Understand your ‘why’

What is motivation?

Motivation is a process which drives your behaviour and leads you to act a certain way. If you are highly motivated, you are more likely to behave and live a lifestyle which aligns with achieving your goals.

How does the process of motivation work?

Motivation is a product of self-regulated learning. To be a ‘self regulated learner’ involves understanding your behaviour, adapting to situations and reflecting on your decisions. It requires self awareness.

What does self regulation look like?

The stages below depict the process of self regulation as documented in scientific research. There are 3 phases: forethought, performance and self-reflection.

Forethought Phase

  • Goal setting
  • Strategy choice
  • Planning
  • Outcome expectations

Performance Phase

  • Strategy use
  • Attention focus
  • Self instruction
  • Self monitoring

Self-reflection Phase

  • Self-evaluation
  • Self-satisfaction
  • Self-judgement

Each phase consists of different behaviours, which take place at different times, prior to performance.

  • The behaviours in the forethought phase require the individual to understand their goals, what they expect to achieve and how they plan to achieve it.
  • The performance phase behaviours happen during performance where the individual executes their chosen plan, focuses their attention and monitors performance.
  • Self-reflection phase behaviours happen after the performance where the individual evaluates their performance in relation to their goals.

By engaging in this process, you are positioning yourself for improvement. By reflecting on your actions, performance and strategy, you enable yourself to adapt. To understand what worked well and what you could do better.

Types of Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation

Performing for the sake of internal enjoyment and sense of achievement

Extrinsic Motivation

Participating for an external reward e.g. financial, social approval


No sense of personal control or specific reason for doing an activity

What is the theory behind motivation?

Achievement Goal Theory (AGT)

AGT suggests that your achievement goal orientation (AGO) and your perceived level of competence combined, result in certain achievement behaviours. If you are ‘ego orientated’ you are more concerned with performing better than others. If you are ‘task orientated’ you are more concerned with mastering a skill or task. For example, someone who is naturally ego orientated but has low perceived competence (doesn’t believe they can perform very well) will exert effort and make choices different to that of someone who is task orientated and high in perceived competence.

Achievement Goals

  • Ego orientated
  • Task Orientated

Perceived Competence

  • High perceived competence
  • Low perceived competence

Achievement Behaviours

  • Choice
  • Effort
  • Persistence

AGO can be ‘manipulated’ to more appropriate achievement behaviours. Similarly, perceived competence can be developed over time. By discovering the most optimal achievement goal style and level of perceived competence, you can make better choices to improve your performance.

The theory was adapted to include a wider scope of direction. Some individuals focus on winning, whereas others may focus on avoiding losing. The table below outlines 4 possible combinations of goal orientations. For example you may be task oriented (focused on mastering a skill) and may focus more on avoidance (not performing worse than last time) as opposed to approaching the challenge with the aim of doing better than before. Research has discovered that a task/approach orientation is optimal for elite performance.

Ask yourself ‘which am I?’ if you fit into ‘avoidance’ consider how you might shift your mindset toward approaching the task with the intention of doing better. If you fit into an ‘ego’ orientation consider how you might adapt your mentality and attention to focus more on yourself and advance your skills, regardless of what others are doing.

TaskMotivated to master a task, learn, understand and develop a skillMotivated to avoid performing worse than you strive to/ doing worse than last time
EgoMotivated to do better than others with a better score or performanceMotivated to appear to not be incompetent in the eyes of others

Self-Determination Theory

Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-determination theory proposes that autonomy, relatedness and competence are basic psychological needs. These three components comprise a theory of motivation to behave in effective and healthy ways, which satisfy these needs. Autonomy refers to the freedom an individual feels they have in making their own decisions based on their sense of self. Relatedness refers to the need for secure, intimate relationships with others, providing a sense of belonging. Lastly, competence refers to interacting effectively with the environment. Satisfaction of these needs is suspected to elevate psychological well being and drive performance (see image).

References, Resources and Reading

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Self-determination theory.

Duda, J. L. (1995). Motivation in sport settings: A goal perspective approach.

Duda, J. L., Chi, L., Newton, M. L., & Walling, M. D. (1995). Task and ego orientation and intrinsic motivation in sport. International journal of sport psychology.

Elliot, A. J., & Conroy, D. E. (2005). Beyond the dichotomous model of achievement goals in sport and exercise psychology. Sport and Exercise Psychology Review1(1), 17-25.

Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological review91(3), 328.

Ntoumanis, N., Quested, E., Reeve, J., & Cheon, S. H. (2018). Need supportive communication: Implications for motivation in sport, exercise, and physical activity. Persuasion and communication in sport, exercise, and physical activity, 155-169.

Sansone, C., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (Eds.). (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance. Elsevier.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory into practice41(2), 64-70.