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Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation

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If you reward your children for doing their homework, they will usually respond by getting it done. But is this the most effective method of motivation? No, says psychologist Edward L. Deci, who challenges traditional thinking and shows that this method actually works against performance. The best way to motivate people—at school, at work, or at home—is to support their sense of autonomy. Explaining the reasons why a task is important and then allowing as much personal freedom as possible in carrying out the task will stimulate interest and commitment, and is a much more effective approach than the standard system of reward and punishment. We are all inherently interested in the world, argues Deci, so why not nurture that interest in each other? Instead of asking, "How can I motivate people?" we should be asking, "How can I create the conditions within which people will motivate themselves?""An insightful and provocative meditation on how people can become more genuinely engaged and succesful in pursuing their goals." —Publisher's Weekly

240 pages, Paperback

First published June 13, 1995

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About the author

Edward L. Deci

14 books49 followers
Edward L. Deci is a Professor of Psychology and Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Rochester, and director of its human motivation program. He is well known in psychology for his theories of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and basic psychological needs.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews
Profile Image for Ben.
177 reviews13 followers
February 3, 2013
Recommended highly, but with significant caveats (thus the three stars).

The simple, brilliant insight of this book for me was as follows (vastly simplified from the author's full theory, of course):

People do things effectively -- whether it is to work, to learn, or to cooperate in any social relationship -- when they are "self-motivated". This means they must be (1) technically capable of doing what they are doing, (2) understand, not just "know", why they are doing that they are doing, (3) feel confident about knowing what they need to do to accomplish the work, and (4) agree with the personal outcome of that work.

The book does a good job of taking this "well, I suppose that makes sense" notion and grounding it in science and defining it more concretely. The brilliance of the book -- and why I'd recommend it -- is that it so clearly outlines how simple "good" versus "bad" work/teaching/cooperative environments can be identified (and thus hopefully fixed). The book delves into the refined distinctions (beyond my over-simplification above) that the need for a good personal outcome is not necessarily the same as good global outcome, nor is understanding why a task is being done necessarily the same as a task being pleasant.

If only the book stopped there...ugh! Instead the author seems to feel the need to show how somehow this makes humans morally good "by nature"...

The downside is that the author does not stop with the clear definition and examples of self-motivation. He takes the well-grounded science and drifts off in broader conclusions that sound a lot more like witch-doctor, Freudian, pseudo-science than well-defined science. Enter anecdotes that support statements but hardly prove them. Enter corollaries that may be true but certainly don't follow from the original, well-defended premise. This drifting too far from the science was summed up for me in the author's notion of a people having a "true spirit" (to clarify: I'm not denying the existence of a "true spirit", I'm pegging down the author, who is a scientist, for basing his conclusions on the existence of a vague, never-scientifically-defined concept.)

Here's a example of the drifiting-from-science, taken from the concluding chapters:

"Being free does not mean doing your own thing at the expense of others, however. Rather, it involves concern for others and respect for the environment, because those are manifestations of human connectedness. Freedom involves being open to one's inner nature, and there one finds the tendencies for both relatedness and autonomy."

The above may be "true" in a poetic sense, but as soon as the word "because" in the above paragraph, we're no longer talking science here. Ultimately, the author is saying "tendencies" of humans' "inner nature" cause unselfish freedom. That's quite plainly not a scientific argument anymore than saying it is the inner nature of birds to want to fly, and therefore they have wings...

Lastly, there's the annoyance that - especially in these extrapolation-heavy sections - the author repeats and repeats and repeats the same terms and concepts over and over really to the point where (in addition to hampering the readability of the work) it feels almost there's hope the repetition will bolster the truth of the questionably-scientific argument. (If you don't hate the words "autonomy" and "introject" by the time you're done with the book, I compliment your ability to endure.) It's too bad that pseudo-science muddies the very strong, positive core message of the book.

All in all, I have say this is a highly recommended read -- just be ready to keenly discern the legitimate science from the logical fallacies. I recommend balancing Deci's need to "prove" that humans are morally good by nature with a more brutally logical approach of an author like Stephen Pinker.
Profile Image for Mani.
15 reviews1 follower
November 11, 2016
I have a few messages for all of you reading this book.
don't waste your time on work that you don’t enjoy. It is obvious that you cannot succeed in something that you don’t like. Patience, passion, and dedication come easily only when you love what you do. IT IS stupid to be afraid of others’ opinions. Fear weakens and paralyzes you. If you let it, it can grow worse and worse every day until there is nothing left of you, but a shell of yourself. LiSten to your inner voice and go with it. Some people may call you crazy, but some may even think you‘re a legend. Take control of your life e.. Even if it's for studying gfor an exam like the usmle.. Take full responsibility for the things that happen to you. Limit bad habits and try to lead a healthier life. Find a sport that makes you happy. Most of all, don’t procrastinate. Let your life be shaped by decisions you made, not by the ones you didn’t.Appreciate the people around you.. Your wife/girlfriend, your friends and relatives will always be an infinite source of strength and love. That is why you shouldn’t take them for granted. It is difficult for me to fully express my feelings about the importance of these simple realizations, but I hope that you will listen to someone who has experienced how valuable time is. We care so much about the health and integrity of our body that until death, we don’t notice that the body is nothing more than a box - a parcel for delivering our personality, thoughts, beliefs and intentions to this world. If there is nothing in this box that can change the world, then it doesn’t matter if it disappears. I believe that we all have potential, but it also takes a lot of courage to realize it. You can float through a life created by circumstances, missing day after day, hour after hour. Or, you can fight for what you believe in and write the great story of your life. I hope you will make the right choice. Leave a mark in this world. Have a meaningful life, whatever definition it has for you. Go towards it. The place we are living in is a beautiful playground, where everything is possible. Yet, we are not here forever. Our life is a short spark in this beautiful little planet that flies with incredible speed to the endless darkness of the unknown universe. So, enjoy your time here with passion. Make it interesting. Make it count! And remember God is Great as He will always help you achieve all your dreams.
Profile Image for Don.
303 reviews3 followers
August 31, 2019
Why We Do What We Do is one of those books I wish I'd read years ago. It's essentially a primer on self-determination theory, which is a grand theory explaining, just as the book's title suggests, why we humans do what we do. The theory holds that in order to flourish we must have three basic psychological needs meet -- the needs to live with authenticity, to feel competent in our work, and to forge close connections with others. One Goodreads reviewer complains that Deci at times "drifts off in broader conclusions that sound a lot more like witch-doctor, Freudian, pseudo-science than well-defined science." I think that's a fair criticism, but it doesn't stop me from giving this a full five stars, as most of the book's claims are supported by solid research, and its implications are profound and truly life-changing. Moreover, unlike the fascinating but academic and difficult Self-Determination Theory, this book is eminently readable.
Profile Image for Leit.
40 reviews63 followers
October 10, 2010
Hmmmm...well I suspect I suffer from the malady of wanting to read more 'textbook' like renditions of psychological/sociological material because I just can't get into the whole Daniel Pink era of (what feels like to me) really simplified extrapolations of scientific research. I prefer to read the 'drier' stuff and draw my own conclusions...

