The Psychology of Determination


American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines determination as a mental attitude characterized by a strong commitment to achieving a specific goal despite hardships. Determination is mostly considered a feeling or an emotional state however psychologists associate it with terms like anticipatory enthusiasm and challenges. The term determination has its roots in Latin and comes from the Latin term “determinatio” which means limit and from the verb “determinare” which, on similar lines, translates to “to confine.”

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The Role of Motivation:

One of the most important theories of motivation that explain the nuances of determination is termed the self-determination theory of motivation. Self-determination refers to the ability of individuals to make choices and to make their decisions all by themselves. The theory, states that individuals can become self-determined when their needs for competence, relatedness and autonomy are all fulfilled. The theory deals with 2 major factors- the person’s intrinsic need to achieve something and their innate tendencies to grow. It puts the main individual at the steering wheel for all his or her decisions and therefore, the individual becomes responsible and culpable for decisions they make in their entire lives.

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The major assumptions of the theory are:

a. The need for growth is the primary stimulus that drives one’s behaviour.
b. Autonomous motivation is inevitable

Self-determination theory is concerned with the interaction of extrinsic motivation acting on individuals and the internal motivations and demands of humans. Extrinsic motivation occurs when people are motivated by external reasons such as money, admiration, or renown. Researchers conclude that if the behaviour is entirely self-determined, there is a significant likelihood that it will be both intrinsically motivated and performed not for the reward or prize, but rather for self-satisfaction, interest, and enjoyment of the behaviour.

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Self-determination theory further posits that an individual becomes determined to achieve a need only if they are driven by 3 of the major psychological needs – competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence is a term used to describe someone who possesses the necessary traits to complete a specific activity, or to indicate the state of possessing sufficient knowledge, judgement, skill, and/or strength. Relatedness is the ability to feel both attached to other people and a sense of belonging among them and involves sentiments of intimacy and belonging to a social group. On the other hand, autonomy is the ability to feel in control of one’s own behaviour and destiny, as well as the ability to initiate and regulate one’s own behaviour.

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The Role of Environments

As above mentioned about the theory of self-determination, the basic psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence are to be fulfilled for an individual to develop feelings of self-determination or simply determination. Moreover, researchers have also concluded that as the circumstances or dynamics within an individual’s environment differ or do not remain predictable or even stable, there are high chance that these factors influence the determination levels of that person. The context within which the person finds himself or herself shapes and most importantly influences the above-mentioned psychological needs satisfaction. It is found that circumstances or environments that are supportive of the person’s autonomy tend to influence greater degrees of determination than those environments that are not supportive enough of the same.

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The Biopsycho Model of Determination

Even though there does not exist a clear bio-psycho model for understanding determination, researchers have, for the longest time, tried to connect physiological arousal feelings with positive emotions like determination. In terms of challenge and determination, psychologists emphasize bodily activation about the individual’s intended actions (what he or she is determined to achieve) rather than how the individual personally feels. Researchers link effort to challenge and determination.

As a result, a challenged/determined individual should experience physiological arousal consistent with exertion. By focusing on the sympathetic
nervous system, researchers can use systolic blood pressure (SBP) to predict greater exertion. When people are presented with a difficult assignment, their SBP rises because they are determined to complete it. This is accompanied by reduced total peripheral resistance (the vasculature relaxes as the heart pumps quicker). This reveals a significant difference in the physiological reaction of a person driven by challenge and one driven by fear or any other forms of negative emotions. There appears to be a distinct physiological pattern related to determination. The discovery of this pattern is important because it may be used in research to elicit and analyze the causes and repercussions of this prevalent happy emotion.

Strategies to Improve Determination in Academic Settings

Self-determination plays a pivotal role in all walks of your life but, more so, in your academic endeavours if you are a student. There are multiple ways in which one can improve one level of self-determination.

Tap into past wins

every time one feels demotivated or out of determination to work for achieving their goals and is at the brim of finalizing the decision of giving up all get to see in their path are obstacles restricting them, try and tap into the memories of their past wins. This will help them comprehend their ability to face life and its challenges and may become a direct boost to their levels of determination in achieving their goals and wishes.

Find the WHY of your actions

Dr. Victor Frankl wrote a book about his experiences as a psychiatrist who narrowly escaped World War II concentration camps. The book is titled Man’s Search for Meaning. He tried to figure out what made some individuals suffer and survive horrible traumas, while others gave up and frequently attempted suicide to stop their agony. He concluded that the distinction lay in whether or not they have a motive (Why) to survive. Thus, even as students, understanding the reason as to why you are engaging in a particular action or to the extreme extent, nurturing a particular goal in your life is inevitable to maintain your levels of determination.

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Focus on strengths

Focusing on one’s positive qualities or strengths allows a person to achieve or at least give appropriate credit to one’s innate talents and abilities, which can boost confidence and help you achieve your goals. Once a person has recognised their key skills, they must ensure that they apply them in their daily lives in a variety of ways. This could entail pursuing hobbies or interests connected to your strengths, as well as seeking job opportunities that utilise these capabilities. When people are allowed to demonstrate or use their abilities regularly, they are more likely to feel driven and determined in life.

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