Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation
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Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  257 ratings  ·  33 reviews
If you reward your children for doing their homework, they will usually respond by getting it done. But is this the most effective method of motivation? No, says psychologist Edward L. Deci, who challenges traditional thinking and shows that this method actually works against performance. The best way to motivate people—at school, at work, or at home—is to support their se...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published June 13th 1995)
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Gian Fiero
Why We Do What We Do is not a creative or orginal title; however, it is an accurate description of what this book is about. If you want to understand how motivation works, both intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external), as well as the power and importance of self-motivation, it's an absolute must-read.

While the author, Edward L. Deci, offers the results of years of research on the subjects of autonomy, competency, and relatedness (which he says are all human neeeds), he provides stimulating...more
Ben
Recommended highly, but with significant caveats (thus the three stars).

The simple, brilliant insight of this book for me was as follows (vastly simplified from the author's full theory, of course):

People do things effectively -- whether it is to work, to learn, or to cooperate in any social relationship -- when they are "self-motivated". This means they must be (1) technically capable of doing what they are doing, (2) understand, not just "know", why they are doing that they are doing, (3) feel...more
Letha
Hmmmm...well I suspect I suffer from the malady of wanting to read more 'textbook' like renditions of psychological/sociological material because I just can't get into the whole Daniel Pink era of (what feels like to me) really simplified extrapolations of scientific research. I prefer to read the 'drier' stuff and draw my own conclusions...

With this one, the conclusions and recommendations drawn and made by Deci just seemed so very intuitive and common sense given the basic outcomes of the rese...more
Parcoast
Again, I was assigned this book for reading for a class, and I have a mixed opinion. The content, meaning the ideas, concepts and implications of the author's message, is probably in the 4-5 star range. Deci's research showed very interesting things about what motivates us, and more importantly what doesn't. A few key points: rewarding someone for an activity they would have intrinsically enjoyed, results in them engaging in that activity less when the rewards are removed, even though they natur...more
Phil
Amazon.com recommended this book. It's fairly short (211 pages plus notes), and I read it in short segments, sometimes only a few pages a night, so that I could absorb it better. I'm following it up with other books that build on the premises established by Edward L. Deci and his coworkers over the past few decades. More recent books seem to amplify, apply, and illustrate the research Deci conducted. The compound word in the sub-title, "Self-Motivation," might require a whole new word, yet it is...more
Shannah
I checked out this book from the local library based on a book I recently listened to on CD, _Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us_ by Daniel Pink (which reminds me, I still have to put that book on my read list!). At the end of the book (as in many of this type) there is a list of books to read for more information about the topic of motivation.

Why We Do What We Do is the second book I have read from that list (the first, Born Standing Up, was also really great), and I am so glad...more
Corey
A good overview of the author's research on the psychology of motivation. The first half of the book examines how deadlines, pressure, threats, and even rewards have the paradoxical effect of reducing intrinsic motivation on many tasks. This happens because people shift their attention to external incentives and penalties. However, when people feel that they are choosing to do something because they want to do it, they tend to persist longer and learn better. Their feelings of autonomy and compe...more
Ethan
This book was hard for me to get into, as it was far more academic than I expected. However, the content makes it more than worth the effort to adjust to the tone and scope of the book.

One of the central ideas in the book is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and the far different results (short and long term) you get get from each. He spends a lot of time discussing studies and examples involving children, comparing traditional extrinsic motivators (e.g. rewards for obedi...more
Hilary Roberts
The message of this book was fascinating. It talks about what really motivates people to behave in certain ways and how to gain autonomy in our actions. It is very applicable to raising children, being a good leader, and just being a better person. The only problem with the book is that it required my absolute attention to understand. I sometimes had to re-read to get what the author was saying. It was worth it, though! It also helped that the book wasn't too long. When you are able to focus men...more
Ahmed Afzaal
Edward Deco summarizes four decades of research on human motivation for a lay audience. Should be required reading for parents, teachers, and managers. It's sad that even though these findings have been around since the late sixties (see "Personal Causation" by Christopher deCharms), most of us are still functioning in a behaviorist carrots-and-sticks model. Much unnecessary suffering can be avoided by taking seriously the practical implications of these findings. For those wanting to see the or...more
Penny
This is a more or less popular press summary of the many years of research Deci did with his colleague Richard Ryan and others. It's kind of an oddly placed book, as it's a bit techy for a popular audience but at times too basic for an academic audience. For me, it was a good quick summary to get up to speed before taking a class on motivation.