With this one, the conclusions and recommendations drawn and made by Deci just seemed so very intuitive and common sense given the basic outcomes of the research, but also, frankly just from my everyday experience with family, friends, co-workers and my own human nature.

Overall I I do believe this is a good formatting of an essential set of concepts centered around the nature of how extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivations interact with our systems of learning and working within our everyday world.
Profile Image for Joséphine.
154 reviews10 followers
October 24, 2020
Okay, I can't write a good review for this book because I listened to it without paying enough attention, and I stopped halfway through. Also, I'm really no expert in psychology.

The first chapters were the best: defining self-motivation, autonomy, independance, showing why preserving someone's autonomy is so important, and why motivation has to come from the inner self, not from the outside, especially not in controlling ways. For example in a certain study, telling students in group 1, "remember this page, you'll have a test on this afterwards" leads to a much more superficial understanding of the material than telling students in group 2 "try to remember this page so you can explain the content to someone else afterwards". Ha, who would have guessed? But it's still nice to see it black on white. And yes, there were some more subtle findings, which I wish my terrifying history teacher in sixième had known about.

But at some point in the book, the author ends up repeating himself, drawing conclusions for every aspect of life, dispensing moral advice to all people in "one up" positions (parents, educators, managers, etc.), and that was less pertinent imo. Still, I can only recommend the first few chapters.
27 reviews48 followers
May 14, 2018
In the last 8 months or so, I've read a couple self-help-type books, books I'm naturally averse to so most were read for classes. I despised one (that book is The Art of Not Giving a F*ck please do not read it, one day I'll get around to writing a review for that kaki) and found the others okay. This one was not only of very high quality, but has now become one of my favorite books. I was enthralled beginning to end (I actually read the whole thing in one night). I learned so much about how to motivate myself and others, and generally about how people function. Sure, it's a little repetitive and at times a bit overly optimistic about human nature, but those are such minor issues when you consider the strengths of this book. Do you know how hard it is to find a self-help book backed by science (and LOTS of it)? One that is clear and contains real, concrete, easy-to-implement advice? Very. This book may honestly be the first.
Profile Image for Lou.
26 reviews19 followers
April 10, 2020
Interesting but you get the point halfway through.
Profile Image for Nelson Zagalo.
Author 10 books333 followers
June 4, 2017
"Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation" é um bom livro mas não vai além disso. Aquando da sua leitura precisará de se levar em conta dois elementos: o primeiro, que o livro é de 1995; e o segundo que Edward Deci, conjuntamente com Richard Ryan, são duas das maiores autoridades no campo da Motivação. Porque digo isto? Porque aquilo que Deci aqui apresenta é para nós em 2015 algo já assimilado, apesar da sociedade muitas vezes o esquecer, mas se o é hoje aceite deve-se a estes dois investigadores. E sendo de 1995, o que aqui se diz era ainda recente à altura, hoje já não é. Depois, o livro acaba por sofrer de um problema clássico, sendo académico o autor e sabendo que os públicos são distintos, procurou agradar a todos, acabando por fragilizar a obra. Se a primeira parte funciona bastante bem na desconstrução teórica do modelo que suporta a “Self-Determination Theory”, a segunda parte é fraca, com Deci a entrar quase pelo caminho da autoajuda, com ideias simples e simplistas, demasiado senso comum e pouco suporte para afirmações tão largas e complexas. Dito isto, descrevo apenas a parte do livro que realmente vale a pena enfatizar.

