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Struggling with motivation? Think CAR! (unlocking the power of Self-Determination Theory)

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Self-Determination Theory & the secret of motivation

motivation and self determination theory

Welcome to one of the most important psychological theories ever discovered. Understanding and applying Self-Determination Theory will make you a better leader and manager.

Did you know that self-Determination Theory might be the answer to the meaning of Good Life; after all, what can bring more meaning in life than the power to choose? But did you also know that Self-Determination Theory holds the key to understanding everything from happiness, to resistance to change, through to leadership and learning agility? 

Importantly, the theory holds the key to understanding and improving the quality of personal growth and connectedness (a secret to a Good Life).

If you want to improve engagement, collaboration, creativity, productivity, mental toughness and wellbeing in life or at work, then you need to be aware of three things that will either drive you to your goal or drive you to distraction, CAR.


What motivates you?

You are a free-thinking organism that chooses to compete and collaborate with other free-thinking organisms. Every day, you make choices that determine your destiny but are you aware of the CAR that is driving your decisions? Because, if you understand what influences you, then you are in a better position to understand the choices that others make when they decide whether to compete or collaborate with you.

Motivation concerns energy, direction, persistence and equifinality--all aspects of activation and intention (Ryan & Deci)

What motivates you?

You are probably considering a range of responses to that question. At one end of the spectrum might be a fundamental choice to get out of bed and go to work to make enough money to put food on your table. At the other end, could be something more deep-seated, a choice to engage a passion that breaks the laws of time and space to make time fly. On the one end, you might feel coerced into action (from no control to extrinsic motivation), and on the other, you might have a feeling of something more authentic; a belief that strikes a tuning fork in your soul (intrinsic motivation).

Consider this: when faced with a choice, what brings you to take one direction over another? For example, think of a change programme at work, what brings you to go with the flow and what brings you to resist? 

Self-Determination is about your fundamental ability to choose, to make a choice that allows you to flourish - a feeling that your needs are being met. When your needs are met, you feel satisfied, and when they are not the opposite is true.

To thrive, you need to understand the CAR that will either drive you to your goal or drive you to distraction.


Learn about your CAR and unlock the secrets of motivation

The secrets of motivation are Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness (CAR).

  • Competence: your talent, attitude, knowledge, experiences and skills (TAKES).

  • Autonomy: the extent to which you are in control of your choice

  • Relatedness: the extent to which your beliefs, values, standards and behaviours connect with others

When driving toward a goal, you will experience optimal motivation when the goal:

  • is of your choosing

  • feels attainable - it is within the realms of your TAKES

  • connects with your beliefs, values and standards

You will act to avoid action when you sense a collision caused by the goal:

  • not being of your choosing

  • being outside your TAKES comfort zone

  • not connecting with your beliefs, values and standards

When facing a CAR collision, you might come to an emergency stop, or you might find a way around it. Here, you can use CAR to discover what is going on at the point of sensing a collision. For example:

  • when the goal is not of your choosing, you could hit the brakes where your strength of resistance will depend on the power of external forces. For example, if you fail to comply, will you lose your job? 

  • when the goal is outside your TAKES comfort zone but aligns with your values, beliefs and standards, you might decide to avoid hitting the brakes by engaging in CPD to address any gaps. 

  • when the goal doesn't connect with your values, beliefs and standards, you are likely to hit the brakes.

Now, think about the last time you resisted a decision put forward at work; using CAR, what do you discover about your behaviours and actions?


Next time you or your team starts to resist a given direction of travel, think CAR to understand what is going on.


Insights: be aware of the opportuities created by your limitations

As a leader or manager, you need to be aware of the skills you need to motivate and develop a high-performing team.

To help, we have designed an Insight Space to help discover and develop opportunities in your skillset.

We also teach motivation and trust frameworks as part of our Good Workshops programme. Get in touch if you would like to know more.


You can support the Good Life + Work Project by liking this post, subscribing to our blog and following us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Thank you,

Good Life Work Project

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