Whenever we want to make a change, for example career decisions or career changes, motivation is always a big thing to consider. In my reading, I have been amazed how much science knows about motivation, and how little of this has made it into the wider sphere.

Self-determination theory

A key theory of motivation is self-determination theory developed by Ryan & Deci. They established three factors needed to fulfil our basic psychological needs. They are competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When looking to change something, it is worthwhile aligning one’s strategy with those three.

  1. Competence means picking a change that we can actually achieve, and one that we feel able to achieve. If we don’t believe that we can make the change, then we won’t!
  2. Autonomy means having a goal that really is ours – either pleasant in itself, or something that clearly leads to a desired goal, or paired up with something nice. Having goals because others have told us to do them is less likely to work.
  3. Relatedness means being with others, sharing the goals, and using sociable strategies. Goals that we hide and do by ourselves are less likely to succeed.

People can and do change all the time, yet change is hard. Self-determination theory gives a guide on the types of strategies that are in general more likely to work.


Motivators are energy that drives us to do things. They are closely linked to values. Values describe how we want to behave and what matters to us, and they are a strong motivator. Motivators are an unconscious thing that resides in us and develops through self-concept, beliefs, expectations and personality. By consciously discovering and using them, we are empowered to know ourselves better and choose the path forwards.

Sale and Moynan group the motivators into nine categories. When examining values, there are endless possibilities, but by grouping the motivators into nine categories provides a framework that can help us understand ourselves and what motivates us better. No categorisation like this is perfect, it is just a framework to help us understand.


The nine are further grouped into relationship motivators, achievement motivators, and growth motivators. These describe how risk / change averse or receptive we are, how we make decisions, and how we learn.

There is no right or wrong motivator, they are all equal. By providing us with a framework to understand what motivates us, we are in a better position to know ourselves, and consciously choose what we do. All of us have all nine to a degree, but usually a few predominate. It is also useful to know what doesn’t motivate us, as we all what does!

Interestingly, understanding motivators also give as clue to how interpersonal conflict might arise. If my actions are motivated by one thing but yours by another, we might end up in conflict because we both have equally valid motivators, albeit ones that might clash. A typical example might be money versus meaning. Of course, the conflict isn’t inevitable, if we use our emotional intelligence to recognise that the other persons motivators are different to ours, and they have a right to theirs as I have a right to mine.

What motivates you?

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