A teoria de motivação aqui apresentada foi criada ao longo de décadas por Deci e Ryan, tendo sido denominada como “Self-Determination Theory” (SDT). Como o próprio nome indica, a teoria parte de uma base que diz que a intensidade da nossa motivação está directamente ligada à nossa determinação para alcançar um objectivo. Deste modo Deci começa por elencar a distinção entre a motivação extrínseca e a intrínseca. No caso da extrínseca, somos motivados por algo exterior ao objectivo em si, ele apenas é um meio (ex. tirar boas notas na escola, para ganhar uma consola). No caso da intrínseca, refere-se a realizar algo, porque se pretende isso mesmo (ex. aprender a tocar piano porque nos dá prazer). Se à partida podemos pensar que a motivação intrínseca é a única relevante, não é o caso. O que a teoria de Deci refere, é a determinação para agir, não se ela é interna ou externa, contudo ao enfatizar a determinação do próprio, ela refere que quando se motiva, quem é motivado tem de estar consciente e determinado a seguir essa motivação.

Por exemplo ao explicarmos a uma criança que precisa de estudar para ter um futuro melhor, estamos a colocar-lhe o objectivo exterior na frente, mas não o fazemos obrigando, antes dando a escolher, entre um futuro melhor ou pior, cabendo à criança decidir. No mesmo sentido, quando alguém trabalha como lixeiro, em princípio não é por se sentir movido por tal dever, mas pela recompensa financeira que daí advém, sendo que numa sociedade livre, este não é obrigado a tal, podendo sempre procurar e escolher outros trabalhos.

Deste modo, não basta dizer que pretendemos motivar intrínseca ou extrinsecamente alguém, o que temos de fazer é garantir uma motivação autodeterminada, e para o garantir Deci elenca três variáveis necessárias à sua obtenção: "Autonomia", "Competência", e "Relacionamento". Ou seja, para garantir um indivíduo motivado, precisamos de lhe conferir autonomia, oferecer-lhe liberdade de escolher o seu caminho; precisamos de garantir que o objectivo está ao alcance das suas capacidades, não sendo demasiado fácil, nem demasiado difícil; e por fim garantir a existência de uma relação entre o motivado e o motivador, ou o grupo de pessoas que suporta o objectivo da motivação. Quando estas três variáveis se cumprem o nível de motivação atinge o seu ponto mais elevado, deteriorando-se sempre que uma destas variáveis não é cumprida.

Destes três elementos, apenas um é verdadeiramente novo, a autonomia. No caso da competência, é algo que Vygotsky já tinha identificado há bastantes anos e que ficou conhecido por Zona de Desenvolvimento Proximal, e que Bruner descreveria também como processo de Scaffolding (os andaimes de ajuda à aprendizagem, e manutenção do interesse), muito utilizado nos tutoriais multimedia e de videojogos. Já no caso do relacionamento, é a condição de sobrevivência da espécie mamífera, fundamental na componente de gregarismo, tendo sido evidenciada nos mais diversos estudos, desde o cérebro Triúnico à Empatia.

Assim no caso da autonomia, o que temos é um processo de garantia da participação do motivado na escolha para a motivação. Procura-se assim envolver de algum modo a pessoa a ser motivada na decisão, garantindo a sua determinação para agir. A escolha e decisão pode ser menor, o que interessa é garantir ao indivíduo que este é ouvido, e que de algum modo existe uma consequência da sua vontade. Deci dedica bastante espaço à discussão da autonomia, desde logo começando por a opor ao controlo, assim como a diferenciando da independência. No caso da independência, apesar desta apelar à liberdade do indivíduo tal como a autonomia, só esta faz referência a que esta acção tenha de ser desligada dos demais, daí que Deci referencie que no caso da motivação acontece precisamente o contrário, a liberdade de escolha não pode ser desligada da vontade de estar ligado aos outros. Deci dá o exemplo dos adolescentes que se afirmam pela sua vontade de se afirmarem como diferentes dos pais (autónomos), mas ao mesmo tempo iguais aos amigos dos próprio grupo (relacionamento).

Por fim quero ainda frisar um tópico muito interessante que toda esta teorização acaba por levantar, e que é profundamente político, mas que nos ajuda a compreender melhor o mundo em que nos movemos. Deci dá conta do modelo motivacional americano, ou capitalista, e depois realiza algumas comparações com o modelo comunista, que este encontrou quando serviu de conselheiro na Bulgária, logo após a queda do muro de Berlim. Assim Deci vai mostrar os dois extremos do espectro da motivação, ou a amotivação, de um lado o controlo do capitalismo, do outro a inconsistência e o caos do comunismo.

No caso do capitalismo, temos toda uma sociedade montada para exercer controlo e obrigar o indivíduo a realizar acções que grande parte das vezes não deseja. Trabalhar para comprar um carro ou uma casa maiores do que as suas reais necessidades, uma satisfação material, que até se ser pressionado pela publicidade ou opinião dos outros, não se considerava sequer. Por outro lado, no comunismo, por força de se almejar a igualdade entre os indivíduos, não resta espaço à autonomia, o indivíduo queda-se num limbo, incapaz de compreender o que é esperado dele enquanto membro do grupo, perdendo-se e conduzindo à necessidade de impor regimes totalitaristas para fazer vingar os ideais. Assim temos que qualquer destes dois extremos contribuem inevitavelmente para a amotivação, criando não seres humanos, capazes, saudáveis, criativos e determinados, mas antes nada mais do que simples autómatos.

Para fechar, apenas concluir que a motivação está no cerne daquilo que faz de nós seres humanos, é o garante da nossa volição, da nossa liberdade, e assim do sentir da própria vida.

Blog: http://virtual-illusion.blogspot.com/...
Profile Image for Gerrit Gmel.
179 reviews3 followers
September 11, 2023
My manager gave me this book about 5 years ago when I got my first managerial position. I loved it then and I thing to it was time for another read. It’s still as good as the first time and I will almost certainly read this again in the future.

