This weekend, I am attending the 5th International Conference on Self-Determination Theory. SDT is a theoretical and empirical framework for understanding and engaging human motivation.
A fundamental question: Under what conditions do people have the best chance of flourishing? SDT suggests that three basic human needs must be met:
1) Autonomy: Our behavior is volitional, self-initiating, and reflects values/interests that are our own. One does not feel controlled.
2) Competence: We have opportunities to experience and demonstrate efficacy, mastery, and growth.
3) Relatedness: We feel connected to others and feel cared for.
Does your environment (work, team, family, school) support or thwart these needs? In too many cases, we erode motivation by creating and/or sustaining environments which are not supportive of these needs.
My conference talk is about motivation and effective goal pursuit in elite athletes. (Here is the slideshow, which might take a few seconds to download.)
I have interviewed dozens of elite athletes in order to explore and describe the ways in which they pursue and achieve their goals. For the talk, I describe three case studies: distance swimmer Lynne Cox (about whom I have previously written), boxer Patricia Alcivar (about whom I have previously written), and Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills.
Athletes can thrive in a variety of situations, of course. But I have noticed that most do so when their basic psychological needs are being met along with their specific needs for their sport. What I observe in successful elite athletes:
1) They are intrinsically motivated for their training. (I’m thinking of a basketball player who quickens his step when he is headed to the gym.)
2) They seek opportunities for mastery and engage in deliberate practice, working on weaknesses to constantly improve. (See pic at top.)
3) They do this in a connected way — with coaching and teams — to maintain motivation under difficult times. They readily seek and receive support from others. (They share it generously too.)
Bottom line: Remember to treat motivation as a skill/habit to be practiced (rather than a personality trait). Then, set up and manage your environment in ways consistent with SDT: ways that facilitate your chances of thriving and flourishing.