I saw this last week on social media, and to some extent it probably sums up how all of us are feeling. We may often long for days when we can work from home, and excuses not to go out when we are too tired, but don’t want to seem rude. But now that these conditions are being forced upon us, we resent them and worry about the stress they will cause, even though we understand the importance of them.

My research uses Self-Determination Theory to investigate motivation. Self-Determination Theory puts forward three Basic Psychological Needs which need to be satisfied in order for humans to thrive and experience well-being, namely autonomy, competence and relatedness. In these difficult and unprecedented times, when we feel that much of our freedom has been curtailed, we need to find ways we can satisfy these needs.


In order to feel autonomous, we need to feel that we are in control of our own actions. One way of achieving this is to create a manageable schedule – things such as teaching and meetings may be fixed, but we all have some ability to plan our own workloads and this is particularly important in these difficult times. A key aspect of feeling a sense of autonomy is feeling that you are working under your own volition, so adapting to the circumstances we find ourselves in and finding ways to keep control of what we can is important.


The second key element is a feeling of competence. Those of us making a shift to online teaching or working from home for the first time may be feeling somewhat ‘at sea’ at the moment, but remember that you are good at your job and you know it backwards! The same applies to other aspects of our lives – as parents, you have taught your children so much, and can continue to do so, even if what you teach them, or what they learn, does not match what they would have learned at school. This might also be a great opportunity to master a new hobby!


Relatedness refers to our feelings of social connectedness with those around us. This may seem challenging at the moment, but we are still part of our teams and can keep in touch in a whole host of ways. The teams I’m part of have been chatting using Blackboard Collaborate, Microsoft Teams and the more familiar WhatsApp. Virtual contact with colleagues and friends (and students!) is particularly important when we can’t meet up in person, and particularly if you live alone. You might want to join online story times with your children or live concerts streamed from people’s living rooms.

If we can find ways to keep these Basic Psychological Needs satisfied, we can thrive even during this difficult time. If you want to find out more, you can follow Professor Richard Ryan’s excellent free Coursera course – a great way to improve your feelings of competence, perhaps! https://www.coursera.org/learn/self-determination-theory

Professor Ed Deci’s video introduction to the theory is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6fm1gt5YAM

30th March 2020