It reads like pop psychology (well… it kind of is), but it makes enough subtle points to not have that be off-putting.

It gives a fascinating portrait of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, the difference between autonomy and independence, and much more. You’ll find these concepts universally applicable in your own life and it will help you understand some behaviours of people around you.
Profile Image for Basma.
666 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2020
I am very interested in the idea behind this book. Parts of it are insightful and parts seemed to be a repetition of what was previously said.

I am currently going through my own bout of de-motivation so some of what was in here rang true and offered a different way to look at it.

But there’s something about the way the examples are written in this book to support their studies that I wasn’t a fan of at all. I skimmed over most of them which was hard considering how they’re in between paragraphs but I felt their analysis was self explanatory that the examples just made it dull.
Profile Image for Megha Nayyar.
12 reviews1 follower
January 24, 2021
Very interesting book. Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivation was one of my favorite concepts. Every activity is either done to prove something to other people (extrinsic) or because you genuinely want to do it (intrinsic).
Profile Image for Amaan Pirani.
136 reviews3 followers
July 3, 2022
Self determination theory is an incredibly illuminating theory on human motivation. Unlike behaviorism, a theory that posits humans are incentivized by reward systems, self determination theory argues that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than extrinsically "controlled" motivation (in fact the author's argue reward systems create the least powerful form of extrinsic motivation, an even less powerful type of motivation than internal motivation).
Unfortunately, most people try to motivate using techniques instilled by behaviorism (control via incentives) and thus in fact they fail at motivating others.

Of course, this book explores pretty interesting motivational situations - for example, how does a parent instill the value of hard work in their children? There are many acticities in life that are necessary but unpleasant, indeed. One approach is to create a ton of pressure - which may result in the student doing the work out of external fear, resulting in introjected values (i.e. the per son internally regulates activities and acts as the parent wants but does not accept the value as their own). The author argues a better approach is for a parent to 1. Give reasoning behind the value they're trying to instil in the child 2. Interview the child to understand their pov but 3. Ultimately leave the decision of whether to accept the value to the child (a process called integration of the unpleasant value). Ryan and deci argue that introjection causes anxiety and integration is more ideal. There's many other levers to provide integration (unconditional love, interviewing the child with respect to their other goals, linking a goal with the child's core need for relatedness or autonomy or competence, etc.)

I've been a fan of Decis theories for some time and have found it a useful guide in living my life. As an example of the application of these theories, let's take a classic question: "is money a good motivator." Deci and Ryan, would argue that it clearly is not if extrinsically motivated. Yet, if money supports an individual's quest for autonomy, relatedness, or competence (the three levers of internal motivation) then it can be something to work towards as an ancillary but not primary goal.

Some takeaways from the book

0. There are three levers of internal motivation: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
1. Behaviorism is a school of thought that indicates that rewards motivate, not the theory of self determination
2. If praise is non controlling praise will increase competence; females have more likelihood to feel like praise is controlling because of socialization. Ultimately whether praise is motivating comes down to how controlling the recipient feels it is - If they feel the praise is directed to control them it will not motivate.
3. Rewards can still be good at motivating - if they are not given a controlling style. They should be given as an acknowledgement of good work. That said there's a lot of research indicating rewards can reduce intrinsic motivation and thus have harmful effects (i.e. people not conducting any activity which is not rewarded).
621 reviews1 follower
October 9, 2017
Based in decades of research about how people get motivated, the message of the book is quite clear: Develop an autonomous self that has resilience in the face of people wanting to control you, and you will live a better life.
The ramifications for any profession that can be considered a service -- education, medical, government are that we need to treat people in ways that empower them to be their autonomous selves rather than try to control them.
On a more granular, education-focused, level, his research may be troubling to some: grades and competition are control-based and thus instill fear and drop performance over the long run. The idea that we should teach so that our students learn autonomously, without the pressures of grades and exams must certainly be counterintuitive to many, but his point is very much that we live in a society that is controlling and manipulating, and education would be one way for us to counter such trends.
Profile Image for Alessya.
100 reviews1 follower
August 5, 2019
Extremely dry writing with no helpful examples is what made my star rating
Profile Image for Steven Woloszyk - (Wa-LUSH-ick).
39 reviews3 followers
October 20, 2017
B. F. Skinner, who many believe to be the father of behavioral psychology, believed in consequences. If good behavior is rewarded, it will be repeated. If we punish bad behavior, it will cease.

This has been a mainstay with parenting, teaching, coaching, and in the business world for the better part of the 20th century and continues to be a prevailing thought today.

Then we have Edward L. Deci and his band of psychologists that say, “Wait, hold up everybody!”

Deci says that motivation is derived from “intrinsic” factors, not “extrinsic” ones. In other words, the carrots and sticks only go so far. In this book, he gives us countless studies that prove his point.

Deci says that rewards and punishments make us feel controlled. He says that we may see some temporary bump in motivation with rewards, such as giving money for good grades on a report card, but that this motivation will be fleeting and when the reward is removed, the drive is gone.

Deci says we want choices. We desire autonomy. We do not wish to feel controlled. He says that when we parents, teachers, coaches, and leaders provide clear communication with the outcomes of certain behaviors and combine that will offering choices, then we will see motivation that comes from inside which is far more sustainable than external factors.

I learned of Deci from Daniel Pink’s book Drive. Pink’s Drive, published in 2012, is an updated and more modern version of Deci’s, published in 1995. They’re both great books and rebuff the previous thoughts of Skinner and show that to really motivate we need to go beyond the carrots and sticks.

