Maintaining motivation is challenged because we are so often focused on the wrong incentives. This is true whether it’s about our physical health or our effectiveness in the workplace. Seeking some far-off desired outcome is doomed without the right incentives to maintain motivation and succeed in reaching your goals.
Using intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic ones is helpful whether you’re trying to keep a healthy body or mind.
Self-Determination Theory (SDT) posits that all humans have three psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—that underlie our growth. This 50-year-old theory challenged the once dominant belief that the best way to get people to perform tasks is to reinforce behavior with extrinsic rewards.
However, half a century later, all too often organizations continue to incentivize employees primarily with external rewards rather than focus on these psychological needs.
Autonomy is feeling you have the choice to willingly behave in a certain way. In the workplace, this means you have agency for how to approach the task and complete your work.
Competence is the experience of mastery and being effective in your activity. This means making gradual progress, learning along the way, and feeling like you’re capable.
Relatedness is the need to feel connected and belonging to others. It’s about feeling valued by the people around you. This social aspect is often overlooked, but vitally important in maintaining motivation.
According to Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, authors of the book Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, the human psyche needs these three elements to flourish just as the human body requires protein, carbohydrates, and fat to run properly.
In the same way managing overall physical health is greatly influenced by our habits and the lifestyle choices we make, so too are our behaviors and mindset in the workplace.
When it comes to physical health, this means ensuring that you focus on the proper fuel necessary to feel good and maintain proper health. Your physical health can thrive if you are motivated to consume the nourishment your body requires and limit the empty calories, sugary products and junk food that gets you into trouble.
Similarly, your psyche needs the right fuel to operate best by having a choice in how you approach the work (autonomy), experience mastery at being effective and making progress (competence), and feeling connected and belonging with others (relatedness).
Relatedness is likely compromised as we do more remote work and struggle to connect with others without being in their actual physical presence. As valuable as video conferencing technologies are in enabling remote work, not being in the physical presence of others limits our ability to fully connect. Motivation may be undermined because this social interaction is really crucial to feeling connected and belonging to something larger than oneself.
As we continue to strive for a healthy hybrid workplace, keep this relatedness factor in mind when deciding how to make the most of your days in the office. Whenever possible, choose to have face-to-face interactions, impromptu casual conversations, team lunches, and other social engagements to build further connection and the feeling of belonging. This will help sustain motivation and keep you engaged.