24 Jan 2023

Feeling self-determined and psychological wellbeing

Self-Determination Theory is about motivation. But it’s also about psychological health and wellbeing.

Primarily researched and developed by Deci and Ryan* the theory includes three basic psychological needs. These require satisfying in order to foster wellbeing and health. They are needs that, if fulfilled, allow optimal functioning and growth.

The 3 basic psychological needs


The need to experience a feeling of improved mastery over something, like a skill or a task. Learning something new is an example. Something like unexpected positive feedback would increase this feeling.


The desire to be the agent of one's own life. Not independent of others but a feeling of freedom to choose based on one’s own will - and not being told what to do.


The desire to interact with, be connected to, and experience caring for others and being cared for. Also the feeling of relating to or being a part of something - e.g. a group or a wider network.

How can we satisfy these needs?

We can all support the fulfilment of these needs, in ourselves and others, through some simple strategies:

  • Seek to continue to learn and develop and to notice how far we have come and not just how far we have to go. Enjoy the process of getting better at something.
  • Focus sufficiently on those aspects of our lives that we can control and influence, rather than those which we might like to, but can’t (spending lots of time thinking and talking about things you can’t influence can lead to dissatisfaction, worry or frustration).
  • Make sufficient effort to connect with others, to fuel a sense of purpose and caring. This could be family, neighbours, friendship groups or other collectives.

These are straightforward strategies which can be very effective for some. For example focusing on what we can control in the financial and health aspects of our lives - and focusing less on the things we can’t control - is generally helpful.

The encouragement or support of others - in order to do these things and to think in these ways - can be invaluable in making them habitual.

And all this for a greater sense of psychological health and wellbeing.

* 'Why We Do What We Do' is written by Edward Deci and Richard Flaste and is subtitled Understanding Self-Motivation

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