This book receives 4.4 stars on Amazon after 60 reviews. Goodreads gives it 3.95 stars after 833 ratings and 62 reviews. I gave it 4 stars. It is a great read for just about anyone, since we all have some responsibility for helping others find drive and motivation.

#FridaysFind #MIAGD #Deci #Drive #Motivation #WhyWeDoWhatWeDo #CarrotsAndSticks #Pink
Profile Image for Parcoast.
268 reviews6 followers
April 11, 2014
Again, I was assigned this book for reading for a class, and I have a mixed opinion. The content, meaning the ideas, concepts and implications of the author's message, is probably in the 4-5 star range. Deci's research showed very interesting things about what motivates us, and more importantly what doesn't. A few key points: rewarding someone for an activity they would have intrinsically enjoyed, results in them engaging in that activity less when the rewards are removed, even though they naturally enjoyed the activity. Parents, especially mothers, influence the level of materialism in children through the amount and type of attention they give, and as adults the materialism is expressed as undue attention on aspirations such as wealth. Finally, our relationships with our health care providers can be affected by the attitude and level of autonomy supported by the provider.

So on to the bad news. I don't know what editor signed off on this book, but they weren't thinking about the audience. With such interesting content to share, why did it have to be so blasted boring? Most of it read like a research paper. I understand that it was written by academics, and they can't help but include a heavy dose of "boring" into anything they write, but that is why I blame the editor. Just like a computer program that isn't user friendly isn't tolerated in the marketplace, no matter is usefulness, books should not be allowed on the printing press that haven't been checked for delivery. There are so many things that could have been done to get this message across, the presentation here is a one-star effort at best.

So, with all of this said, I will average this out to a cool 3 stars.
Profile Image for Tim.
148 reviews1 follower
May 13, 2017
"At the heart of human freedom is the experience of choice." This was a very well researched and interesting study of the importance of letting individuals be "autonomy-supportive" or in other words making choices because of their own internal motivation. There are so many applications in this book from parenting to teaching and government. The importance of not being controlled and the responsibility that come with it are what lead us as humans to become most actualized. Definitely recommended for anyone in a leadership position.
248 reviews5 followers
July 4, 2019
A fascinating account of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation; the dangers of 'incentivising' desired behaviour, and the power of autonomy - and therefore of autonomy-support as a key strategy for educators and leaders.
12 reviews
May 30, 2017
Good information, but could have been a lot more concise. I've read textbooks that are more interesting to read. I forced myself to read most of it because it was recommended reading for work.
Profile Image for Thomas Fackler.
490 reviews7 followers
November 12, 2022
I don't think it did a very good job of relating to its title, but there was an interesting discussion of freedom, responsibility, and authenticity throughout, which made for good reflective material.



"Acting out …"

What about acting in?

"... irresponsibility …"

What is this thing? A lack of open arms?

"When controlled, people act without a sense of personal endorsement."

There is the easy insight of giving up agency and so as to give up responsibility. A fascinating direction to define and then compare those two modes; their isolation being impossible.

sense of self

autonomy; authenticity
control; alienation

"... resists the pressures to succumb to …"

But is this a control? When one has infinite freedom one acts authentically. Who has inifinite freedom except the Independent Gods, The Skew Gods, The Gods of the Uninterpreted Planes?

The premise breaks down on page 3 if we do not think of the examples as wanting to do x, but, due to a lack of autonomy, doing y; a tightrope. The assumption, which is maybe unavoidable because of anthroposocial genetic tendencies, is that much of what we do is geared towards not only individual survival, but group survival and maybe species survival. These structures are quickly overwhelmed by metaphysical noise e.g. thought.

(The tightrope reminds me of Nietzsche.)

"... it is compliance that authoritarian solutions hope to accomplish."

Might be worth reading this book alongside 'Why We Poo What We Poo'

Movement (no pun intended) from the nameless authority to the named.



Integration is a dynamic process, but what process isn't. Shall we always assume dynamics?

psychoses of control
psychoses of autonomy

i perceive that x is expected of me, or worse that x is necessary for my function in society, but i am denied x and so must either choose to defy expectations, society, or cease to exist.

narcissism as preoccupation with other's affirmation of myself

"... socializing agent."

social physics: what is a socializing agent? How might they be grouped according to observations?

authority creates the social context.

But mightn't it be that the social context creates the authority and that the inversion is rarely anything but forced?

the vast majority of us might, at any given time, be aimless wanderers in the social landscape. That old metaphor of the human brain comes to mind: it is constantly functioning, but different areas assume different tasks and so, at any given moment the rest of the brain is a useless appendage - until the useless bit is called to activity …

This book with its one-up/one-down metaphor seems to maintain the concept of outside motivation e.g. "... fostering the motivation of …" TBD

"..., "how can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?""

group decision-making

"They challenge themselves to become competent, apparently just for the enjoyment of doing it."

"... understanding the real world through analogy."

idea independent of hypothesis, but can motivate it

experiment motivated by hypothesis - test hypothesis - mold or destroy theory

watching competition


"... "instrumental reason" …"

What qualifies a thing as measurable? What qualities do measurable things have?

How much of this research is generalizable across cultures?

Public education may not be a creative process.

What about the people who read and the pizzas are a by-product? 'Oh, look, I'm already doing this thing that gives me these things. Guess I'll get a pizza for free when I'm done reading.' I wonder about them. How did they become as they are?

Levels of fabricated existence. Our lives are not plane. A structure designed to soften might also smother. We are piece-meal designing the heat death of the universe.


