Why do we move and act?
Why do we do what we do? Many
have been proposed, however, the one that seems to make the most sense is
is briefly presented here.
- Why we do what we do.
- Wanting to move.
- Stimulating movement.
- Having the desire and willingness to do something
- energy, direction, and persistence
- activation (i.e. getting started) and intention.
- mobilization toward action. (often directed toward meeting goals)
Root: motive, serving to move.
Humans are Living Organisms:
While people often ask the question “How can person ‘A’ motivate person
‘B’?”, this common question is based on incorrect assumptions about
human nature. Watching a two- or three-year old
child makes this immediately apparent. Preschool children are bundles of energy
and curiosity. They are constantly busy exploring their surroundings, getting
into mischief, and asking questions while walking, talking, and doing. They don't
need external motives to keep them going; they act because they are alive, they
are curious, they enjoy activity, and not much is holding them back from doing
what just comes naturally to them.
The conclusion is unmistakable: people are active organisms with innate
tendencies toward growth and development. We strive to master ongoing challenges
and to integrate our experiences into a coherent sense of who we are. Humans are
So the better question becomes: “How can a person's innate tendencies toward
activity and growth be sustained?” Or, “How can we unblock a person's potential
for action, expression, growth, and achievement?”
The theory is based on the somewhat unconventional premises, demonstrated
through extensive research, that:
- human beings are active organisms rather than passive objects or
- we are naturally inclined toward growth and development rather than
relying on programming by the social environment, and
- we all have a set of basic psychological needs
which are universal rather than culturally determined.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation:
Humans respond to a variety of motives that range from intrinsic—originating
from within—to extrinsic—responding to external controls.
Motivations exist on a scale that ranges from intrinsic at one extreme
to extrinsic at the other extreme. Here are some defining characteristics
- is self-motivation,
- is doing an activity for its inherent satisfactions.
- is the inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and
exercise your capacity for activity and achievement, and to explore and learn.
- is the natural expression of humanity and the
- originates from the human tendency toward learning and creativity.
- arises spontaneously when the activity itself is valued, interesting, or
reflects a personal commitment.
- causes people to behave based on their interests and values; for reasons
internal to their self.
- represents a principle source of enjoyment and vitality throughout life.
It is the basis of flow.
- is increased by feelings of competence, optimum challenges, and authentic
feedback when accompanied by a sense of autonomy,
- is increased by allowing choice, acknowledging feelings, and providing
opportunities for self-direction,
- often leads to deeper understanding, richer experience, more creative
results, and improved problem solving.
- is more likely to flourish in a safe and supportive (i.e. caring)
- can be reduced by extrinsic rewards, threats, deadlines, directives,
surveillance, pressured or demeaning evaluations, and imposed goals.
- is based on external contingencies, rewards intended to control, coercion,
threats, or other forms of external
- is based on attaining some outcome separable from the activity itself,
- causes people to tolerate an activity only to receive a reward or avoid a
disincentive (often including fear,
shame, guilt, or
- causes people to behave for reasons external to their self.
- is instrumental, the activity is undertaken to attain an outcome, only as a
means to an end.
- can be responded to either from personal endorsement and a feeling of
choice, or from reluctant compliance with external controls. The relative
autonomy exercised varies greatly in these two cases.
- only influences behavior while rewards are made available. Stop the pay
and stop the play.
- undermines people's intrinsic motivations under many circumstances.
Many motives are a blend, as is discussed below in the section on
Extrinsic rewards include wealth, fame, and beauty. These emphasize what you
have. Intrinsic rewards include meaningful personal relationships, contributing
to the community, and personal growth. These emphasize who you are.
Support for our autonomy allows us to respond to our intrinsic
motivations and authentically meet our needs for competency and relatedness.
However, we are vulnerable and our darker sides are likely to emerge when these basic
psychological needs are not met.
Autonomy refers to free choice and is formally defined as “internally perceived
locus of causality”—basically a decision from your heart or your
authentic self. Intrinsic motivation decreases
as autonomy decreases. Autonomy is the opposite of being controlled.
The distinction between “I choose to do this” and “I have to do this” is the
essence of autonomy.
- being self-governed.
- making your own informed decisions and choosing to act according to your
own values and beliefs,
- authentic and responsible; taking
responsibility for the choices you make.
- the feeling deep inside that your actions are your own choice.
- choosing to . . .
Autonomy is not:
- individualism—pursuit of self-interest
- independence—acting alone
- detached, selfish, egotistical, or irresponsible
- compliance—behaving according to external controls, or defiance—rebellion
against external controls.
- irresponsible or disingenuous
- acting as a pawn
- submitting to coercion or threats
- being controlled.
- having to . . .
Competency refers to successfully meeting an optimum challenge. Intrinsic
motivation increases with the feeling of competency. But a competent pawn is not
intrinsically motivated. To be intrinsically motivated people need to perceive
themselves as both competent and autonomous. Competent is the opposite of
Relatedness is the need to feel connected to others and to feel like you
belong—you are part of something, you belong to a larger
community. It is your sincere caring about others and having others sincerely care
about you. It is valuing and caring about your
relationships. It is the opposite of loneliness, called embeddedness—the warm, cradled,
rooted, feeling of connection to others—that we all need.
