Steps toward Intrinsic Motivation

This posting is a continuation of an earlier posting on intrinsic motivation. In Ryan and Deci’s paper, Figure 1, the Self-Determination Continuum, presents a very useful model of different sorts of motivation. I’ll describe it briefly here — putting my own spin on it, I’m sure. If you want it in their pictorial form without my spin, remember you can get the paper, Self Determination Theory and Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being, from the Self-Determination Theory site.

People get motivation a number of different ways — and in different ways for different activities.

The continuum starts with amotivation — not feeling motivated at all — and ends with intrinsic motivation — doing something purely for the joy of doing it. Movement along the continuum is often driven by the trio, Relatedness, Competence, and Autonomy, described in the first part of this discussion.

1. Amotivation: Lacking the intention to act, going through the motions — either from not valuing the activity, not feeling competent at it, or not expecting a positive outcome from it.

There may not be much that can be done about someone not valuing an activity, but there are things that can be done about perceived competence — helping someone build skills or become aware of existing skills or remove obstacles — and perhaps there are things that can be done to raise the level of expectation of a positive outcome.

2. Extrinsic motivation with external regulation: Intention to act that is based on external rewards and punishments. Often experienced as being controlled or alienated.

This is the form of motivation that responds to bribes and punishments. The problem is, when the bribes and punishments stop, so does the activity unless the person’s motivation has moved further along the continuum.

3. Extrinsic motivation with introjected regulation: I think of introjected regulation as hearing someone else’s voice in one’s head. It involves doing things to please others — perhaps having one’s self-esteem contingent on doing what others want done.

I think this one emphasizes Relatedness. To increase introjection, give people reasons to want to please you and then let them know when they do please you.

4. Extrinsic motivation with identified regulation: consciously valuing the goal so that it becomes personally important.

I think identification comes with a growing sense of competence. People are unwilling to identify with activities that they feel are beyond their ability. Task enablement interventions may be useful to increase motivation to this point — finding mentors, breaking tasks down into manageable pieces, highlighting instances of success.

5. Extrinsic motivation with integrated regulation: The motivation is taken in and integrated with one’s sense of self. It’s still driven by interest in outcome, but now it is congruent with one’s personal values and needs.

This is probably also related to a growing sense of competence, as well as autonomy since integration implies a greater degree of ownership.

6. Intrinsic motivation: Interest, enjoyment, inherent satisfaction in the activity.

The shift from extrinsic to intrinsic is from being focused on the outcome to being focused on the activity in and of itself. To some degree, it involves all three of Relatedness, Competence, and Autonomy.

It is very unlikely that you will feel the same level of motivation for all the activities you could do. But if you happen to want to be more motivated for a particular activity, it may be helpful to look at your level of Relatedness, Competence, and Autonomy — to see if ideas come up for positive interventions. Are there ways that you could connect the activity to the well-being of others you value? Increase your skills? Gain greater volition and freedom in the way you conduct the activity? To quote Ryan and Deci (p. 76),

“Contexts supportive of autonomy, competence, and relatedness were found to foster greater internalization and integration than contexts that thwart satisfaction of these needs. This latter finding, we argue, is of great significance for individuals who wish to motivate others in a way that engenders commitment, effort, and high-quality performance.”

This continuum shows how motivation can grow, and it leads to ideas of positive interventions that can make a difference, different ones at different points. Don’t focus on making amotivated people more autonomous. Don’t put all your energy into increasing external rewards for people who are intrinsically motivated. At any point, think about whether and how basic human needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy are relevant.


Filed under Motivation, Positive Interventions

4 responses to “Steps toward Intrinsic Motivation

  1. I found your article very concise and informative. I am currently working on a research project under the umbrella of motivation. As I’ve came across several scholarly articles, I became overwhelmed by the verbose language used in most of them. You, on the contrary, get straight to the point–hitting right on the nail–while still portraying your authenticity and knowledge of subject. Well done. This has been very useful.

  2. Kathryn

    Thank you, Deara.

    When I was a software engineer, I often found myself translating technical specifications into terms that people other than engineers could understand. It’s nice to know that ability has followed me into psychology.

    I’d love to hear more about your research.


  3. Pingback: ” Just Enough Motivation " on Positive Psychology News Daily

  4. Pingback: Motivation and Self-determination Theory « Positive Psychology Reflections

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