The Utility of Self Determination Theory and Motivation in Wellness Coaching – Part Two: Autonomy, Competence & Relatedness

 

Activities like camping with a friend in the backcountry can meet our three innate psychological needs.

As health and wellness coaches work with their clients to help them live their healthiest lives possible, an understanding of the basics of Self-Determination Theory of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org), is very useful. In the Part One blog posting on this subject we looked at how this theory addresses human motivation. (https://wp.me/pUi2y-nT). Here we will look at how coaches can benefit from understanding the significance of the theory’s identified three innate psychological needs that we all have.

 

The Three Innate Psychological Needs

At the heart of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is the underlying assumption that there is an inherent human need for fulfillment and self-actualization through personal growth, development and mastery (competence), for connectedness (relatedness) and for the experience of behavior as self-determined and congruent with one’s sense of self (autonomy). These three needs are considered universal and essential for well-being. Whatever supports the positive experience of competence, relatedness and autonomy promotes choice, willingness and volition, interest, full engagement, enjoyment and perceived value — the inherent qualities of intrinsic motivation. It also leads to higher quality performance, persistence, and creativity.

The degree to which these needs are either supported or compromised and thwarted has a significant impact on both the individual and the individual’s “social context” (the physical and social setting in which people live and work and the institutions with which they interact). If all three needs are satisfied “people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness” and if not, “…people will more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning.” (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/)

“We believe that all human beings have a set of basic psychological needs. The needs that we feel are important are the need for competence. That is to say to feel confident and effective in relation to whatever it is you’re doing. Second, to feel relatedness, that is to say to feel cared for by others, to care for others, to feel like you belong in various groups that are important to you. And the third need is autonomy… Human need is something that must get satisfied for optimal wellness and optimal performance. If they don’t get the need satisfied, then there will be negative psychological consequences that follow.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6fm1gt5YAM)

 

Coaching In Support of Autonomy

People have a need to feel they are operating their lives out of their own choice. Supporting the client’s need for autonomy is considered one of the primary tasks of a coach. The client-centered nature of coaching supports client autonomy throughout the coaching process. Coaching operates on mutual agreements between client and coach. Agendas are co-created with the client always in the lead. In wellness and health coaching this is especially true as client-generated goals have more inherent “buy-in”, that is, more motivational connection. The coaching cornerstone stance that the client is “naturally creative, resourceful and whole” (NCRW)( https://coactive.com/why-cti/buy-the-book) fosters autonomy as the coach works to evoke the inner wisdom of the client. Rather than operating from an expert point of view, the coach provides support for the client’s own decision making, even though they assist in the process.

Coaching In Support Of Competence

This NCRW stance also supports the other key human need according to SDT, of seeking to achieve competence. Again, in line with the tenets of humanistic psychology and the more recent developments in positive psychology, clients are treated as though they are indeed capable and possessing great potential. The strengths-based, positive psychology nature of coaching emphasizes acknowledging and building upon the client’s attributes and qualities they already possess. A key here is acknowledgement. Client’s often minimize or fail to recognize their strengths and achievements. If their self-efficacy is already low, having been brought down by previous failure experiences, they may tend to overlook what they are accomplishing, or to downplay it. The active listening skill of acknowledgement needs to be used by coach whenever it can be genuinely utilized. As client and coach work on self-determined goals and break it down into doable action steps, leading the client to enjoy more and more successful experiences. As they do so, they begin to feel more competent in the area of improving their lifestyle, which naturally builds their feelings of self-efficacy.

Coaching In Support of Relatedness

The heart of coaching is the coaching relationship itself. Creating that alliance supplies the client with a trusted resource for support that can be relied upon unconditionally. As the coach exhibits the qualities that make up great coaching presence (supplying the facilitative conditions of coaching) (https://wp.me/pUi2y-6i) the client feels accepted, acknowledged and cared for. Often our clients are lacking relationships in their lives where they experience adequate empathic understanding and are free from judgment.

“It is important to note that whilst a coachee may have close relationships outside coaching, s/he may not consistently feel heard, understood, valued and/or genuinely supported within those relationships. If not, they are unlikely to feel strongly and positively connected to others and in an attempt to satisfy this basic need, may attempt to connect by acting in accordance with the preferences of others, rather than one’s own.” (https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1106&context=gsbpapers)

For the client, it is not only refreshing to relate to someone who provides unconditional positive regard and validates their experience and feelings, it may actually free the client up to explore their lives with new openness and independence. Perhaps they have been holding themselves back from making some of the lifestyle changes they need to make because of the fear of losing connection, to some degree, with others. Perhaps with the support of the coach, the client may be willing to take such risks to live in a healthier way.

