Getting Back in the Driver’s Seat – Exploring the Joy Superpower of Self-direction / Initiative

Are you in the driver’s seat of your life? There are times in life when we simply don’t have control. As children, our parents make the rules and direct many aspects of our lives. At school, our teachers fill that role. Later in life, bosses, romantic partners, and life circumstances can make us feel that someone else has control of the wheel—that we’re simply passengers in our own lives.

Taking action in your life

Scientific research has shown that feeling empowered in our lives and taking action to steer the direction of our careers, education, personal growth, interests, and relationships leads to a greater sense of well-being and satisfaction. And it gives us the motivation we need to keep that positive momentum going. If you’ve found yourself in the passenger seat in one or more of these areas, read on. It’s not too late to slide back into the driver’s seat. A shift in direction often begins with awareness, a little knowledge, and the right motivation.

Self-determination Theory

In modern psychology, self-determination theory is founded on the belief that self-direction (autonomy) is essential to happiness and well-being. The theory, developed in the 1980s by Deci and Ryan, asserts that it’s a basic human need to use our own abilities and take action in our lives. Self-determination theory states that people have two types of aspirations, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, for example when we’re driven by curiosity and personal interests. Extrinsic motivation is external, for example when we seek positive feedback from others.

What do studies reveal?

Numerous studies have shown that increased autonomy and intrinsic motivation leads to greater success in life. In 2007, Sheldon and Krieger conducted a study that compared law students in a traditional model of education with law students from a progressively oriented school. They found that students who had more autonomy in school received higher grades and were more intrinsically motivated and self-directed in their first job after graduation.

A study by Paul Baard and colleagues found that supervisors who support autonomy cultivated a stronger, healthier workforce. Acknowledging employee perspectives, offering opportunities for choice, and encouraging autonomy produces self-motivation, satisfaction, improved performance, more trust, and better physical and psychological well-being.

Greater autonomy in our personal lives, in our ability to choose how we spend our free time, and how we engage in our relationships also brings greater life satisfaction and well-being. Enjoying our hobbies and pursuing interests and personal growth while being supported by family and friends expands our world, fuels our possibilities, and helps us achieve our dreams and goals.


Valery Chirkov and colleagues, authors of Human Autonomy in Cross-Cultural Context, tell us…

“Being empowered to exercise our abilities and satisfy our psychological needs are standards in how we evaluate our social and cultural environment and are key factors to whether we flourish.”

There are things in life we can’t control, but we do have the ability to use our curiosity, creativity, talents, and skills to direct our lives in both small and life-changing ways. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can both be beneficial to guide us, but true empowerment and self-direction starts with the ability to go within ourselves, decide how we want to live our lives, and look for ways we can take action in our work, in our personal pursuits, and in our relationships to make our dreams and goals a reality.

Are you in charge of your life? Do you feel like going in the right direction?

Share us your story down below or on social media with the hashtag #joysuperpowers . Don’t forget to tune in next week for our new podcast episode with the inspiring author, consultant, coach, speaker and facilitator, Andy Storch, who is on a mission to get the most out of life and inspire others to do the same!

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Further reading