In fact, I only finished about 2/3 of the book, because the semester is starting and it's time to put the "pleasure" reading aside, but what I read was he...more
Christina Macapagal
A very good read. I enjoyed all the scientific evidence that was able to back-up the practice of self-knowledge, autonomy, and autonomy support; in the book I have been using the term self-awareness side by side with self-knowledge because it seemed very relevant. I also could not help but think about eastern philosophy and practices while reading Deci's book. It brought back memories of Buddha, Osho, and Atisha as I compare awareness with Deci's definitions and descriptions of intrinsic motivat...more
John Stepper
This book lacked the substance and gravity of either Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" or Mcgonigal's "Willpower Instinct". It felt more like a grandfather's meander through life's lessons supplemented with personal anecdotes about children he's met along the way.

Deci's points coincide nicely with the research published elsewhere, much of which he pioneered, but the presentation of it in this book limits it's usefulness.
Larry
I read this in 1999 and, not sure why, decided to reread it.
It really has interesting concepts and makes you look at how authentically your life is as compared to a life that is just a reaction to social controls and marketing bait.
It is also excellent for teachers, parents, and employers who want their underlings to develope into autonomous beings rather than social robots.
Tim
Easy read to understanding our motivations - and why records and punishments are not successful. I would recommend this book if you are new to the topic. I have read a lot on motivations and behavioral economics over the last 5 years, so a lot of this I hasd read in other places. However, Deci is a leader in this area, so it was great to go back to the source.
Jaclyn
Aug 14, 2013 Jaclyn rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: rm
I enjoyed many aspects of this book: The case studies, the research insights, the terminology that I can now use to speak about these concepts. I did not enjoy some aspects: sometimes Deci seemed a bit didactic/subjective, the book could probably be 50 pages shorter due to its slight redundancy.
Jose Diaz
A clear and easy to understand look at intrinsic motivation. For those not familiar with Deci and Ryan's work on Self-Determination Theory, this is a good start. Highly recommend for parents and teachers who struggle with reward systems that inevitably lose effect or fail altogether.
Cathy Roberts
This was a fascinating read and I think I may purchase this book so I can reread sections of it. It wasn't an easy read though. I often had to put it down and think about it before moving on. Lots of interesting thoughts and research results on what motivates people.
Janalee
I didn't read this straight thru, mostly hopped around. But I'm calling it read. I really liked it and it changed some ways I think about discipline. Don't ask me which ways because it's been a few months since I read it. But they're in my head somewhere.
Dawn Bovasso
I had to read this for school, but I'm so glad I did - it was brilliant. It's applicable for everything from product development to raising children to being a great manager. It got beyond the basics without being dry or clinical.
Kevin Miller
Sep 19, 2012 Kevin Miller marked it as to-read
Shelves: up-next
Recommended by Chris Yeh in our talk to the airport on motivation, authenticity, and the meaning of life. Gotta read it :)

Recc'd again in his look at positive psychology -- intrinsic motivation
Ruth
I like how this book gives examples of how we can't really motivate others. We can only provide an enviornment where people want to motivate themselves. Great to remember in family relatinships.
Jenn
This book has a lot of valuable information, it's just not that easy to read! I look forward to a good discussion and some time to think about and implement the tools suggested in this book.
Satyabrat Mishra
Simply loved it. Maybe a bit more academic in its style but still it was one of the most delightful piece of theoretical studies I've ever read. Especially the chapters on fear and sex.
Jamie
Oct 18, 2008 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: psychologists, philosophers
Excellent for psychologists, philosphers, or anyone who finds it interesting to read about why people do things. Keeps a good perspective in congruence with human agency.
Amanda
Interesting, but very dry. It reads sort of like a psych textbook. Would be an interesting book for parenting. You can read the first 50 pages and get the gist.
Ron Davison
A must for parents, teachers, and managers who want to move beyond the options of control and abandonment to encouraging autonomy.
Lizzie Bray
Research here is being used to support many more investigations into the importance of self-motivation.
Ruth Hunter
This is a really good book and can give you some interesting facts about self-motivation.
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