Why We Do What We Do - Edward L Deci

Why We Do What We Do - Edward L Deci

Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes 

Why We Do What We Do

“When it comes to issues of motivation, people always seem to want techniques for motivating or managing themselves." 

"Screaming from the front cover of most self-help books are statements about “The newest techniques for motivating yourself,” or “Techniques that have proven effective.”" 

"The truth is that there are no techniques that will motivate people or make them more autonomous. Motivation must come from within, not from techniques. It comes from their deciding they are ready to take responsibility for managing themselves."

"When people are really ready to change for their own personal reasons, and when they are willing to face and cope with the myriad feelings—anxiety, inadequacy, rage, terror, or loneliness—that underlie the motivation for change."

"Once that has happened, various techniques may be useful for them, but without a true resolve, without reasons for change that are personally important, techniques will not help. When people put stock in techniques as something that will change them, they are expressing an external locus of causality rather than an internal one; they are holding the misguided belief that being controlled rather than autonomous is the means for bringing about meaningful, personal change.

"A deep personal desire to change must come first. Then perhaps, a technique can give people a little help.”

Beginning with the end in mind!

This quote is coming from closer to the end of the book.

But I wanted to start here to give you an idea of what we're talking about today!

This book is not 'tips and tricks' and we're not going to be looking much into techniques. 

Instead we'll be looking at the research behind motivation.

These are all hard won scientifically proven observations made by one of the foremost researchers in the world. 

We're going to look into:

Why the way you're settings goals might be making you unhappy and unmotivated. 

The difference between learning and integrating information. 

How true self esteem is built from within and not from external validation. 

Checking in before we get started!

Are you ready for change?

A lot of this work is difficult, and counterintuitive to what society might tell us.  

Edward tells us here we need to have a deep and powerful want to change before starting.


“The researchers found that if any of the three extrinsic aspirations—for money, fame, or beauty—was very high for an individual relative to the three intrinsic aspirations, the individual was also more likely to display poorer mental health." 

"For example, having an unusually strong aspiration for material success was associated with narcissism, anxiety, depression, and poorer social functioning as rated by a trained clinical psychologist."

"In contrast, strong aspirations for any of the intrinsic goals—meaningful relationships, personal growth, and community contributions—were positively associated with well-being. People who strongly desired to contribute to their community, for example, had more vitality and higher self-esteem.

"When people organize their behavior in terms of intrinsic strivings (relative to extrinsic strivings) they seem more content—they feel better about who they are and display more evidence of psychological health.”

How are you organizing your behavior?

That's something that most of us haven't even though about. 

  • Essentially we've got ideals, virtues or aspirations that we want to uphold or manifest.
  • All of our behaviors, habits and actions are pushing us towards those.
  • If you want to change your habits, maybe you should start by looking at your values.

What types of values should we be aiming for?

Edward points out here (as does Sonja lyubomirsky in her great books) that we should be looking organizing around intrinsic ideals. 

Things like:

  • Meaningful relationships
  • Personal growth
  • Contribution and service

When we organize around these things good things happen. 

  • When we actually accomplish something in any of those domains we tend to feel more accomplished for longer.
  • The daily habits we have when reaching for those ideals are actually fulfilling in and of themselves.


“Authenticity necessitates behaving autonomously, for it means being the author of one’s actions—acting in accord with one’s true inner self."  

"The key to understanding autonomy, authenticity, and self is the psychological process called integration. Various aspects of a person’s psyche differ in the degree to which they have been integrated or brought into harmony with the person’s innate, core self."

"Only when the processes that initiate and regulate an action are integrated aspects of one’s self would the behavior be autonomous and the person, authentic. It is in this sense that to be authentic is to be true to one’s self.”

How well integrated are you?

Organizing our behaviors is one piece of integrity.

  • But there are many other levels we could be looking into. 
  • Johnathan Haidt talks about this inside his book The Happiness Hypothesis. 
  • "people who are mentally healthy and happy have a higher degree of “vertical coherence” among their goals—that is, higher-level (long term) goals and lower-level (immediate) goals all fit together well so that pursuing one’s short-term goals advances the pursuit of long-term goals."

A visualization of what this looks like:

  • The Logical Levels of Change


  • We're running at our highest level when we're the most aligned in each of these areas.

What does this look like in real life?