A web of feelings:
feeling effective
feeling productive
feeling immersed
feeling nothing as in flow
feeling nothing as in emptiness
feeling nothing as in satori

feeling a thread unravel
feeling others
feeling something as in anything
feeling pain
feeling soft
feeling pudgy
feeling the lips turn up at the corners

feeling warmth
feeling warmth escape
feeling unbounded
feeling imaginary

The Concept of Competence, Robert White

Relational structure. Conveyance of personal systems to others and other's personal systems to oneself.

I watched as everything went into the sieve. I knew there were grades of granularity. Everything went in. The only instant was gravity.

I had been through that system. I was still in that system. I could think about both. Down was where the constant was. I did not know the best position for myself. Everything else seemed to tumble around me. Everything else seemed so structured.

I knew I was confused. There must have been somewhere to go at some point that was outside enough so that only the pull would be. Only the pull. Only.

And then I could orient myself. Maybe stand. Maybe lay. Eyes opened. Eyes closed.

And everything would be oriented.

I haven't found this, I think. I keep a picture in my mind. I call it a dream. Or reality. I don't know.

It is not solid or ephemeral. It follows me. I follow it.

We draw ourselves.

To something. As something. The difference is in telling.

I argued with myself about whether or not it was a machine. "Can everything be a machine," I asked. It seemed metaphysical. It seemed wanton. It seemed craven. To dwell in a field that was so self-designed that I assumed I could never break free. Was this another constant? Could I set it up with it feeling empty; knowing that it would empty one day; that it was only a constant for a variable amount of time?

These thoughts could have plagued me. They have. They are essence in their inconstancy. Maya maybe, but I would not condemn them to a particular world view. I have seen them everywhere out of the corners of my eyes.

"Because the task was one where people could not really tell how well they were doing, it was possible to give positive feedback that was believable no matter how well they actually did."

Potential correlation in the relationship of competence and autonomy.

I wonder about the time component. There is a push for rapid acquisition - an acquisition curve from ignorance to competence. Autonomy is another curve. I don't see them connected except where they are parallel and personal.

Granting complete autonomy requires something of either society or an individual. Society must accept the motion of time as independent of its constraints. A business making widgets cannot do this. EMTs are good at this. If they do not start alive then, most likely, their patients will not. Cops may be less so - once this difficulty is over they can move on.

The requirements of societal change for complete autonomy are antithetical to our modern systems. An extreme example is Nazi Germany. Autonomy was evil.

How do we create systems of autonomy while changing our concepts of life?

The language of optimization does not necessitate a time constraint.

The incandescent screen. The various knobs. Each one controlled an ever-decreasingly relevant component of the system to which it was connected.

An annual pilgrimage, ending in an increasing line, passed past the controls. Many who passed through made their way back to the beginning of the line, now in barges spanning the oceans, so that they might see if what they thought they had noticed might be true.

It was difficult to know which one was the controller. Their picture was released quarterly. Some who made it back to the beginning of the line, and who claimed eidetic memory also claimed that they knew who the current controller was. Some of them could draw. Inevitably the controller appeared as themselves or as the face of someone they had dreamed of the most or someone who could not draw because memory was incapable of fragmentation.

"... implicit within life … is the … complex, yet organized …"

Much of what our experimentation told us was that person x in circumstance y given stimulus z did a and person l in circumstance y given stimulus z did b and every variation. This was the vast majority of our results and they were important and replicable, just not fundamental.

Hegelian tyranny raises its organismic head.

"But surely it is true that we can all feel within ourselves, at least intuitively, if we are autonomous."

I wonder if this is actually so and if there is an empirical way to assess it.

"When people are either complying with or defying controls, they are not being autonomous and they can know that."

This statement contains at least two independent statements. "... complying with or defying controls …" and "... not being autonomous …". A third, possibly independent, but likely dependent statement is "... they can know that …". To comply or not comply, knowing that one is doing so, pretentiously with forethought, might be a sign of autonomy.


These words really jump out at me. Also his use of dialectic, usually when he's got two things that are the same, but he's saying they are different, but united in the dialectic.

I do wonder if introjection is a media effect?


"... understand where their rights end and others' rights begin."

mark twain

The difficulty of telling a person that what they have, who they are, is not enough. One sense of education. The countermanding of curiosity. This is different from self-discovery - that what a person is, what they have, who they are is dynamic.

"... every choice had its consequences."

Seeing this is its own scale.

Preceding gestalt influences future gestalt.

"People give their own meanings to the stimuli they encounter, …"

How they soar, these dancers, light and airy and without any contrived burden. Each in love with the moments that have brought them here and all that did not hinder their ecstasy.

Speak of constraints and who we really are.
Know thyself; one who listens patiently
containing distance and all that is far,
seeing structure, mutable ecology,
debating love with and without favor,
finally knowing those who thwart freedom
by our mutual desire for…
Profile Image for Karson.
184 reviews11 followers
July 25, 2019
The title of this book doesn't tell the whole story. If I didn't know any background about the author it is not something I would have picked up.

Some background: Edward Deci and Richard Ryan are the founders of Self Determination Theory. I became interested in SDT in graduate school (Special Education) and wrote a paper on the theory and its relevance in alternative educational settings. The theory has really shifted the way I look at education.

The theory states:

All people have 3 basic psychological needs; competence, autonomy and social connection. Competence is the need to feel good at something - like there is at least one area where you could be the teacher. Autonomy is the need to feel like you have some control in your daily activities and your life in general. Social connection is a positive rapport with at least a few other human beings.

