Feeling competent – a key ingredient for a high motivation

ce-competence-tightropeLet’s imagine this scenario:

You’re offered a choice of two important projects:

– One of them you KNOW you could do well. You’ve got the knowledge and the skills and this is a good opportunity to apply them. 

– The other one you aren’t sure that you’d shine at. You’ve been involved in similar projects in the past with mixed results. You wonder if you’d know what to do or how to do in order to succeed. 

Which one are you likely to choose?

Probably you answered that you’d choose the project you felt competent to handle.

NOTE: Most of us are a lot motivated to do work we expect to succeed at than work we fear we might not do well.

Do you find yourself in this scenario? I did sometimes.

Edward Deci – a motivational psychologist, pointed out that our competence is important not only for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation  but influences also our enjoyment of the activity itself.

But, the question is: What makes us feel confident? We need more than our own positive assessment, we need our competence confirmed by others. Feedback and appreciation affirm our  shaky confidence in our own skills and abilities.

4 Ways to feel competent:

1. To feel competent, some of us need to meet ever greater challenges.

We need what Ed. Deci calls “optimal challenge”, something tough enough to give us a feeling of accomplishment.

2. Others feel more competent when they stick to what they know do well.

In this case the fear of appearing incompetent can build up a wall against reaching the higher potential. What to do next?

There are some options that can occur:

  • You may encourage that person to take the new challenge on board but she can come up with excuses such as “I’m too busy” or “the new project has no chance” etc. Does it look familiar to you?

  • If you convey your confidence in her success , she can become apprehensive that she’ll let you down if she fails.


1) Show the past success – the feeling of competence builds up as she goes along and the expectency of success for the tasks increases.

2) Offer more tasks/assignments, some less intimidating than others – the power of choice gives power to the person and a new empowering belief that she is responsible.

3. To feel competent we need standards to measure our competence. 

The more specific we are in our goals setting the higher is our feeling of competence.

Useful questions: What outcomes have to happen?, What will you observe that will confirm that they have happened? What do they need?

4. Most of us need to have our competence confirmed by other. It is proved that intrinsic motivation can increase if the person has positive feedback of his work/competence.

NOTE: Simply praise can be more useful than money, but make sure that your praise is simple and specific.

Good luck!


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