  • One area I've been trying to align better is in my day to day task management. 
  • Often I've got a long list of things to do, and each one feels like a 'to do' item on my list. 
  • Each time I check one off, I don't feel aligned and don't see myself moving forwards. 
  • Recently I've built a little piece of software for myself that allows me to connect each 'to do' to a higher level value or belief in my life.  


“Ryan and I put stock in the humanistic belief that it is important to be authentic, to be oneself, to march to own’s one drummer." 

"But just as obviously, we put stock in the importance of being responsible. To advocate autonomy does not mean to call for self-indulgence, because being truly oneself involves accepting responsibility for the well-being of others.”

"Because being true to oneself has often been equated with the egoistic doing of one’s own thing, authenticity has often been perversely interpreted as justification for irresponsibility and then attacked by the critics who so interpret it." 

"The selfish, egoistic doing of one’s own thing is in fact irresponsible and may have demonstrably negative consequences. But those behaviors are not authentic; they are not expressions of human autonomy; they are not instances of being one’s true self.”

Who are you really?

Getting in touch with your authentic self, as we've already seen is important. 

  • Getting to know yourself helps you better understand you vision, ideals, capability and etc. 
  • That can take a lot of reflection and focusing on yourself. 

But as Edward points out here, we don't want to make life a selfish pursuit. 

  • True alignment is a balance. 
  • Autonomy and following your heart.
  • Responsibility to others.

What does this mean in our lives?

  • It means we should push to be our truest and most authentic selves. 
  • Living up to our virtues and ideals as much as we possible can!  (Which is hard). 
  • Then bring that knowledge and wisdom back to the tribe and share our journey.  While of course not stepping on anyone for our own development.


“We refer to them as true self-esteem and contingent self-esteem." 

"True self-esteem represents a sound, stable sense of oneself, built on a solid foundation of believing in one’s worth as a human being. It accompanies a well-developed true self in which intrinsic motivation has been maintained, extrinsic limits and regulations have been well integrated, and the processes necessary for regulating one’s emotions have been developed."

"True self-esteem thus accompanies freedom and responsibility. True self-esteem is not, however, the same thing as thinking you can do no wrong."

"People with true self-esteem have a sense of whether behaviors are right or wrong because true self-esteem is accompanied by integrated values and regulations. Such individuals evaluate their behaviors, but their feelings of worth are not riding on those behaviors.”

Who's in control of your self esteem?

True Self Esteem vs Contingent Self Esteem

  • True Self Esteem: represents a sound, stable sense of oneself, built on a solid foundation of believing in one’s worth as a human being.
  • Contingent Self Esteem: represents the sense of oneself being rooted in the opinion of others.

Contingent self esteem is fragile.

  • Actually I've experienced this myself. 
  • When I was much younger I was incredibly socially anxious.  Like couldn't talk to a bank teller anxious. 
  • Late teens I started working out very vigorously and got into great shape.  That social anxiety went away. 
  • The issue was, that my new found self esteem was very contingent on my physical fitness.  If I had eaten poorly for a few days in a row I was more socially anxious than ever. 
  • It wasn't until I understood this concept, and worked on my self image that I truly feel confident in my own skin. 


“The two forms of internalization are: introjection, which Fritz Perls likens to swallowing a rule whole rather than digesting it; and integration, which involves “digestion” and is the optimal form of internalization."

"Autonomous functioning requires that an internalized regulation be accepted as your own; the regulation must become part of who you are. It must be integrated with your self."

"People often take in the values and rules of groups to which they belong, and they subsequently act accordingly. When this process occurs only incompletely, it results in introjects—that is, in internalizations that take the form of “shoulds” and “oughts.”

"Introjects are voices in one’s head, so to speak, that come from the outside and issue orders—sometimes like mean-spirited drill sergeants and sometimes like loving and well-meaning (but nonetheless intrusive) aunts. When internalizations become integrated, when they become true aspects of who one is, they allow more authentic actions and interactions.”

This is certainly the number one takeaway for all of us on this channel!

I've had the great pleasure of speaking with a bunch of you.  

And almost everyone struggles with this!  It's almost like the first stage of self development is picking up introjections from books/courses.

  • Being humans, we want to follow a leader and often that's what authors and gurus will allow themselves to be. 
  • They give you a set of rules and you end up shoulding your way through their version of reality. 

But introjection isn't what we're aiming for here. 

  • What we truly want it to learn from their research and teachings. 
  • But be sure that we spend time thoughtfully integrating, keeping what works and ditching what doesn't. 
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