Relatedness moderates autonomy, encourages
symmetry, and helps to balance our first-person viewpoint. It also encourages
because accepting responsibility for the well-being of others is an essential
element of relatedness. Socialization is the process where autonomy and
relatedness combine and lead us to choices that reflect our responsibility for
the well-being of others.
Relatedness allows us to interact effectively with others. We can give and
accept responsibility, cooperation,
compassion, and respect.
Relatedness understands reciprocity and
An essential concept in combining autonomy with relatedness is recognizing
where one person's rights and responsibilities end and another's begin. The
autonomous person understands the extent and importance of other people's
rights and responsibilities and bases mature decisions on this understanding.
Trespass is avoided. Relatedness moderates autonomy
because your freedom extends only to where others' freedom begins
Trouble brews when relatedness clashes with autonomy. When love and
acceptance are offered contingently as a means of control the manipulated
person's self image is damaged and introjected regulations are the likely result. A false
or fictional self emerges in place of an authentic self. When
acceptance or esteem is offered contingently then feelings of self-worth often
depend on particular outcomes such as approval of others or obtaining extrinsic
rewards. Having to choose between autonomy and love is like choosing between
food and water. Neither alternative is satisfactory because a
need is denied.
Hobbies Have it All:
It is not unusual for people who are bored, tired, careless, and otherwise
unmotivated on the job to pursue hobbies with their full vigor. Perhaps this is
because participating in a hobby is voluntary, and people demonstrate their
skills to other caring hobbyists. Hobbies often provide an excellent opportunity
to exercise autonomy, competency, and enjoy relatedness.
Integration describes bringing together and combining several elements into a
coherent and consistent whole. It is creating consistency, coherence,
congruence, unity, and
harmony from the assembled components.
When external motivations are fully assimilated into your
authentic self, they become integrated
regulations. You have carefully evaluated these rules and decided they are
congruent with your values and beliefs. You have
exercised autonomy and choose to accept these external motivations because they
are consistent with who you are. You grasp their meaning and integrate them into
your other values and beliefs. You freely choose to adopt integrated
regulations. They are natural and authentic.
Acquiescing to an external motivation without accepting it as your own is
called an introjected regulation. These are behaviors performed to
avoid guilt, humiliation,
fear, or anxiety, or to attain
a false pride by enhancing your
image but not your stature. These are rules,
beliefs, and behaviors often
marked by the “shoulds” and “oughts”
of fear, obligation, and guilt that often accompany fragile
self-esteem. You reluctantly comply with these introjected regulations in an
attempt to satisfy external controls.
Perhaps an example can help to clarify the difference between integrated and
introjected regulations. Consider a person who regularly attends church (or any
religious service) each week (or each day). If the person attends because they
enjoy the serenity, community, teachings, warmth, aesthetics, or ceremony of
the service then this represents an integrated regulation. If they attend
because they seek to attain or avoid some outcome, perhaps in the
afterlife, or perhaps at the church social, then this represents an
People who retain and respond to introjected regulations tend to feel more
anxiety about their activities, and
cope less well with failures. People who
reject or dismiss introjected regulations and respond only to integrated regulations show more
interest and enjoyment with their activities, are more engaged, perform better,
enjoy better well-being, and cope better with failures.
By adopting integrated regulations people become willing to undertake and
accept responsibility for the many activities that are important but not
The space we live in is constrained by the laws of
physics, our physical limitations, our integrated regulations and our
introjected regulations as illustrated in this figure:
The laws of physics constrain us to walk, run, or jump rather than hover,
teleport, or levitate. Our physical limitations require us to eat and sleep and they prevent us from leaping tall buildings. Integrated regulations might include our decisions to obey the
law, follow selected rules of etiquette, wash the dishes, mow the lawn, brush
our teeth, work out at the gym, hold a job, help a friend, return a favor, keep
promises, contribute to the community, continue our education, get
an annual physical, go to the dentist, refrain from abusing drugs, alcohol,
tobacco, or sex, and perhaps even eat our spinach and visit the in-laws on occasion. Introjected regulations are those other rules we follow without
the commitment that can only come from our authentic
and autonomous choice. Perhaps we
were told that we “should” do them, or maybe we do them in an attempt
to gain approval from others, or perhaps they are just bad habits. These introjected
regulations crowd out the living space and may leave you trapped. Identify and
eject these to increase the living space available to your
- “The man who beats his horse will soon be walking.” ~
- “To belong is to know, even in the middle
of the night, that I am among friends.” ~ Peter Block
Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, by
Edward L. Deci, Richard Flaste
web site, especially Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000).
Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social
development, and well-being.
American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
The Handbook of Self-Determination Research,
by Edward L. Deci, Richard M. Ryan
The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions,
by Esther M. Sternberg, M.D.
Pervasive Negative Effects of Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation: The
Myth Continues, by Judy Cameron, Katherine M. Banko, and W. David Pierce. The Behavior
Analyst 2001, 24, 1–44 No. 1 (Spring)
The real crisis? We stopped being wise, Barry Schwartz, TED
Talk, February, 2009
The surprising science of motivation, Dan Pink, TED Talk, July
The Devil Wears Prada
is an amusing portrayal of extrinsic motivation in action where esteem
is contingent on shoe styles.
The Hobart Shakespeareans in this documentary a fifth grade teacher
demonstrates the extraordinary power of intrinsic motivation.