Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation” as Want to Read:
Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,261 ratings  ·  96 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,261 ratings  ·  96 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation
Feb 02, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Nov 11, 2016 rated it liked it
I have a few messages for all of you reading this book.
don't waste your time on work that you don’t enjoy. It is obvious that you cannot succeed in something that you don’t like. Patience, passion, and dedication come easily only when you love what you do. IT IS stupid to be afraid of others’ opinions. Fear weakens and paralyzes you. If you let it, it can grow worse and worse every day until there is nothing left of you, but a shell of yourself. LiSten to your inner voice and go with it. Some pe
Oct 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Okay, I can't write a good review for this book because I listened to it without paying enough attention, and I stopped halfway through. Also, I'm really no expert in psychology.

The first chapters were the best: defining self-motivation, autonomy, independance, showing why preserving someone's autonomy is so important, and why motivation has to come from the inner self, not from the outside, especially not in controlling ways. For example in a certain study, telling students in group 1, "remembe
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mental-health
Why We Do What We Do is one of those books I wish I'd read years ago. It's essentially a primer on self-determination theory, which is a grand theory explaining, just as the book's title suggests, why we humans do what we do. The theory holds that in order to flourish we must have three basic psychological needs meet -- the needs to live with authenticity, to feel competent in our work, and to forge close connections with others. One Goodreads reviewer complains that Deci at times "drifts off in ...more
Irene Kaloyannis
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
In the last 8 months or so, I've read a couple self-help-type books, books I'm naturally averse to so most were read for classes. I despised one (that book is The Art of Not Giving a F*ck please do not read it, one day I'll get around to writing a review for that kaki) and found the others okay. This one was not only of very high quality, but has now become one of my favorite books. I was enthralled beginning to end (I actually read the whole thing in one night). I learned so much about how to m ...more
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting but you get the point halfway through.
Wiebke Kuhn
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Based in decades of research about how people get motivated, the message of the book is quite clear: Develop an autonomous self that has resilience in the face of people wanting to control you, and you will live a better life.
The ramifications for any profession that can be considered a service -- education, medical, government are that we need to treat people in ways that empower them to be their autonomous selves rather than try to control them.
On a more granular, education-focused, level, his
Megha Nayyar
Jan 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivation was one of my favorite concepts. Every activity is either done to prove something to other people (extrinsic) or because you genuinely want to do it (intrinsic).
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Extremely dry writing with no helpful examples is what made my star rating
Apr 14, 2020 rated it liked it
I am very interested in the idea behind this book. Parts of it are insightful and parts seemed to be a repetition of what was previously said.

I am currently going through my own bout of de-motivation so some of what was in here rang true and offered a different way to look at it.

But there’s something about the way the examples are written in this book to support their studies that I wasn’t a fan of at all. I skimmed over most of them which was hard considering how they’re in between paragraphs b
Steven Woloszyk - (Wa-LUSH-ick)
B. F. Skinner, who many believe to be the father of behavioral psychology, believed in consequences. If good behavior is rewarded, it will be repeated. If we punish bad behavior, it will cease.

This has been a mainstay with parenting, teaching, coaching, and in the business world for the better part of the 20th century and continues to be a prevailing thought today.

Then we have Edward L. Deci and his band of psychologists that say, “Wait, hold up everybody!”

Deci says that motivation is derived f
Apr 11, 2014 rated it liked it
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
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
"At the heart of human freedom is the experience of choice." This was a very well researched and interesting study of the importance of letting individuals be "autonomy-supportive" or in other words making choices because of their own internal motivation. There are so many applications in this book from parenting to teaching and government. The importance of not being controlled and the responsibility that come with it are what lead us as humans to become most actualized. Definitely recommended ...more
Andrew Scott
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: astc, psychology-pink
A fascinating account of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation; the dangers of 'incentivising' desired behaviour, and the power of autonomy - and therefore of autonomy-support as a key strategy for educators and leaders. ...more
May 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Good information, but could have been a lot more concise. I've read textbooks that are more interesting to read. I forced myself to read most of it because it was recommended reading for work. ...more
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
The title of this book doesn't tell the whole story. If I didn't know any background about the author it is not something I would have picked up.

Some background: Edward Deci and Richard Ryan are the founders of Self Determination Theory. I became interested in SDT in graduate school (Special Education) and wrote a paper on the theory and its relevance in alternative educational settings. The theory has really shifted the way I look at education.

The theory states:

All people have 3 basic psychol
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it
In fairly simple writing, Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward L. Deci and Richard Flaste explains that humans perform best when they are totally “autonomous” with themselves and free from extrinsic motivations such as fame, money, and external pressures. 

