Counselling Chronicle (15)

Who are you?


Counselling Chronicle (15)

Issue 15…

Motivation and SDT

As a discipline, psychology is increasingly moving towards a greater focus on the strengths and virtues that allow a person to thrive. Combating a previous focus of psychology on deficits, weaknesses and illness, Positive Psychology asks what a person needs to lead a meaningful and fulfilled life. This issue of the Counselling is part of a three-part series focusing on Positive Psychology, and the ways in which we can implement Positive Psychology principles and findings in our everyday lives in order to flourish.

Motivation (or lack there of) is an issue that is frequently at the centre of family disagreements when there are adolescents in a household. On the mild (although frustrating) end of the spectrum may be your child’s lack of motivation to maintain a bedroom fit for human habitation. On the other end of the spectrum is the concern that your child may not be completing their academic work to their full potential, and may miss an opportunity to achieve the results and opportunities that come with reaching their full potential. The elusive factors behind motivation have been of interest to researchers for many decades. Researchers want to know what makes people thrive, and how do we, as everyday people, get there?

When we speak about the motivation needed for thriving, we speak about intrinsic (or self) motivation. Doing something because it is important to you and because you want to do it. This is what we hope to engender in our children – to work hard towards something important to them, not just to do something because their boss said so (although that can be important too).

One of the most pertinent theories around wellbeing and thriving is Self-Determination Theory (SDT), first developed by Deci and Ryan. In essence, Self-Determination Theory states that there are three basic psychological needs: Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness.


When these needs are being met, we thrive, have high levels of wellbeing and are motivated. When these needs are thwarted, we experience lower levels of wellbeing. It is important to note that SDT does not say that you need to have “achieved” these needs, but rather that working towards goals (not just achieving them) is key for thriving and the continuation of motivation. Our success is best measured by our sense of wellbeing and satisfaction with ourselves, not external recognition or accolades.

So, if your adolescent is struggling with motivation, get back to basics. Help them feel a sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness, by setting goals for themselves and working towards them.


Felicity Webster



To The Top