Mike Bowler
by Mike Bowler

We tend to over-simplify motivation into just two buckets: intrinsic and extrinsic. According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT)1, there are in fact six kinds of motivation2 and it’s worth considering the full range.

This chart shows the six groupings laid out by the level of self-determination with the least self-determination on the far left (Amotivated) and the most self-determination on the far right (Intrinsic).

Motivation as defined by Self-Determination Theory, with Amotivated on the far left and Intrinsic on the far right.

Type Description
Amotivated No desire to do it. If it happens at all then it was an accident or a side effect of something else.
External “I was told to do it” and there are likely external punishments and/or rewards involved.
Introjected Internalized nagging. “I feel that I should do it to meet my own goals.” This is driven by self-control and internal rewards or punishments.
Identified “Doing this will help me achieve my goals.” I may not care about this activity for itself but doing it will move me closer to a goal that I do care about.
Integrated Doing this is part of who I am. “I volunteer at a food bank because I am kind”. Behaviour tied to our identity.
Intrinsic “I love this - it feels great.” Enjoyable for it’s own sake.

To get the best results from ourselves or our people, we want to be intrinsically motivated. Failing that, we want to be as far to the right (more self-determined) as we can be.

A lack of psychological safety will make it very difficult to stay self-determined. When we are feeling unsafe, we naturally move further away from self-determined and our effectiveness drops. See the SAFETY model for more on psychological safety.

It’s worth mentioning that in many cases, external rewards will push people further to the left. It’s not universally true that external rewards (money, praise, etc) will take away our self-determination but they often do. Refer to the SDT book1 for the subtleties here.

Lack of autonomy will also take away self-determination. Autonomy is one of the basic psychological needs as defined by SDT and is critical if we want the best from our people. It’s also one of the key elements in psychological safety.

  1. Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness by Ryan & Deci, 2018  2

  2. SDT is a much larger model that encompasses more than just motivation. This chart is one part of the Organismic Integration Theory, that is is turn just one of six mini-theories contained within SDT.