Autonomous Motivation: Take Control Of Your Life

Autonomous motivation has a lot of impact on our well-being, creativity, and performance. In this article, we discuss the definition, benefits, types, and how to foster the feeling of autonomy over your behavior.

What is Autonomous motivation?

Autonomous motivation is embedded in self-determination theory. Autonomous means that a behavior is done for its own sake, not because of external pressures or demands. Motivation is marked by autonomy when the individual chooses to engage in an activity, without being pressured or forced into participation.

Characteristics of autonomous motivation

While autonomous motivation can stem from the sheer enjoyment of an activity, it doesn’t have to. As we saw in other articles of this blog, it is possible to internalize extrinsic motivation. For example, you can give someone autonomy as an extrinsic reward. If someone is performing well, you can give them autonomy by removing the external pressures.

In control of your destiny

Signs of autonomous motivation

When someone is motivated by their own reasons, their own thoughts guide them. Signs of autonomous motivation are:

  • They accept responsibility for their own actions.
  • They believe they have control over their own destiny.
  • Determines their behaviors based on their own internal principles and objectives.
  • Not being pushed by others’ norms or external factors, they are self-motivated.

They accept responsibility for their own actions.

People that have autonomous motivation will take responsibility for their own actions, but it is not necessarily always negative. They usually have the best of intentions and are open to change if they feel that there is a need. Because their motivation comes from within, they don’t require anyone else’s approval. So if they are wrong, they are quick to admit it. They also do not blame anyone else for their mistakes. Not blaming anyone else for their own actions also is good for personal growth.

They believe they have control over their own destiny.

People with autonomous motivation believe that they have control over their own destiny. That means that they know when they are in a good position and when it might be time to change what they are doing. In other words, they do not feel like things happen to them, but rather they make things happen for themselves. When changes need to be made, the person with autonomous motivation/self-determined motivation feels like they can make these changes.

Determines their behaviors based on their own internal principles and objectives.

People with autonomous motivation set their own goals. They do not let other people tell them what to do or how they should feel. These are the people that are usually self-starters. They also have a tendency to pick up new things quickly because they are driven by curiosity and interest rather than fear or obligation.

Not being pushed by others’ norms or external factors

People with autonomous motivation do not find it in external factors. That is to say that they don’t do things because someone else says so, or because someone needs them to do it. They don’t do something because it is their “job” or it is what everyone expects of them, either. They choose to do things because they want to, their actions are intrinsically motivated.

Autonomy over emotions

Perceived autonomy and actual autonomy

Having autonomy over your own behavior and feeling autonomous are two different things. It is important to understand the difference between the types of autonomy if you want to motivate people.

Perceived autonomy

Perceived autonomy is when you believe that you are in control of your own situation. You may feel like you have the freedom to decide what you want to do but it might not be true. Perceived autonomy is when people do something because they think they have self-control.

Actual autonomy

Actual autonomy is when you want to do something without having any outside factors like pressure from friends, family, or society. It occurs when a person is free to choose according to their own preferences.

How perceived autonomy and actual autonomy mix

When you perceive autonomy over your actions, it does not mean you have actual autonomy over your behavior. It is possible to have no autonomy over your behavior while actually having autonomy over it. Likewise, it is also possible to have autonomy and not perceived autonomy.

Sometimes it is better to feel autonomous over your behavior, even while you don’t have it. This is because autonomy leads to intrinsic motivation and positive outcomes. However, there is a downside to this. If people believe they are autonomous, they might neglect their actual autonomy because they do not see it as an issue. When they finally find out they actually had no control, they might feel deceived and lose their intrinsic motivation.

Benefits of autonomous behavior

Benefits of autonomous motivation

The self-determination theory teaches that having higher levels of autonomous motivation leads to intrinsic motivation and consequently, more positive outcomes. Some of these benefits include engagement in the task, persistence towards it, cognitive functioning, and overall performance.

People with autonomous motivation may perform better than those without it. They tend to find motivation in factors that come from inside, which leads to greater happiness and well-being for the person. People with autonomous motivation have better mental health, well-being, and performance.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside forces, like rewards or punishments. Instead, intrinsic motivation comes from within the person and is related to things like curiosity, interest, satisfaction, and enjoyment or fun.

Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation often work together. Life satisfaction includes intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and both combined. However, people with higher levels of intrinsic motivation have been reported to be happier than those only driven by extrinsic motivation. Notice that extrinsic motivation is very important because it can fulfill some basic psychological needs as well as provide the means to survive. For instance, you need money to eat and live so it is okay to find extrinsic motivation factors sometimes. It is important to plan activities that utilize both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation so people feel satisfied with their experience.

Autonomous Motivation

Types of Autonomy

You can feel autonomy over your behavior in different ways. Below are some examples.

