Why Is Competence Motivation Theory Important?

According to the competence motivation theory, you can help people apply greater effort, be more persistent, and take on more difficult tasks by recognizing their learning achievements. You can use it to determine suitable praise, feedback and motivate people to learn new skills. In this article, we go through what the competence motivation theory is, how it works, what the benefits are, and how to apply it in your life.

What is Competence Motivation Theory?

A basic idea of competence motivation is how much someone approves or disapproves of their attempts to master something. This relates to their sense of competence. It is called competence motivation because it shows how much motivation someone has when they want to master something. When people feel that they are capable of doing something, they automatically put in more effort and persist longer with a goal.

People who have a strong feeling of competence usually feel good about themselves. They work harder for things they believe in and enjoy the process as well as the outcome. Their work also becomes likely to be of higher quality, and they are more motivated to improve their skills.

Competence Motivation

Concept of competence

The concept of competence is how good someone feels about their achievement or progress in an area. This varies between people and is not related to the skills they actually have. For example, someone who is good at drawing may feel that they are good at drawing or not. Below we discuss the effects competence can have on human behavior.

To perceive competence you have to be able to make connections between your skills and results. You also have to be able to compare yourself with others and see the relation between what they achieve and how competent you feel doing it yourself. A big influence on competence is social comparison, where we compare our work with the work of someone else.

Effects of perceived competence

Perceived competence is how capable a person thinks they are of achieving something. It is often based on the results of previous attempts but also influenced by other factors such as praise, social connectedness, social support, and people’s opinions. Perceived competence leads to:

  • High effort
  • Persistence
  • Taking on challenging tasks
  • More success
  • Increased self-worth

How people think others see them may be just as important as how good they actually are at something. People who feel competent are motivated to make further efforts and persist longer with difficult tasks.

Setting goals

Effects of perceived incompetence

When people feel that they cannot achieve anything, they automatically give up easily. Perceived incompetence leads to low motivation and lower-quality work. It also causes:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Perceptions of low self-worth
  • Lower well-being
  • Higher levels stress
  • Low cognitive functioning

Perceived incompetence is based on actual performance, but just like perceived competence, it is also influenced by other factors such as people’s expectations and feedback.

Actual competence

Actual competence is how good someone actually is at something. It is based on a person’s performance outcomes compared to the standard level of achievement in an area or what you would expect from them. Outside factors such as social support, people’s opinions of them, or what they think other people see do not affect actual competence. Actual competence is the actual ability to rank higher than others. It can be good or bad compared to other rankings.

Perceived competence and actual competence are often related but can also be very different. For example, you can rank high, but still, feel like you are incompetent.

Trigger motivation

Use competence to trigger motivation

Competence and motivation are very connected to each other. Competence is linked to the most important and primary motivation: intrinsic motivation. When you feel competent, you are more likely to be intrinsically motivated and vice versa.

Intrinsic motivation is a strong feeling of motivation that comes from within someone and it is usually linked with feelings such as happiness, pride, and well-being. It is not the result of pressure or an outside reward, which is called extrinsic motivation.

So how do you intrinsically motivate someone with the use of competence? There are three ways that you may find useful:

Perceive competence to motivate

The competence motivation theory suggests that we can motivate people by recognizing their learning achievements. The theory stresses that it is important to recognize improvement and effort. Recognizing human development can make someone feel intrinsically motivated to persist in the learning process. Let someone know that you perceive their competence by giving positive feedback. Positive feedback can trigger the feeling of competence in a particular domain, even when dealing with very challenging tasks. Examples to perceive someone’s competence are:

  • Recognize the effort someone has put into something
  • Focus on capability instead of difficulty
  • Talk about a person’s future potential
  • Describe in detail the capabilities of a person
  • Focus on what is possible
  • Focus on their learning curve

When you want to motivate yourself, redirect your own focus on the learning curve and focus on your capabilities instead of the difficulty itself. Recognizing where you come from, and the effort you have put into it can be a great way to motivate yourself.

Perceived competence

Set mastery goals

Competence is related to mastery, which is the feeling of being in control and fully understanding the new skills you are trying to learn. Realizing how you have improved will help you develop a sense of competence.

Mastery goals are the best way to set personal goals, but also to set up group goals. When you have mastery goals instead of performance goals, you feel more competent and therefore you have more motivation to reach the next objective.

When setting mastery goals, follow these four rules:

  • Set goals on the learning process, not on the outcome
  • Set goals on an optimum level for your skills, make moderately challenging
  • Make sure the goals are specific and clear
  • Describe why achieving the goals are important

By setting goals on the learning curve, it will be easier for you to reach them. A goal on the learning curve is not about reaching an outcome, but more about understanding what skills you personally need to master. Set goals that are specific and focus on the way of achieving them.

Setting goals

Use effectance motivation

“Effectance motivation” refers to the desire for effective engagement with the environment. People have the desire to feel effective and competent when dealing with their environment. When you feel competent, it can be easier to stay motivated and continue learning. If you are able to contribute to something that’s positive, you create a sense of competence that will remain with you for a long time. You can increase someone’s competence by letting them have an effect on their actions.

  • Let actions contribute to a task
  • Stimulate a belief in working for a greater good
  • Let someone influence one’s environment
  • Share and acknowledge ideas
  • Create task significance

Task significance is the feeling of having an impact on something. If you feel like your actions have an effect on the world, you are more likely to be motivated to keep working hard towards your goals. People want to have a positive effect on the environment and this motivates them to be competent.

Competence motivation

A word from Sublime People

Competence is commonly referred to as a basic psychological need. There is perceived competence and actual competence.

When there are high perceptions of competence, intrinsic motivation increases, which is its own self-reward system. With intrinsic motivation, people are likely to work harder and keep on doing it. Intrinsic motivation is more important than extrinsic motivation because it comes from the inside of the person, which means they are doing something for themselves.

Making someone feel competent, can motivate them to continue learning and improving themselves. Developing someone’s competence can have a positive effect on their well-being.

When you want to use competence motivation, focus on the achievements on the learning curve, set mastery goals, and let your effort make an impact.

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