Applying Self-Determination Theory to Yourself

Remember that boss, that total douche canoe of a human that micromanaged you, made you feel incompetent and didn’t do diddly to relate to you? We remember him too. That guy—or gal, we’re not sexist—sucked. This boss had no idea how foster intrinsic motivation and improve your performance. This jackwagon didn’t understand self-determination theory.

 

 

Self-Determination Theory (SDT): A Definition

 

Self-determination theory is a psychological precept researched and developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan—professors at the University of Rochester. Its main concern is fostering intrinsic motivation and is based on the premise that we are all inherently curious, motivated human beings. But that our external environments kill our drives—things like over-controlling authority, contingencies and external rewards.

 

Here’s the definition, straight from self-determinationtheory.com:

 

Self-determination theory is a theory of motivation. It is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways.

 

Its tenants are Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness. Autonomy meaning authentic self-direction. Competence in feeling effective in navigating your environment and relatedness to yourself and others.

 

The Problem

 

Problem is we’ve internalized that shitty boss—we take the external environment and rule our internal environment with it. In our psyche exists a one-up, authoritarian manager that’s overly critical and doesn’t often relate well to itself. It sounds fucking crazy—and it is a little bit. We’re all a little bit nuts.

 

Applying SDT to Ourselves

 

Self-determination theory is the foundation of our coaching strategy and guides management of successful companies all over the world. But we believe that its successful managerial fostering of intrinsic motivation is apt to be internalized and practiced by the individual. That means you, you beautiful son of a bitch.

 

Self-Autonomy

 

“…people can be controlling with themselves to satisfy their introjects. To pressure yourself, to force yourself to act, or to feel as if you have to do something is to undermine your own autonomy.”

 

The quote is from Edward L. Deci’s book Why We Do What We Do; it’s an ode to self-determination theory in practical application. Think about that for a second. How often do you coerce yourself into action? While it’s often a productive short-term strategy, it’s a long-term defeatist, self-destructive means to an end. Autonomy is intrinsic motivation’s spearhead—we must foster it to make self-determination theory work.

 

To avoid this trap, and to develop self-autonomy, we have to start with understanding our introjects.

 

Introjects are internalized rules that don’t jive with our authentic selves. To paraphrase Deci, think of them as loud, demanding voices in your head that come from outside sources. They’re rules you haven’t made a part of your authentic operation, but you still follow them.

 

Following introjects inhibits our self-autonomy—while likely building resentment.

 

Instead consider what you authentically think, feel and act on. Does it feel right in your gut? Yes? Then do it. No? Well…that’s why we have a middle finger.

 

Think of the external fitness and work mores that we coerce ourselves with. If we’re not slaves to the gym we’re not committed. If we’re not grinding ourselves into the ground we’re not hustling enough. If these ideas jive with who you authentically are, then go after them. If not…consider that and start asking questions.

 

Are you following introjects or are you integrating solid, authentic mores into your decision making process?

 

Fostering Self-Autonomy

 

Fostering self-autonomy occurs as any worthy endeavor does—with consistent, simple action.

 

Here are the actions we’ve found valuable:

 

  • Give yourself a choice. Don’t cajole yourself.
  • Understand your introjects. Are you acting because you “ought” to or because you want to?
  • Perform relaxed self-evaluation. Be honest with yourself, but don’t beat yourself up.
  • Fuck the external. Be authentic.

 

Self-Competence

 

Being, and feeling, competent drives autonomous action. Outwardly, instructors, teachers and managers supply us with the tools to improve competence. But self, inwardly focused, competence is different. How do we approach it?

 

Let’s start by drawing on Carol Dweck and her Growth Mindset. At its essence, the growth mindset is an understanding that we’re all works in progress, that our talents, skills, and even our intelligence, is ripe for development. We are not subject to our innate abilities—everything we inherently possess can be developed.

 

Consider this in terms of self-competence. When do we feel incompetent? When we don’t have an honest understanding of our current skills and when we judge ourselves based on other people or on future accomplishments.

 

Maybe you’re not a great deadlifter yet, but you’d like to be one. Maybe you see some other gents Greek-god like physique and you’d like to obtain it. Considering what you aren’t yet, or what you don’t yet have, will surely bolster incompetent feelings.

 

Surely I can’t be serious.

 

I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

 

Fostering Self-Competence

 

Let’s avoid incompetent pitfalls and practice simple competence fostering actions.

  •  Follow the Growth Mindset. Understand that all of your current abilities can be improved upon with effort.
  •  Be alright with where you are. You are where you are…understand that it is what it is, but it doesn’t have to be constant.
  •  Stop comparing to your future self and to others. Have goals, but understand that work will take you there. And since you haven’t done the work yet there is no sense in comparing.

 

 

Self-Relatedness

 

How do you relate to yourself?

 

It’s a puzzling question, isn’t it? How do you even separate from yourself and who you are to evaluate such a quandary? It sounds like the theme to a new age spirituality book—and it likely is. But there’s value in self-understanding. There’s value in understanding that not all of our actions, or our thoughts, come innately from us. Whoa. Fuckin’ trippy.

 

So, how do you relate to yourself?

 

Are you hypercritical and constantly judging yourself in the current moment and for past decisions?

 

Do you externalize your self, relating who you are to your job title or your status in life?

Do you take it easy on yourself all the time?

 

Do you have an understanding that right now you’re the culmination of thoughts, habits and behaviors that can be changed?

 

Remember the line from Fight Club?

 

“You’re not your fucking khakis.”

 

In reality we aren’t the hypercritical judge that exists in our brain, ludicrously examining every decision. We’re not our job. We are our minds relation to all of those things.

 

How do we relate to that idea? We believe it starts with the simple understanding that we are in the middle. Like fostering the growth mindset, we have to understand that we are a work in progress. We’ll make mistakes but separating our self from those mistakes and understanding that we are the culmination of lessons learned is truly what helps us self-relate.

 

In essence, self-relatedness is a dissociation from every day life. It’s taking a step back and evaluating our actions, thoughts and behaviors without criticism.

 

How do we do this?

 

Fostering Self-Relatedness

 

Here are a few simple actions to foster self-relatedness:

  • Spend time with yourself. No distractions. Just you and your thoughts. Let them flow. Don’t judge them, just be aware of them. And certainly don’t try to turn them off. Just be inquisitive and look at them all as interesting bits of information.
  • Stop listening to people. External input muddies the waters of self-relatedness. Sure, people will give you good advice—but until we have a solid grasp on our own self-relatedness this advice, if acted upon, becomes introjections.

SDT for You

 

Give yourself choice and room to operate. Understand your current place and that it’s not constant and spend some time alone in judge free self-examination. Self-determination theory, in this practice, will bolster intrinsic motivation, making you a bad son of a bitch.