The Real Balance approach to coaching has long recognized the importance and power of coaching for connectedness. We realize that coaching is a very brief moment in someone’s life and that lasting lifestyle improvement often hinges upon finding the support of others for the changes clients need to make. As we help our clients choose action steps in their Wellness Plan, we continually ask, Who else can support you in doing this? Building in strategies to seek out and gain support for wellness goals and the action steps needed to achieve them is often critical to success.

Of course, not all of our clients enjoy lives rich in connectedness at home, work and in their communities. As we co-create the Wellness Plan with our clients, we may want to include developing more connectedness as an Area of Focus to be consciously worked on. Part of that process may be exploring ways in which the client holds themselves back from reaching out and making more interpersonal connections in their lives. As clients feel empowered by the autonomous nature of choice in the coaching process, they may be more willing to increase their connectedness.

As coaches reflect upon their work, not only with a single client, but will all of the people they coach, they can benefit from asking themselves if their coaching process addresses and supports the fulfillment of these three innate psychological needs. The self-vigilant coach may want to listen to session recordings and ask themselves “Am I coaching in a way that really supports my client’s autonomy, or am I being too prescriptive or too directive? Am I using acknowledgement enough to help my client realize how their sense of competency is increasing? Am I remembering to ‘coach for connectedness’ and help my client expand their circles of support?”

Deci and Ryan see the fulfillment of these needs as paving the way towards optimal functioning — essentially making the wellness way of life much easier.

Dr. Michael Arloski

For the very best in wellness and health coach training look to REAL BALANCE GLOBAL WELLNESS SERVICES, INC.  Over 8,000 wellness & health coaches trained worldwide.  http://www.realbalance.com 

 

For more about effective coaching refer to Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC.   https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml

and to Your Journey to a Healthier Life (Paths of Wellness Guided Journals) by the same author.  https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml 

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The Utility of Self Determination Theory and Motivation in Wellness Coaching – Part One: Motivation

“Don’t ask how you can motivate others. Ask how you can create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves.”
Edward L. Deci

The motivation of the coaching client for change is usually seen as the foremost factor in the coaching process, yet many coaches lack adequate knowledge of this concept. Some coaches believe that is it somehow their responsibility to motivate their client. This can come across as an attempt to convince or persuade the client to become engaged in a lifestyle improvement process, urged on by a cheerleading coach. As coaches become more experienced, they usually discover that effective coaching is about helping the client to get in touch with what motivates them from the inside and build on that. One theory that can help coaches grasp the nature of human motivation and then implement it well is Self-Determination Theory.

The life work of psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org) has yielded a theory of human motivation that not only fully supports the coach approach but also adds valuable tools of understanding. In complete alignment with the tenets of humanistic psychology (https://www.amazon.com/Toward-Psychology-Being-Abraham-Maslow/dp/0471293091) , Self-Determination Theory (SDT) views human beings as constantly striving towards actualizing their potential, seeking out ways to foster their growth and development. It is also very much in alignment with the Client-Centered (or Person-Centered) Approach of Carl Rogers (https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Person-Therapists-View-Psychotherapy/dp/039575531X/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=3WAH0XRWWQF0SM32MPZJ). Finally, it is easy to see how the way coaches trained in the ICF Core Competencies and the coaching foundations that are laid out in sources such as Co-Active Coaching (https://www.amazon.com/Co-Active-Coaching-Fourth-transformative-conversations/dp/1473674980/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1549473972&sr=1-1&keywords=co-active+coaching) work with clients are entirely congruent with SDT.

A core contribution of SDT is the way it demonstrates how it is the type of motivation, not the quantity of motivation that is key to success with behavioral change. According to Self-Determination Theory there are two types of motivation, controlled motivation and autonomous motivation. SDT presents a ‘motivational spectrum’ with amotivation, or total indifference at one end and intrinsic motivation, doing something for its own intrinsic satisfaction at the opposite end. In between these two extremes lies extrinsic motivation with its own motivational spectrum from the most externalized (controlled) to the most internalized (becoming autonomous) types of motivation.

