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Strengthening intrinsic motivation
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Strengthening intrinsic motivation

If positive emotion leads to both broadening and deepening of the capacities of the individual experiencing these emotions, it would be wonderful if we could continue to stimulate this. If an intrinsically motivated person performs better in creativity and complex tasks compared to an extrinsically motivated person, then it is definitely worthwhile to better understand how to stimulate intrinsic motivation.

Moreover, to prevent the source of encouragement from being external and potentially creating a dependency relationship, it is smarter to seek the source of encouragement closer to home. What if the source of encouragement can be discovered within the individual themselves? In that case, they can motivate themselves to achieve the desired goal. In football terms, they are capable of winning their away matches, independent of their home crowd, with the belief that they can do it. To achieve this, we delve into motivational theories and what they teach us about the power of self-encouragement. A better understanding of intrinsic motivation can assist us in this regard. One remarkable theory on how we can motivate ourselves more is Richard Ryan and Edward Deci’s self-determination theory.

Self-determination means independently or autonomously deciding to do something. This theory shows that people can become motivated from within themselves if three innate psychological basic needs are met:

  • Autonomy – the feeling that you are able to choose or have chosen something of your own free will;
  • Competence – the feeling that you are becoming increasingly skilled and proficient in certain tasks due to your progress and improvement;
  • Relational connectedness – the fundamental need to belong somewhere and exchange things with other people with whom you feel connected.

We all have these needs. The more they are satisfied, the stronger our motivation to perform and the greater the sense of well-being will be. These basic needs are three important starting points for effectively encouraging desired behavior.

Below, we will take a closer look at them.

Our basic needs fuel our intrinsic motivation

Autonomy – I choose

Autonomy means space; perceived space, to be precise. It is important that you feel you can act without experiencing pressure. This sense of freedom is enhanced when you can participate in decision-making, when there are choices available, or when a task is assigned in an empathetic manner with sufficient justification. In the context of encouragement, it is therefore important that the other person experiences as much freedom of choice as possible. This leads to greater intrinsic motivation to achieve a goal or demonstrate desired behavior. In the example of darts players, this is reflected in the way the player dresses, the music they choose when entering the arena, and even in the unique, personal, and distinctive way they throw their darts.

But autonomy is not just about getting space, it’s also about taking responsibility within that space. Autonomy is strengthened when you are open enough to the consequences of your own choices and willing to be accountable for the outcome of these choices. How high do you set the bar? As high as you realistically think you can jump.

Encouragement confirms that the other person is capable and strengthens the belief that they will achieve the ultimate goal.

Peter Geleen – iPM Partners

Competence – I believe I can (learn) it

The need for competence indicates that everyone wants to effectively interact with their environment. People want to understand, explore, and master their surroundings. When you feel competent, it stimulates further growth of your abilities and flexibility, enabling you to adapt better to a changing environment. It’s about the sense of accomplishment you have when you successfully complete a task through effort and perseverance. It boosts your self-confidence and motivates you to take on new, more challenging tasks. That’s why encouragement works so well when someone accomplishes a task, such as scoring a goal, hitting triple 20 in darts, or resolving a customer complaint to their great satisfaction. Encouragement confirms that the other person can do it and strengthens their confidence in achieving the ultimate goal. In coaching terms, this is called “coaching progress.” “Every step forward is a step in the right direction: Keep going. If you can do this, you can also succeed in the next step.” The likelihood that the person will continue and be motivated to perform better is high.


Two important considerations are relevant here. Encouragement, when the other person does not feel sufficiently competent (such as when the task is completely new), can have a counterproductive effect. It can lead to a sense of pressure that increases when someone is watching. I still remember one of my first Aikido lessons, where we had to perform a certain exercise. It was going reasonably well, or so I thought, until my teacher came by and observed me. I felt the pressure mounting to perform well, and before I knew it, I lost my balance. Why? Because I was still not sufficiently competent, and his encouragement (his personal attention) only added more pressure. It was a lesson from which I learned a lot for the future. It is easy to simply say that everything is going well or encourage the other person that they can do it. However, if the other person still doubts themselves, caution and empathy are needed. In such cases, it is more effective to break down the steps into smaller ones and focus on what they already can do and the effort they are making to achieve the goal.

The second consideration is the mindset of the receiver, their belief in whether intelligence and qualities can be developed or not. Carol Dweck has conducted extensive research for years on the impact of beliefs about the malleability of intelligence and personal qualities on our potential for success. In this regard, she distinguishes between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

Simply put, if you have a growth mindset, you believe that you can continue to learn and grow through setbacks and feedback. You are open to learning, curious, and actively seek feedback. On the other hand, with a fixed mindset, you perceive intelligence and other qualities as fixed facts from birth. Feedback and challenges in unfamiliar territory are seen as risks that you prefer to avoid.

Dweck also suggests that encouragement should focus on effort, taking initiative, and perseverance. This will stimulate a growth mindset. If you only emphasize performance or results in your encouragement, you encourage a fixed mindset. You can read more about the influence of mindset on the recipient of encouragement in Chapter 6, where I discuss what an encouragement-based HR cycle could look like.

Relational connectedness – I am not alone

Humans are social beings. Some of our social basic needs include building positive relationships with others, feeling loved and supported ourselves, and being able to support others. We all want to belong somewhere, whether it’s a team, a company, an association, an initiative, or a volunteer organization. This provides a sense of belonging and purpose and gives us the opportunity to support each other in achieving a common goal.

Recognition of the other person, acknowledging their uniqueness and appreciating it, is important. Sharing joys and sorrows together also contributes to this. This strengthens the sense of connection and the trust that the other person can rely on support during difficult times. This is, to use a football analogy, the home advantage. The crowd as the twelfth man. Relational connectedness, in the context of encouragement, is the affirmation that you belong, that you are supported, and that you are delivering an individual performance on behalf of the group. Like the dart player entering the arena with fans singing his song, wearing his attire, and holding up banners with encouraging messages.

The self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan teaches us that the strength of fulfilling autonomy, competence, and relatedness largely determines an individual’s intrinsic motivation. And that’s what it’s all about when encouraging others: strengthening and enhancing these three basic needs to elevate intrinsic motivation. The more these three basic needs are satisfied, the higher the level of intrinsic motivation.


And there’s more. Enjoyment also plays a role in strengthening intrinsic motivation. As you have read before, positive emotions play a significant role in fostering growth and perseverance. Intrinsic motivation arises from within the person. The individual acts because of the intrinsic value of the activity (‘I want to do it’) and because of the pleasure and satisfaction it brings (‘I enjoy it’). That’s precisely why it’s crucial to align encouragement with what the other person desires and finds enjoyable.

Especially enjoying the activity itself and finding pleasure in its rewards significantly strengthen intrinsic motivation. Engaging in enjoyable activities can be sustained for longer, especially when the reward for the activity is prompt. The faster the reward follows the activity, the more enjoyable you find it and the more intrinsically motivated you become.

You can see that by incorporating enjoyment, intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation become interconnected and reinforce each other. Encouragement that is linked to pleasure works extremely well in strengthening the recipient’s determination to continue.

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