  • Autonomy over behavior
  • Autonomy over emotions
  • Autonomy over values
  • Autonomy over time
  • Autonomy over the environment

Autonomy over behavior

This is when you determine your own actions and behaviors without the interference of outside forces. Human behavior is not influenced by external factors, but by the person’s own preferences. They are moving freely, doing what they want to do.

Autonomy over emotions

This means having control over which emotions you feel and express. Having autonomy over emotions means we can choose how we react to a certain situation. So, if you want to feel angry about something, you can. If you want to be hurt by someone’s words, you can choose to express your feelings. Similarly, if you are in a position where you cannot express yourself, you might feel frustrated.

Autonomy over values

It refers to the ability to make decisions based on your own beliefs, attitudes, and opinions even when these differ from those around you. Many times people base their behaviors on their family’s values or society’s. While values can help you determine your behavior, they don’t always hold true for everyone. If you feel free to decide if you agree with certain values that other people hold, you have autonomy over your values.

Autonomy over time

Autonomy over time means having the ability to manage the way you spend your time without interference from other people. It is important to feel like you control how you spend your time because this is one of the few things in life that we can actually control. If you work somewhere where someone manages exactly what you are doing, you might not feel like you have much autonomy over your time.

Autonomy over the environment

This is the feeling that you can change your own environment. If you are not allowed to change something in your environment, you might feel frustrated. For example, if you work in an office and you are told that you cannot put stickers, plants, or other decorations in your place, you might feel restricted by that. This may lead to dissatisfaction and a decrease in motivation.

Autonomous environment

How to feel autonomous in your behavior?

Because feeling in control over your own behavior is important, we will focus on ways to help you feel like you have control over your actions.

  • Seek autonomy in all areas of life
  • Make mental notes
  • Become a master in what you do
  • Be willing to make a change
  • Look for chances to improve your situation

Seek autonomy in all areas of life

It is important to feel autonomous in all areas of your life. This means that you should seek autonomy at work, in relationships or social situations, when doing hobbies, etc. If you feel less autonomy in one area, you might compensate by seeking autonomy somewhere else. Let’s suppose you are working in a place where your boss dictates every single move that you make: it might feel impossible to have autonomy. If this is the case, you should try to find ways that you can be autonomous in your hobbies. Maybe, when you get home from work, you can take time to paint or color as a way of relaxing and being autonomous in your hobby.

Make mental notes

Remember that you are in control of who you choose to be, what you want to do, and how you are going to do it. If you are feeling a lack of autonomy, you should try to remind yourself that you have control over your life. If someone else tries to dictate your behavior, remember that you can choose how to respond. Making these mental notes will contribute to your well-being and your overall satisfaction with life.

Become a master in what you do

When you become better at what you do, you feel a sense of confidence and competence. It can be very satisfying to know that you have the knowledge and ability to do something well. This increase in skill can also lead to an increase in your feelings of autonomy. Other people might notice your skill and be more likely to let you make decisions because they know that you can do a good job.

Be willing to make a change

When you are willing to change, you are more likely to feel autonomous. If you feel like there is something that you can change about yourself or your environment, consider it. In case a particular person tries to dictate your behavior, consider whether or not this type of relationship works for you. Do you feel like you can make an improvement? Go for it!

Look for chances to improve your situation

The more options you have, the more independent, self-determined, and autonomous you will feel, so try to provide some of those possibilities that might turn into viable alternatives in the future. If you are in a situation that is causing you to have feelings of dissatisfaction, it might be worth looking for new opportunities.

If there is a person in your life that you can’t stand, maybe you can get to know them better or find out why they act the way they do. Maybe, if nothing else works, it might be time to think about moving on and looking for something new.

HOw to get more autonomy

Autonomy and the self-determination theory

The self-determination theory (SDT) is a three-component model which examines the motives for self-regulation and self-determination. It consists of i) autonomy, ii) competence and iii) social connection. The three components of the self-determination theory are all interconnected and dependent upon each other as well and help to develop our intrinsic motivation.

Being competent can help us feel more fulfilled in our lives which then contributes to autonomy because we have the skills needed to get what we want out of life.

The relatedness aspect of the self-determination theory can affect our perception of autonomy as well. When we are around close others, they might contribute to our feeling of autonomy through their understanding of us or the support that they offer.

A word from Sublime People

When you want to feel intrinsically motivated, it is important to have a certain autonomy over your motivation. So, if you are having problems with autonomy, what can you do about it? You can start by finding something that you are naturally good at. Maybe you have a hobby or skill that always makes you feel fulfilled when doing it. Make mental notes throughout your day so that you can recognize feelings of autonomy rather than feeling controlled by someone else. Try to look for different opportunities and changes that can make you feel like you have more control over your life.

Autonomy is very important for human motivation, well-being, and feeling self-determined. If you feel like someone is telling you what to do too much, find something that you’re good at and try to take charge in the situations you can.

What do you think about autonomous motivation? Leave us a comment!