Failing to reach our personal and financial goals can be both frustrating and disheartening.  And, to make matters worse, we often realize that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to sabotaging our dreams.

However, research has shown that we can dramatically increase our rate of success by first determining a meaningful and internally motivated “why” for each of our goal pursuits.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a model of human motivation that is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways.  This widely accepted model was initially developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, psychology professors at the University of Rochester, and is now researched and practiced around the world.

According to Deci and Ryan, goal pursuit and goal attainment are highly influenced by “the degree to which people are able to satisfy their basic psychological needs as they pursue and attain their valued outcomes.”  Intrinsically motivated goal pursuits such as those related to personal development, emotional relationships, or community involvement tend to be more rewarding and thus result in higher rates of goal achievement.  That is because these goals are more likely to satisfy our need for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.  In contrast, extrinsically motivated goal pursuits—such as those aligned with financial gain, image and appearance, or fame and popularity—are less satisfying to these critical psychological requirements and will result in lower levels of goal realization.

Therefore, taking time to evaluate your pursuits based on your psychological needs will increase your awareness of the “why” that underlies your aspirations.  This will form a strong emotional connection to your goals and strengthen your commitment.  In particular, consciously forming goals that will satisfy your need for competence, relatedness, and autonomy will keep you on course to achieving your goals.

As defined by SDT, competence is the need to engage in challenges and to experience mastery or effectiveness.  Goals that meet your psychological need for competence will involve activities that allow you to explore your interests, increase your knowledge or skills, and foster a sense of accomplishment.

Relatedness is the need to feel secure, develop intimate relationships, and possess a sense of belonging.  Goals that meet this need will engage you in activities that increase your connections to others, offer opportunities to share your knowledge and skills, and allow you to feel that you are a valued member of a defined group (i.e. family, social circle, community, organization).

Autonomy is the need to organize oneself, self-regulate behavior, and avoid external rule or authority.  Goals that meet this psychological need will include self-directed activities, cultivate a sense of control, address your drives and passions, and strengthen your sense of self.

In summary, goal pursuits that support your internal experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness will enhance your performance, persistence, creativity, and life satisfaction.

Sources:  “The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior” by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 11, No. 4, 2000.  “The Independent Effects of Goal Contents and Motives on Well-Being: It’s Both What You Pursue and Why You Pursue It” by Kennon M. Sheldon, Richard M. Ryan, Edward L. Deci, and Tim Kasser, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 4, 2004.

Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, NP