieving their organisation’s objectives, giving them independence and control over tasks so they can prove themselves, providing them with interesting and challenging work so they are engaged and can grow and develop, and by fostering quality relationships amongst the team and stakeholders.

So if you’re finding your motivation is currently lacking (or the motivation of your team), consider how your goals are meeting your psychological needs – it may just be the key to your success!

For more information on SDT, you can read Ryan and Deci’s book or look at the entire website dedicated to the topic.