The Stuff of Motivation Part II – Autonomy

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a 5-part series on human motivation. Visit Part I for an introduction to this motivating series. 

If you could learn more about anything under (or beyond) the sun, what would it be?

Right now, in this moment, what would you choose to do?

Carrboro dusk

If you were able to develop reflective, thoughtful responses to these questions, you expressed your psychological need for autonomy.  A psychological need is an essential component of our overall psychological health and well-being. As for autonomy, it refers simply to self-governed behavior., which is carried out at the highest level of self-reflection, is considered and is in keeping with our values.

Each and every one of us express autonomy when we allow our wild curiosity to explore the contours and complexities of our world.  Through genuine, autonomous study of life’s substance, exploration becomes education.

Because autonomy is a basic psychological need, if we wish maturity, playfulness, consideration, and health to visit each of us, our need for autonomy must be satisfied.  Some other features about autonomy are as follows:

  • We all, by our nature, express our need for autonomy. We’ve all seen it: unfettered, unsupervised children will naturally and freely roam their locales in search of discovery and wonder.  And if granted the luxury—it’s sad that playful adult curiosity is considered a “luxury” nowadays—adults maintain an exuberant, child-like inquisitiveness throughout their lives .
  • Too often, autonomy is needlessly thwarted or suppressed. Any time we’re denied meaningful choice or a clear rationale for why we’re asked (or forced) to do something, our autonomy is stifled. The common refrain, “because I said so”, comes to mind.
  • Autonomy is critical to the other psychological needs, including relatedness and competence. As we’ll explore in future posts, autonomy bolsters other psychological needs to produce highly effective and healthy people and relationships.

So, I ask you once more: right now, in this moment, what would you choose to do? Our answers to this question and the support we receive for how we respond to questions like these, are more important to our vitality and well-being than many of us know.

Swing by next week for a rousing discussion on our psychological need for relatedness.

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