Self-determination theory or self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan and Deci 2017) has become a highly influential modern theory of human motivation and well-being with a tremendous amount of scientific support. This theory is based on extensive empirical research. It provides a framework for understanding the motivational basis of personality and social behavior. The theory also includes the relationship of basic psychological needs to well-being, psychological flourishing and growth (“Flourishing”) and high quality of life.

SDT focuses on diverse forms of motivation to predict outcomes such as achievement, engagement, vitality and psychological resilience. In particular, the theory distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But the theory is not a black-and-white model; the theory also describes intermediate forms between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. For example, a motivation may have been originally encouraged by parents or school, but the person has almost fully internalized it.

SDT also states that there are universal basic psychological needs that must be universally satisfied to enable psychology growth, integrity, and well-being. These basic needs are: autonomy, competence, and connectedness. Supporting these basic needs creates intrinsic motivation, engagement, and vitality.

Supporting basic needs

Autonomy can be supported in the following way: link

The basic need competence can be supported in the following way: link

The basic need connectedness can be supported in the following way: link

Research shows, that supporting the basic psychological needs has important consequences:

*Sustainable employability:

Research is clear: supporting the basic psychological needs and thus intrinsic motivation is the basis for sustainable employability.


People who are intrinsically motivated tend to be (pro)active, inquisitive, curious and playful, show more initiative, persevere in the face of challenge and failure, and are more independent of in the absence of positive feedback.


Intrinsic motivation promotes spontaneity, originality, personal authenticity and creativity.

*High quality learning

Inner drive improves conceptual understanding, active information processing, concentration and effective use of learning strategies. Intrinsic motivation to learn was indirectly and positively related to academic achievement via classroom engagement (Froiland & Worrell, 2016). Intrinsic learning comes close to the so-called growth mindset (Carol Dweck).

*Performance from a mastery mindset.

The intrinsically motivated employee wants to master things (competence). The more extrinsically motivated employee looks for outside assessment, for status and confirmation. This is not a bad thing in all cases, but extrinsically motivated people are less creative and, in the long run, less healthy and, moreover, cannot properly encourage others in their engagement. Modern organizations are looking for employees with an intrinsic mastery mindset.

*Wellness and health:

 Mental resilience and health.

intrinsically motivated people tend to perform well and enjoy what they do, are happier, more productive and less anxious, and report higher levels of life satisfaction and self-esteem. In contrast, too little inner drive and lack of autonomy, competence and belonging can contribute to burnout (Rawolle et al., 2016).

*Buffer against work stress

Within the important Job-Demand-Resources model studied also in the Netherlands, intrinsic motivation is understood as a “resource,” that is, as an element that builds a buffer against work stress. For this reason, fulfilling psychological needs and creating intrinsic motivation and thus “engagement,” i.e., enthusiasm, is also an important element of job crafting.

SDT and positive psychology

Self-determination theory has a strong overlap with positive psychology, even though the historical development of these two directions is different. Humanistic self-determination theory was around before. Richard Ryan, next to Edward Deci one of the two scientists, who developed the self-determination theory, then works at the “Institute for Positive Psychology & Education.”

Compared to the parts of positive psychology that focus primarily on positive thinking, self-determination theory is more focused on behavior. Thinkings such as positive self-image do not play a major role in the SDT. It is more important to be focused on growth, learning and development than on a positive self-image. A person focused on growth and “mastery” will have an implicit positive self-image, without making it a goal. The same goes for autonomy: autonom