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​Self-Determination: A Path for Success and Happiness

I encourage my students to apply self-determination to many different areas of their lives. They need to understand that ability is not the only factor to reaching their goals. With long-term goals particularly, my students have to know it will be a journey, not instant gratification. Research suggests that having high self-determination can foster success in reaching those goals in their life, which has further been linked to happiness.

The psychology of self-determination is an important concept that refers to each person's ability to make choices and manage their own life which is a significant part of psychological health and well-being. Self-determination allows people to feel that they have control over their choices and lives. People feel more motivated to take action when they feel that what they do will have an effect on the outcome. The concept of intrinsic motivation, or engaging in activities for rewards of the behavior itself, plays an important role in self-determination.

Self-determination theory grew out of the work of psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, who first introduced their ideas in their 1985 book Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior.

According to self-determination theory, people need to have competence, connection, autonomy, and socialization to achieve psychological growth.

Competence This relates to the need of gaining mastery of tasks or to learn different skills need for success. The more confident a person might be, the more likely one will take action to achieve their goals. A growth mindset plays a major role in competence and helps one believe they can learn and grow which will help one persist to go further in achieving their goals.

Connection The connection to other people is important because of the need to experience that sense of belonging (i.e., sports teams, work, research). Also, a connection to/with other people with the same passion will help one feel an obligation to carry their weight in the process of reaching the desired outcome for all.

Autonomy This competency allows people to better relate to the desired goal by directly impacting outcomes. Autonomy allows people to feel in control of their actions, and to see those actions and their self-determination as imperative to achieved progress. This sense of being able to take direct action that will result in real change plays a major role in helping people feel self-determined.

Socialization The tendency to be either proactive or passive is largely influenced by the social conditions in which people are raised. Social support is key. Through relationships and interactions with others, people can either boost or prohibit well-being and personal growth. Unexpected positive encouragement and feedback on a person's performance can increase motivation. This type of feedback helps people feel confident in the steps they might be taking to succeed in the eventual goal and fuel their self-determination. These strong social relationships can foster motivation and well-being, while poor relationships can contribute to a poor sense of self and weak motivation.

With my own students, I find that encouraging them to find a passion or goal – something that they are truly interested in achieving – is a great starting place. Once they’ve identified the sport, hobby, academic subject or other area, the next step is to learn as much as possible about it. And then the real work begins. While learning, they should start working on their competency in that area. This may be through practice or training, studying, or continuing to learn more and more. All of this requires self-determination.

Over time, as mastery develops, natural consequences and intrinsic motivators help further facilitate self-determination. This, in turn, leads to feeling like they have the confidence and freedom to make choices that shape their own destiny. This confidence is important for each person's well-being. When students pursue things that are intrinsically motivating, aligned with their goals, and that they truly enjoy, a happiness and confidence in the capability to make good choices usually follows. And making good choices sets them up for success throughout life. 

Get Kip's book The Power of Self-D here.

Feb 10th 2021 Kip Jones, Boys Town Press Author and School Counselor

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