[This is part two in a series on Self-Determination Theory – the idea that humans have three universal needs to achieve goals: competency, autonomy and relatedness. In part one, I give an overview of the theory and what I’m writing about over the next few weeks. It can be found here.]
What is Autonomy?
There is nothing mysterious about what autonomy means both literally and as a psychological concept. It is from the Greek words autós meaning “self” and nomos meaning “law”. Translated it means, quite simply, to govern oneself.
Its meaning as a psychological concept is not so different. Psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan – the authors of Self-Determination Theory – define autonomy as the ability to make meaningful choices based on intrinsic motivation. In other words, making choices for yourself based on your needs and your goals.
What’s notably absent from both the literal and conceptual definitions? Other people and other things and this is how popular culture muddies the waters.