The process of reading not only served as a valuable learning experience but also triggered moments of thoughtful self-reflection. The book's reasoning of how "people can be controlling with themselves to satisfy their
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Deci challenges much of the conventional wisdom of teachers, managers, medical doctors and others in authority on how to get students, employees, and patients to do what is supposedly best for them.

Carrots and sticks are usually less effective than the authorities seem to think. On small tasks threats and incentives can make a difference. For example, if you pay employees by the piece to produce items, then you'll probably encourage those employees to make more items.

But if you want students to
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A book that breaks down so much of your psychosocial processes that underlie the choices you make...from not being able to sustain vehemently desired results to understanding which part of your controlled set of responses is least serving the future you envision for yourself.

Understanding how to release your children from ever being controlled by psychosocial influences that are a part of living on this planet and creating the life you want to live.

Much of it for me was highly repetitive and lac
Patrik Gustafsson
I got the tip after Asking for more to read about RAMP (

Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. AMP as presented by Pink in Drive ( hade before been I guiding star for my leadership. So of course when I understood the connection it jumped to the top of my reading list.

The dimension of relatedness connected a missing piece that fits into many of the actual practices of working together that encouraged, and made thi
Steve Garvin
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
The work Deci and Ryan have done on inner motivation have been instrumental in helping me formulate my own strategies for finding satisfaction and fulfillment in my career. Along with a few other books and areas of research, their work on self-determinism have helped me go from being severely depressed and giving up on ever finding a way to create a living that worked for me to actually being fulfilled in what I am doing. That said, I'm glad I had a decent foundation before trying to digest this ...more
Miika Vuorio
Jan 11, 2021 rated it liked it
It was alright, gave some insights, but I feel like it could've been a far shorter book and been just as informative and enlightening. Essentially the big idea is that in most if not all cases it is better for people to be internally motivated to do something rather than externally motivated and to achieve this, one should be autonomy supportive to oneself and to others. If you want more of that, read this book :) ...more
Tugrul Yuksel
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is an amazing book as a primer to intrinsic motivation. Autonomy, desire for competency (personal causation), relatedness - powerful. However, the writing style hinders the points to come across. Especially the very last paragraph gave me impression that the book was unfinished or even not heavily edited.
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: improv-co
A pretty straightforward book that pushes back somewhat on behaviorism. The big takeaway for me was, how do you build a system that encourages people to positively change and feel motivated rather than forcing change on people. The book was a little dry here and there, but over all it's a good quick read. ...more
Apr 03, 2020 rated it liked it
I was worried this was just going to another mild mannered repetitive positive psychology self-help book. It kind of was. But it was actually pretty good too. I don’t think it was super impactful if you’ve already thought about being intentional with your life in general, but I felt it was worth the read for a school assigned book.
Erich Hutton
Jan 19, 2021 rated it liked it
The book hits you early on with the premise: We do not motivate people. We create environments in which people motivate themselves. All of this is based on the person's feeling of competency and autonomy. The rest of the book offers various anecdotes and examines various themes that spring from the central idea. ...more
Diane Zhu
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
The book encourages us to be the autonomous self who lives with authenticity and to help others by creating an environment where people have the autonomy to make meaningful decisions. Both obedience and rebellion suggest we are being controlled against our will. Being authentic also means being self-responsible.
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although this was a book for University, I found it really interesting.

This book looks at how we do what we do and the reasons for this and in many ways why we are maybe not fulfilling our potential and creating the lives we want to have.
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: em-mussar
Really excellent explanation of basic psychological drives for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Helped me understand what I see in the school kids I work with, myself, and to learn how to be more effective as a parent, mentor and supervisor.
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals
  • Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
  • Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
  • Diwan e Ghalib / دیوان غالب
  • The Art of Public Speaking
  • Bang-e-Dara / بانگ درا
  • Sweet Water
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
  • The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters
  • The Kingdom of This World
  • They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45
  • Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters
  • The Infinite Game
  • Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being
  • The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic
  • The Hermit of Africville: The Life of Eddie Carvery
  • Pastoral (Quincunx, #1)
  • Love You Hard: A Memoir of Marriage, Brain Injury, and Reinventing Love
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Edward L. Deci is a Professor of Psychology and Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Rochester, and director of its human motivation program. He is well known in psychology for his theories of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and basic psychological needs.

Related Articles

  Luvvie Ajayi Jones—author, cultural critic, digital entrepreneur—might be best described as a professional truthteller. Her crazily popular...
51 likes · 0 comments
“They needed the numbers, so they directed their creativity and resourcefulness toward getting those numbers, rather than toward effective performance.” 1 likes
More quotes…