MOTIVATIONAL SPECTRUM
A client is viewed as potentially having different types of motivation related to different behaviors, similar to what we have seen in the Transtheoretical Model of Change, (http://jprochaska.com/books/changing-to-thrive-book/) Your client may be in the “Action Stage” when it comes to improving their nutrition, but in the “Contemplation Stage” regarding beginning an exercise program. Likewise, in the SDT model, your client may feel Controlled Motivation from and Extrinsic source (e.g. pressure from physician and spouse) to begin exercising, and yet possess Autonomous Intrinsic Motivation to improve their nutrition because of a life-long fascination with and enjoyment of healthy eating.

Coaches certainly encounter clients who are indifferent to making changes in some areas of their lives. This would be referred to as Amotivation, or simply lacking motivation. SDT looks at the process of motivation as part of the behavior change process, rather than a pre-requisite for coaching. The client does not have to be “ready” for coaching, rather, it is within the coach’s function to help the client get in touch with the motivation they need for change and resolve ambivalence Again, it our job to meet our client where they are at.

Controlled Motivation

All too frequently the wellness coach encounters clients who are feeling the pressure of Controlled Motivation. This is the “carrot and stick” approach to motivation. It means doing something in order to get a reward or to avoid punishment. It is characterized by feeling seduced (towards a reward) or coerced (to avoid negative consequence). Either way there is a perception of being pressured, obligated or even forced. A perfect example is the coaching client coming to fulfill a requirement for a wellness program incentive plan. The client feels forced into coaching to receive the reward of a 10-20% discount on their health insurance premium (and to avoid the implied penalty of missing this discount). Deci has emphasized that this approach has negative consequences for both performance and well-being. Deci and Ryan also noticed that individuals coming from controlled motivation tend to take the shortest path to the end result. They often complete the wellness program requirement and immediately quit the program.

Autonomous Motivation

Autonomous motivation has two aspects. The first is interest and enjoyment. If these two are present, so is motivation because I don’t have to be convinced to do what I love doing. The second type has to do with deeply held values and beliefs. Behaviors that are in sync with values and beliefs are coherent with one’s sense of self. According to Deci, the research demonstrates that when behavior comes from autonomous motivation people are more creative and better at problem solving. When confronted with challenges or obstacles they are more able to think ‘outside the box’. Overall, performance is better especially around hands-on learning and people feel better about themselves. All in all, “autonomous motivation is associated with both physical and psychological health.”

Autonomous behavior is about choice. Deci, in an effective video interview (https://youtu.be/m6fm1gt5YAM) , points out that it is not the same as independence. A person can be experiencing autonomous motivation (operating out of their own volition) when they choose to seek out a walking group to participate in. Autonomous motivation can drive both individualistic and collectivistic behaviors.

SDT also acknowledges that there is often a process experienced by people whereby their motivation may progress from Controlled External Motivation to eventually become a choice that they fully embrace — Autonomous Intrinsic Motivation. What may begin as

 

Spatial representation of different forms of extrinsic regulation. From Spence & Oades PDF (2011)

a requirement of a program (see a wellness coach to get an incentive) — External Controlled Motivation — may move to compliance with a program (continue to see the coach out of an ‘introjected’ sense that they ‘should’ do so). However, if the coach is effective at creating a true coaching alliance with their client and helps them to see the benefits that they may have to gain by continuing coaching, the motivation shifts through a sense of “identification”, to that of Autonomous Motivation — the client is truly choosing to be involved in coaching. Finally, as the client experiences the benefits of coaching and enjoys the coaching, they have fully ‘integrated’ the process and are experiencing Autonomous Intrinsic Motivation to engage genuinely in coaching.

In effective coaching we always refer to co-creating with our client ‘self-determined goals’. The message to the client is that they are the ones in the driver’s seat, choosing their own Wellness Plan with our assistance. As we coach our clients through the journey of change we can draw upon SDT to remind us to stay client-centered, to continuously move towards building client autonomy and towards motivation that is more intrinsic in nature. It’s just good coaching!

In Part Two on the topic of Self-Determination Theory, we’ll look at how we can incorporate the Three Innate Psychological Needs of SDT — the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness into more masterful coaching.

 

For the very best in wellness and health coach training look to REAL BALANCE GLOBAL WELLNESS SERVICES, INC.  Over 8,000 wellness & health coaches trained worldwide.  http://www.realbalance.com 

 

For more about effective coaching refer to Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC.   https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml

and to Your Journey to a Healthier Life (Paths of Wellness Guided Journals) by the same author.  https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml