Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation, a concept that can be thought of as our energy for action. SDT tells us that what really matters is the quality of our motivation, not the quantity. The question is not “how can I motivate someone?” but rather “how can I create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?” (Promoting Motivation, Health, and Excellence: Ed Deci at TEDxFlourCity, 2012).
Foundations of SDT
These conditions for self-motivation are created by cultivating and supporting three basic psychological needs of humans: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomous forms of motivation are based on feelings of willingness, interest, enjoyment, alignment with purpose/values, vitality, and curiosity to name a few. Intrinsic motivation is the most autonomous form of motivation and extrinsic motivations are the more controlled forms. Although pop-psychology uses intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as buzzwords, it will be more helpful and correct to consider a spectrum of autonomous vs. controlled motivation.
Why does SDT matter for Monj? SDT is a psychological theory that has been applied and tested to many different fields related to human behavior change and skill-building, including sports training, academics, and (you guessed it!) health and wellness. Piles of SDT research has discovered that by creating this fertile soil for autonomous motivation, we are helping:
Promote the long-term maintenance of new behavioral patterns as opposed to yo-yo, on-again/off-again patterns. It makes new stuff stick for the long haul, not just the short term.
Enhance people’s psychological and emotional well-being. Autonomous motivation can help increase a person’s sense of vitality, increase their experience of positive emotions, and reduce anxiety or depression.
SDT was more recently popularized by Daniel Pink’s (2011) book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which pulls heavily from SDT as a framing mechanism for Pink’s ideas. He outlines three components of motivation in his book: autonomy (pulled straight from SDT), mastery (like what Deci & Ryan would call “competence”) and purpose. We believe that purpose is a subset of autonomy and perhaps was helpful for Pink to call out separately as his book focused on motivation in the workplace.
Application to Monj
Monj applies SDT throughout our program:
- Autonomy by helping participants choose their own goals within the program best aligned to their needs, and always offering a degree of choice on how to attain those goals.
- Competence by helping participants building skills and insight through hands-on, real world activities, all while encouraging practice and repetition to hone those skills over time.
- Relatedness by actively promoting shared food experiences with friends, family and co-workers including eating together, cooking together and team based challenges.
The Work of BJ Fogg
BJ Fogg is one of those names you always hear when people talk about behavior change. He’s involved in the development of technology focused on behavior change through his lab at Stanford University which is then tested through his work with industry. His theories and tools are well worth understanding and using. In 2011, the World Economic Forum’s Wellness Workplace Alliance selected the Fogg Behavior Model as their framework for health behavior change.
If there is one headline from all of BJ Fogg’s work it would be:
Don't Motivate Behavior Change → FACILITATE Behavior Change
His work consists of a series of theories presented in a highly applicable way. They include the Fogg Behavior Model, the Motivation Wave, the Behavior Grid, 3 Steps to New Habits, Tiny Habits and Celebrate Tiny Successes. Monj draws from all of these, with a focus on the first two.
The Fogg Behavior Model
The key idea here is that there are three elements that you need for behavior change:
Motivation (“I want to”)
Ability (”I can”)
Trigger (“Oh! I should do that now.”).
These are the three levers that you need to wiggle when trying to have someone to do a specific thing. The model is not about changing people’s motivation, but rather harnessing what motivation they already have. That leaves the other two levers as the most prominent in his work—trigger and ability. Two big questions you’ll find over and over again in his work are related to these two things:
- How do you create good triggers for new behaviors?
- How do you make something so simple that it doesn’t really matter how motivated you are?
The Motivation Wave
PEAKS & TROUGHS: Motivation naturally varies. Sometimes we are stoked to do something (usually on January 1st), other times we won’t even consider getting off the couch to do it (...January 30th). Fogg calls these “peaks” and “troughs”. When someone is at a peak in motivation, it’s a “temporary opportunity to do a hard thing”. When they are in a trough, they are “natural periods when people cannot do hard things”.
SURF THE WAVE: Instead of trying to build, create, or manipulate people’s motivation, you should surf, harvest, or harness the wave. Help them harness moments or high motivation, and give them the opportunities for easy wins when motivation is low . His headline: “Help people succeed on the most desirable health behavior that matches their current motivation.”
Application to Monj
Monj applies BJ Fogg's work throughout our program:
- Different content types, each with a range of time and effort required to complete, designed meet participants at any point on their personal motivation wave.
- Meeting people "where they are", e.g., helping them improve meals they already eat so new behaviors can be more easily triggered.
- Making the hands-on activities not only easy to do, but easy to picture yourself doing, so participants develop and "I can" attitude toward their own ability.
Download Our Whitepaper
What people eat is one of the most important components of their long-term health and well-being. However, getting people to “eat healthier” isn’t nearly as simple as it may sound. Here at Monj, we think it’s time for a paradigm shift regarding how to think about guiding large populations of people towards a lifetime of healthy eating. This whitepaper reviews five research-backed insights to help activate and empower nutritional behavior change.
To download "Making Life Delicious: Five Insights to Activate and Empower Nutritional Behavior Change," enter your information below. We promise not to spam you or share your information with anyone, but we may send you an email to inquire about your interest in Monj.