People in "one-up" positions (teachers, bosses, politicians) can either thwart or nurture the fulfillment of these needs in people in "one-down" positions (students, employees, voters) that are in their care. A person in a "one-up" position has the power to create a climate where all three psychological needs are considered.

When an autonomy supportive community that allows opportunity for people to gain competence is achieved it's members will experience more internal motivation, fulfillment, curiosity and vitality.

That's basically the gist of the theory. The author goes into several intriguing forays throughout the book. A couple of the most interesting are 1)people with high ego involvement and what I will call 2)toxic internalizations. An example of a person with a high ego involvement is someone whose identity is easily threatened by others because they have rigidly internalized values like strength, intelligence and courage for example. Their self esteem is threatened whenever they are around other people with high levels of the three qualities. They will therefore get into pissing contests (sorry) with other people with those qualities because they are threatened by them.

An example of a "toxic internalization" is a message that gets implanted into your brain as you develop for example, "i will only have a positive rapport with you if you are good at sports." If a 5 year old gets this message from a caregiver it is really threatening because it limits their autonomy and freedom. If they want to have a whole host of important needs met, then they need to be an athlete and the kid might not have an athletic bend. As the kid develops into adulthood they internalize this message and might shame themselves if they are not good at a physical challenge. Basically the adult creates a slave/master relationship within themselves so it becomes very difficult for them to participate in activities that genuinely nurture their true selves because their true selves are buried under a bunch of "toxic internalizations."

There are a lot more interesting asides. The power in this theory for me is how transformative it can be when it is applied. People who have never felt like their voice has been heard will really blossom in an autonomy supportive setting. Reading about this theory really highlights how constrictive our society really is for some people. I have found that it is a pretty productive and meaningful lens in which to view humans. If you really want to respect other people in a deep way, I think applying this theory is a good way to start trying to do that.

Profile Image for Nhun Nhun.
48 reviews5 followers
July 19, 2023
Ngày xưa hồi mình đọc cuốn Nho giáo, thấy có những quan điểm kiểu “Nhân chi sơ, tính bổn thiện”, hay “Nhân chi sơ, tính bổn ác”, mình nghĩ là: Sao cũng được, nhìn qua lăng kính màu xanh, màu đỏ, màu hồng hay xám thì thế giới vẫn là thế giới.
Nhưng đợt này khi đọc Why we do what we do, mình bỗng nghĩ: Ồ, nó không chỉ đơn giản là chọn kính nhìn thế giới, mà từ những quan điểm khác biệt người ta có thể đề xuất những biện pháp tác động xã hội khác nhau: Kiểm soát hay khuyến khích sự tự chủ. Mình tin là tác giả cuốn này chọn “tính bổn thiện” để bắt đầu, vì chủ trương của ông là khuyến khích sự tự chủ.
Trong 2 phần đầu, nội dung được trình bày kiểu dạng lặp lại + tăng cấp độ:
Từ “chúng ta cần sự tự chủ”
Đến “chúng ta cần sự tự chủ và có năng lực…”
Rồi “….cần sự tự chủ, năng lực” và phải thấy được mối quan hệ nhân quả giữa hành vi - hậu quả”
Sau đó là
“…. cần sự tự chủ, năng lực và sự kết nối”
(và lại là sự kết nối từ bản ngã đích thực…)
Cách trình bày lý thuyết và những nghiên cứu, thực nghiệm đan xen, thuyết phục người đọc và dễ theo dõi nội dung.
Bên cạnh những trục kiến thức xuyên suốt thì những nội dung xung quanh cách ứng xử trong các tình huống được nêu trong bài hay sự phán đoán về hành xử của cá nhân trong thí nghiệm giúp mình nhiều.
Đặc biệt là Chương 8: Bản ngã trong thế giới xã hội, vừa đọc mà não mình vừa bắn pháo bông ậm ùm, cái sự đồng điệu mà mình có với những ví dụ trong sách vốn đã xuyên suốt ngay từ đầu, nhưng tới chương sách này thì gần như bùng nổ. Mình dừng lại trước một trang sách đến cả chục lần, đọc, ngẫm, gửi cho bạn bè và viết những dòng suy nghĩ không ngừng nảy ra.
Phần 3 và Phần Kết luận, tác giả cung cấp những góc nhìn và cách thức khuyến khích sự tự chủ hay các hành vi lành mạnh, sự tự chủ trong kiểm soát.
Khi đọc phần này, mình cũng gỡ được khá nhiều định kiến, như là với người nghiện rượu, thuốc lá. Một cách nhìn nhân văn hơn…
Từ đó nhìn ra vấn đề trong cách tương tác của chính mình, nhu cầu thay đổi trong đó để đạt được điều mình muốn hoặc đơn giản là chấp nhận những gì đang diễn ra.
Bên cạnh đó cũng là cách nhìn xác thực hơn về sự kiểm soát, những trang hay tuyệt về cảm xúc của con người.
Ở chương cuối, cả cuốn như được hội tụ lại, ta được đọc về tự do - mà ở đây, là sự tự do đích thực khi được lựa chọn cách nhìn nhận và hành xử với những điều xảy ra xung quanh, thay vì bất tuân hay tuân thủ, thay vì bị vướng vào những giá trị nội nhập.
Profile Image for Grace.
28 reviews
July 17, 2017
In fairly simple writing, Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward L. Deci and Richard Flaste explains that humans perform best when they are totally “autonomous” with themselves and free from extrinsic motivations such as fame, money, and external pressures. 

