Handbook of Self-Determination Research; summary/notes

In my constant study of human behavior and what motivates us as humans and individuals, I ran across a book titled “Handbook of Self-Determination Research”.  This book takes all of the research and studies that have been conducted by the most recognized and highly influential scientists, researchers, psychologists to ever study human behaviors. The data is condensed in to a 500 page book that hits the highlights of what we know and can proven by data to show why humans behave and what motivates us.

The book was put together and edited by two of the most recognized in the study of human behavior and the Self-Determination research. Edward L. Deci and Richard. Ryan.

You can purchase the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Self-Determination-Research-Edward-Deci/dp/1580461565/

In my typical summary and notes fashion.  I have provided here my notes from the book and what I am taking away from the book, and in this case, the study of Self Determination. This book was very academic and honestly over my head at times, but it was well laid out and an excellent read for anyone studying humans and why we do what they do.

Notes and paragraphs from the text: 

In the classical, Aristotelian, view of human development, people are assumed to possess an active tendency toward psychological growth and integration. Endowed with an innate striving to exercise and elaborate their interest, individuals tend to naturally seek challenges, to discover new perspectives, and to actively internalize and transform cultural practices. By stretching their capacities and expressing their talents and propensity, people actualize their human potentials.

Self determination Theory begins by embracing the assumption that all individuals have natural, innate, and constructive tendencies to develop an ever more elaborated and unified sense of self.

There are three basics needs of everyone: They are competence, relatedness, and autonomy.

Competence: refers to feeling effective in ongoing interactions with the social environment and experiencing opportunities to exercise and express ones capacities. The need for competence leads people to seek challenges that are optimal for their capacities through activity. Competence is not, then, an attained skill or capability, but rather is a felt sense of confidence and effectance in action.

Relatedness: refers to feeling connected to others, to caring for and being cared for by those others, to having a sense of belongingness both with other individuals and with ones community. Relatedness reflects the homonomous aspect of the integrative tendency of life, the tendency to connect with and be integral to and accepted by others. The need to feel oneself as being in relation to others is thus not concerned with the attainment of a certain outcome, but instead concerns the psychological sense of being with others in secure communion or unity.

Autonomy: refers to being the perceived origin or source of ones own behavior. Autonomy concerns acting from interest and integrated values. When autonomous, individuals experience their behavior as an expression of the self, such that, even when actions are influenced by outside sources, the actors concur with those influences, feeling both initiative and value with regard to them.

Autonomy is often confused with, or melded together with, the quite different concept of independence (which means not relying on external sources of influences), but the Self Determination Theory view considers there to be no necessary antagonism between autonomy and dependence. Indeed, one can quite autonomously enact values and behaviors that others have requested or forwarded, provided that one congruently endorses them. In short, independence versus dependence is a dimension that is seen Self Determination Theory.

Self Determination Theory conceives of humans as active, growth-oriented organisms, that innately seek and engage challenges in their environments, attempting to actualize their potentialities, capacities, and sensibilities.

Two Types of Motivation:

Intrinsically motivated behaviors are those whose motivation is based in the inherent satisfactions of the behaviors, rather than in contingencies or reinforcements that are operationally separable from those activities. Intrinsic motivation represents a prototype of self-determined activity, in that, when intrinsically motivated, people engage in activities freely, being sustained by the experience of interest an enjoyment.

Intrinsic Motivation implies engaging in an activity for the pleasure and satisfaction inherent in the activity.

  • To know: implies engaging in activities because of the pleasure and satisfaction derived from the learning, exploring, and understanding new things.
  • To accomplish: refers to engaging in activities because of the pleasure and satisfaction derived from trying to surpass oneself, creating or accomplishing something.
  • Experience stimulation: operates when one is engaged in an activity because of the stimulating sensations associated with it.

EX: Students doing their homework because they enjoy it and find that learning new things is interesting and satisfying.

Extrinsic motivation is focused toward and dependent on contingent outcomes that are separable from the action. A broad array of behaviors having in common the fact that activities are engaged in not for reasons inherent in them bit for instrumental reasons. They are undertaken to attain an end state that is separate from the actual behavior.

Three examples of extrinsic motivation/values: financial success, image, social recognition.

Intrinsic values/motivation: self-acceptance, affiliation, and community feeling.

The concept of intrinsic motivation refers to behaviors performed out of interest and enjoyment and extrinsic motivation is pertains to behaviors carried out to attain contingent outcomes.

A meta-analysis of 128 experiments confirmed that expected tangible rewards which require engaging in the target activity do indeed undermine intrinsic motivation for that activity, whereas verbal rewards tend to enhance intrinsic motivation.

Self Determination Theory from the authors is very simply: that humans have three basic types of needs or motives, for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.  That is humans are happiest and healthiest when environments, and their own inner processes, permit them to feel effective, choiceful, and connected in their ongoing experience.

Self-Handicapping, which is the tendency to erect impediments to ones own success in order to provide an excuse for failure..  Hence, self handicapping can be considered a defensive preparation to maintain self-esteem in case of later failure.

NEEDS and Motives: Needs differ from lives in that they are part of the individual inherent psychological makeup and therefore represent a psychological requirement, which means they must be attended to and satisfied for the individual to function in optimal fashion and experience well-being. In essence, a need may be seen as a motive that has innate roots. The need for competence is conceptualized herein as innate, multidimensional need, and is presumed to have a powerful widespread influence on personality functioning and wellbeing.

Motives rather than needs: examples include the need for closure, the need for dominance, self-presentation motive, and self verification motive. Such motive dispositions clearly have an important influence on everyday functioning, but we suspect that their influence is qualitatively different from that of a basic need such as the need for competence.

Goals may be distinguished from needs and motives in that the latter are dispositions that energize behavior and orient the individual in a general way., whereas the former are cognitive representations that serve as directional function for behavior by focusing the individual on more specific possibilities.

Goals are related to needs and motives in the self-regulatory process, in that individuals sometimes adopt goals that help save their dispositional desires by channeling them in a more concrete direction. Needs or motives can and often lead directly to behavior, but these general dispositional desires sometimes need to be strategically channelled in a specific direction to be satisfied in an effective and efficient manner. This the need for competence can influence behavior in two ways: it can impel competence based behavior directly, or it can lead to a competence based behavior indirectly prompting the adoption of competence goals that proximally regulate behavior.


People are most motivated when they have a sense of autonomy. Where they are controlling their environment and how they do something.  We don’t have a problem with parameters, but we want to feel like we have the autonomy to do a job or to pursue something that we want to pursue.  Our self determination and motivation is higher when we have a certain level of competence as well. We want to understand whatever it is that we must do.  When we don’t understand something our motivation and determination is much lower.  And lastly, relatedness.  We want to have community and be in alignment with others that we are around.  We want to love and to be loved.  Love meaning connected with others who are in alike thinking as we are as well.

Leaders must create the right environment that includes the three factors of autonomy, competence, and relatedness for their team to perform at peak performance. Leaders must create an environment where team members have intrinsic motivation to do the work that they do.  You can hire people that are intrinsically motivated, but you have to create the right environment to sustain that motivation.

To your success and your future.

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