Intrinsic Motivation


Motivation in life is a big deal.

Most of us are quite familiar with the feeling of getting up in the morning and not wanting to go to work, school, the gym etc... especially if its cold outside and warm in bed. But the reality is, 'stuff needs to get done', bills need to be paid, assignments need to be finished, flab needs to be burned.

Most of us have probably had enough of hearing motivational speakers expound on their 'new psychologies of success' and have been oversaturated by the onslaught of quasi-wisdom being vomited through the plethora of tech and social media platforms by keyboard gurus who possibly don't know as much as they assert... Phew! As one genuinely wise individual said, 'there is nothing new under the sun'. Most of this stuff is pretty straightforward.

Such is motivation. At its core is the necessity of a sense of ownership and freedom. A good example is when you own a car, versus hiring one. Generally speaking, people aren't quite as 'motivated' to clean, look after and take pride in a hire car as much as they might be with one that they own. Ownership = motivation. This can be applied to a persons life - if they feel a sense of ownership and control over their own life- as opposed to being controlled by another, motivation flows.

Rockingham counsellor, Eleanor Clayson discusses this dynamic in the context of athletes:

Motivation is an important aspect of an athlete’s life!  Motivation propels people in a certain direction with movement either toward or away, as a psychological driver. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation impact many aspects of an athlete’s life.  The topic of motivation in sport is an essential topic for athletes with naturally occurring disappointments and losses occurring.  How an athlete manages these ups and downs will impact their long-term success.

Internal drive and motivation have long-term impact on athletes’ ability to participate in their chosen sport with a long-term commitment (Jõesaar et al., 2012).  Intrinsic motivation is characterised by internal goals, such as achieving personal bests.  Extrinsic motivation includes outside factors such as coaches’ input and directed motivation for achievement (Lilienfeld et al., 2019).  Research shows extrinsic motivation for the athlete occurs when they feel pressured and obligated to participate by either external factors such as the coach or internal factors such as guilt feelings (Scanlan et al., 2016). 

Self-Determination Theory describes sport’s coaching motivating styles as either autonomy-supportive motivation to identify inner motivational resources or dominant controlling motivation to pressure and direct athlete’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Haerens et al., 2017). Self-determination Theory states the sport coach can either undermine or support the athlete’s psychological wellbeing and behaviour as well as their need for autonomy and competence.  Research shows the coach-athlete relationship is one of the most important influences on athletes’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. 

Haerens, L., et al. (2018) state coaches endorse a combination of autonomy support and control to produce the best results in their athletes, but the current research does not actually support this approach.  Jõesaar et al., (2012) states controlling coaching styles will lead to less intrinsic motivation for athletes with their perception of decreased autonomy support from their coach. Ntoumanis (2017) found athletes had higher frustration levels with a perceived controlling coach, which could predict low moral functioning such as doping use.  Athletes wanting long term success and psychological wellbeing will establish autonomy and work on intrinsic motivation.  If coaches want the best out of their athletes, increased athlete autonomy is essential!

Understanding the laws and principles that underpin healthy function in human performance is key. It's not rocket science, its not some new psychoeducation. It's pretty simple really. If you own your life, you'll probably feel more motivated to do something with it.