The process of reading not only served as a valuable learning experience but also triggered moments of thoughtful self-reflection. The book's reasoning of how "people can be controlling with themselves to satisfy their introjects...pressure (one)self, to force (one)self to act, or to feel as if (one may) have to do something is to undermine (one's) own autonomy," can allow one to identify how emulations of role models, aim for perfection and attempts to meet societal ideals can lead to the development of a false sense of self and attrition of a sense of self-worth, because self-satisfaction is contingent on whether introjects have been satisfied (or not). 

A downside to the book is that arguments or theories are corroborated with generalizations and numerous personal anecdotes instead of verifiable, concrete experimental data. A lack of discussion on the nature of the experiments (such as sample size of tested subjects or the controlled variables of an experiment) makes it difficult to affirm the reliability of experimental data and the authors' theories. 

Some of the anecdotal evidence even appear to be contrived to fit the “world of psychology.” On one occasion, the author reflects on an encounter with “a flight attendant who had a rubber band around his right wrist," and wonders “if he was using it as a behaviour modification technique where if you feel a particular rage or have a certain obsessive thought, you snap the rubber band” (193). Apparently, “the pain breaks up the thought pattern...by associating it with an unpleasant stimulation.” Why must the author automatically connect such a trivial item (a rubber band) to psychology? One who observes the world with a lens devoid of psychological views would merely assume that the rubber band had been worn hastily after untying a plastic container of airplane food for a passenger.

Nevertheless, the book will provide to be an insightful read and opportunity for self-analysis. 

Profile Image for Erik.
Author 3 books9 followers
August 23, 2020
Deci challenges much of the conventional wisdom of teachers, managers, medical doctors and others in authority on how to get students, employees, and patients to do what is supposedly best for them.

Carrots and sticks are usually less effective than the authorities seem to think. On small tasks threats and incentives can make a difference. For example, if you pay employees by the piece to produce items, then you'll probably encourage those employees to make more items.

But if you want students to learn and remember knowledge beyond the test, if you want employees to do better and more creative work for your company, and if you want patients to commit to a course of treatment needed to get healthy, then outside motivation is not enough. In fact, external rewards and punishments may backfire, sapping any real motivation, which must come from inside a person herself.

Deci thinks that we should support the autonomy of the people we're responsible for managing or directing. We can and should still have goals and we should still correct mistakes. But it's better to involve your employees in creating your goals and to let your students diagnose their own mistakes, as long as they have the knowledge to do so. If not, then a teacher can act as a coach, offering students the resources they need to achieve their own success.

In the end, Deci is writing not just about performance or even fulfillment, but about freedom. What does it mean to live as a free person? Autonomy, which is not about just doing your own thing, but also about relating to others. Duty turns out to be the greatest satisfaction, which is an optimistic message indeed.
Profile Image for Patrik Gustafsson.
145 reviews5 followers
December 6, 2020
I got the tip after Asking for more to read about RAMP (https://twitter.com/allenholub/status...)

Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. AMP as presented by Pink in Drive (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6...) hade before been I guiding star for my leadership. So of course when I understood the connection it jumped to the top of my reading list.

The dimension of relatedness connected a missing piece that fits into many of the actual practices of working together that encouraged, and made this model more complete. never alone

If you read Drive or considering reading it I suggest reading this too. It one of my favorites this year. And cover Relatedness, Autonomy, and Mastery. Not covering the part about purpose. Though I found Relatedness and Purpose to overlap some, that was probably due to the fact that that they were missing in each model.

Read it.
Profile Image for Stef Garvin.
Author 1 book19 followers
September 9, 2018
The work Deci and Ryan have done on inner motivation have been instrumental in helping me formulate my own strategies for finding satisfaction and fulfillment in my career. Along with a few other books and areas of research, their work on self-determinism have helped me go from being severely depressed and giving up on ever finding a way to create a living that worked for me to actually being fulfilled in what I am doing. That said, I'm glad I had a decent foundation before trying to digest this book as it was written from an academic standpoint.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
Author 3 books7 followers
July 10, 2022
I've searched for a book just like this for years. I got a better understanding of identity formation, self-concept, personality development, and motivation through the content within this book. I was not expecting to delve into questions that have fascinated me for a decade or more based solely on the book title description. I likely would not have read the book had it not been optional reading for one of my doctoral courses. Now that I have read it, I highly recommend to those interested in studying human psychology.
6 reviews
January 11, 2021
It was alright, gave some insights, but I feel like it could've been a far shorter book and been just as informative and enlightening. Essentially the big idea is that in most if not all cases it is better for people to be internally motivated to do something rather than externally motivated and to achieve this, one should be autonomy supportive to oneself and to others. If you want more of that, read this book :)
Profile Image for Daniela D.
126 reviews5 followers
September 12, 2021
I thought this book was brilliant (better than Drive by Dan Pink imh). It swiftly combined motivation and why we do what we do with how we are making those choices and how that affects our wellbeing. Intrinsic motivation is determined by our volition to make our own choices in a non-controlling way while relating to others and pursuing internal rather than external goals. This determines our freedom. Highly recommend reading this book along with flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Profile Image for Jordan Parmer.
40 reviews
April 23, 2022
The main theme of this book is exploring what motivates and demotivates people with a special focus on autonomy vs control and external vs internal forces. Having an interest in leadership, productivity, and a little psychology, I pulled some interesting notes out of the book. I did find, however, that I started losing interest about midway through the book. The content started to feel a bit repetitive without offering much new insight after a point, and I had to push through the final half.
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