Figure Out What's Next

Autonomy: The Foundation of Motivation (Part One)

career satisfaction motivation motivationfinder peter axtell purposeful living self-assessment Feb 08, 2018
Motivation - Autonomy

by Peter Axtell

drawing by Peter Axtell

Discover the critical parts you need to know to determine what will motivate you. The foundation of motivation begins with Autonomy...

Let's face it; nobody does anything without motivation. Scientists, psychologists, and philosophers have been trying to answer this question for millennia: “How can I figure out what motivates me?”

Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, authors of the book “Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness”  postulate that three psychological needs are necessary for humans to be motivated to grow and thrive: Connection, Autonomy, and Mastery. Humans thrive when internal motivation is nurtured. We suggest a fourth factor, Purpose.

The four factors of motivation – we use the acronym “CAMP:”

  1. Connection
  2. Autonomy
  3. Mastery
  4. Purpose

The goal of this series of four posts is to answer the question: “How do I figure out what motivates me?”

This article is part one of a four-part series on Psychological Needs necessary for nurturing internal motivation and in turn fulfillment at work and in your personal life. Science has shown that humans have a natural tendency to strive for Mastery (competence), Autonomy (self-determination and self-regulation) and Connection (relatedness). And more and more they are thinking about Purpose. Deci and Ryan’s research has shown that Autonomy is the most important, so let’s discuss Autonomy first.

What does Autonomy mean?

According to Ryan and Deci, the definition of Autonomy is “behaving with full volition and choice.” Another way of saying this is "self-determination and self-regulation.”

The opposite of Autonomy is a fancy word called Heteronomy which means being subject to someone or something else. It's when you take action out of an internal or external pressure that you experience as controlling. 

How often have you felt that inner resistance when you were forced by someone else to do something you didn’t want to do, or act in a way that was not in alignment with your morals or values? I don't mean having to do a small task that is necessary for the performance of your job. I'm talking about a fundamental feeling of being controlled by external pressure.

Autonomy is a powerful energy that activates an internal willingness to act because it becomes your choice. You perceive it as a lack of internal dissonance.

The critical difference between Autonomy and Heteronomy:

  1. Autonomy (self-determination) increases motivation.
  2. Heteronomy (non-self-determination) depletes motivation.

The more you submit to outside pressure at the expense of your values, let's say for a paycheck, studies show that eventually your motivation will be depleted and you will find yourself unhappy. Your energy will just drain away little by little.

Autonomy, as it's referred to here, doesn’t equal someone who is financially free to do what they want without any constraints. You can be financially independent and still feel de-motivated. People often believe that the financial independence will cause them to feel motivated. And yet people often experience de-motivation after becoming financially free. It’s a valid goal to want to become financially independent if you understand it’s limitations.

Let's face it; mostly everybody wants the money. So why not have both, financial reward and internal Autonomy?

Years ago, when I was in real estate I made a few significant commissions, and it felt great…for a while. But then I still had to force myself to go to work because the environment sucked the life out of me. No matter how much money I made, my motivation kept becoming more and more depleted. I was under the controlling pressure of doing a job I genuinely disliked – just for a paycheck. How was that ever going to work over the long term?

I propose that if you've ever wondered why you've lost enthusiasm for your job, it's because one or more of the causes of that enthusiasm (CAMP) has been missing.

As I said previously, a paycheck only (without your psychological needs being met) is a form of control and control kills Autonomy and therefore internal motivation.

In this blog post, we've covered the most critical motive which is Autonomy. Next, we'll explore Mastery which also has enormous implications on the path to well-being.

Questions: Where in your life do you feel Autonomy? How does it affect you? 


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