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Psychological nutrients

I recently read – and really enjoyed – Indistractable, by Nir Eyal. One aspect that struck me was the idea of psychological nutrients. Eyal cited Dr. Richard Ryan and Dr. Edward Deci, who developed self-determination theory from research they’d done since the 70s, and their key idea that people are driven by three basic needs.

Just as the human body requires three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) to run properly, Ryan and Deci proposed that the human psyche needs three things to flourish: autonomy, competence and relatedness. When the body is starved, it elicits hunger pangs; when the psyche is undernourished, it produces anxiety, restlessness and other symptoms that something is missing.

-Nir Eyal, Indistractable

Think about the times you – or your child – have been most happy, most in the zone. I’m guessing they might have included something you chose to do, that you felt good at (or at least that you were making progress in), and maybe included working with other people. Bingo – all three buttons hit. Two out of three feels pretty good too; even just one works.

But there’s a flip side, too. Those three nutrients need to be in balance with each other. That doesn’t necessarily mean the golden arrow of all three at the same time. But if pursuing autonomy means you never push through to get really good at something, or everyone around you feels the brunt of your choices and it impacts on your relationships… that ultimately doesn’t feel good. If you’re pushed to achieve competency at something to the extent you don’t want to do it any more and resent the one doing the pushing… also not good. If all day every day is about denying yourself to get on with others… you get the idea.

So the aim, I think, is to craft that balance – for our children and for ourselves. What can you do today that fosters those nutrients? How can you set up your week, or your year, to make sure all three are supported?

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