If you have a high degree of autonomy, you will achieve goals without the influence of others. You are likely set up goals for yourself that you can master and achieve. It is important to have realistic goals since they foster feelings of autonomy and mastery. Realistic goals will also allow you to stay autonomous instead of dependent of others’ assistance.
To feel a high degree of competence, you will have to attribute results or achievements to your own performance. You may experience what it feels like to succeed and be competent, and you may get acknowledgements from people around you, who notice your big or small accomplishments. All these experiences will build up feelings of competence that will bring even more successes in the future.
Relatedness is the need to belong and care for others. Whatever we do, we enjoy to do it for others. When we help others in one way or another, it just feels good. Connecting to people is an innate capacity. The things that we do for others are much more satisfying than the things we do solely for ourselves.
Research has shown a positive association between need statisfaction (i.e., fulfilment of autonomy, competence and relatedness) and optimal functioning (Van den Broeck et al., 2010).
Evidence suggests that people who are already intrinsically motivated become less motivated when they are given an extrinsic reward (Lepper et al., 1973). People may perceive a reward as a demand to perform well. Also, people may start to pay more attention to the reward than to the enjoyment and satisfaction of the activity itself (this is the so-called overjustification effect).
As a result, extrinsic rewards may undermine inner motivation and eventually decrease performance. In this way, extrinsic rewards may remove our focus from what matters the most: the activity itself.