Flow, Goal-Setting, and an Autotelic Personality
What does it mean to be considered an autotelic person? The word autotelic comes from the Greek word autotelēs – auto meaning self and telos meaning end. When we refer to a person as autotelic, we mean that one has cultivated the wisdom and skill to derive purpose, meaning, and engagement from within themselves. Individuals who have developed an autotelic personality are more prone to accessing flow, an intrinsically motivated state in which the individual is absorbed in the present moment and the task at hand. It is during a flow state that we have the potential to truly maximize our potential for productivity as human beings; we become better, faster, stronger – and, best of all, we experience enhanced enjoyment and engagement. In addition to enabling us to perform at our maximum potential, experiencing more flow has been associated with enhanced positive mood, task interest, organizational spontaneity, creativity, productivity, self-esteem, and stress resilience; essentially, it’s how we can activate our best selves.
Developing an autotelic personality can help us to approach our lives and work in such a way that we are maximizing the potential for flow experiences in our everyday lives. Fortunately, there are some guidelines you can follow that will help you to develop this ability to self-generate meaning and purpose in your life, simultaneously enhancing your productivity and engagement.
One step we can take to develop an autotelic self involves being goal-oriented. In order to effectively set goals in all areas of life, one must cultivate the ability to be decisive about what one ultimately desires. In the context of careers, a good starting point is to take time for active reflection upon what you find most meaningful and fulfilling in your work and then determine what goals for your future would align your work life in a way that would allow you to spend more of your time, energy, and effort on those things. Once you identify your long-term goals you can consider the challenges you will face in achieving them, which will help you devise a list of the skills you need to develop in order to successfully meet them. Equipped with the list of skills you intend to develop, you will be able to effectively devise short-term goals that will break down your long-term goals into actionable, step-by-step pieces (the shorter term the better!) which will move you forward on your journey.
As you devise these short-term goals, it’s important to consider how you will measure your success. Feedback is an important part of maintaining motivation and developing yourself most effectively and efficiently, enabling you to make micro-corrections with each action. Thus, ensuring that your short-term goals will provide you with an accurate and timely measure of your efficacy and seeking out feedback from others are integral components of a goal-driven growth strategy. As new opportunities and obligations arise, you will be able to use your overarching long-term goals to align each of your daily activities in such a way that will support and encourage your growth towards your ideal vision for your life. Discerning your purpose and intentionally using goal setting to align your day to day activities to your values will enable you to be more productive, motivated, and reap the benefits of the inherent sense of self-satisfaction which is an inevitable outcome of growing towards the person you would like to become.
Although there are many other simple strategies one can use to enhance their quality of life and sense of meaning on a daily basis, goal-setting is exceptionally accessible, practical to apply, and yields an extraordinary return on investment. Furthermore, using goal setting to intentionally nurture an autotelic self will enable you to harness the power of flow, resulting in profound impacts on productivity and effectiveness in all domains of life.
Where would you like to be 5 years from now? Who would you like to be? How do you plan to get there? What specific steps can you take in the next week, day, and hour which will help you to stay oriented towards your life vision and provide you with the feedback you need to continue to grow and develop? Great explorers were not handed a map upon setting out on their adventures of discovery – but you can be certain they had an idea of what they hoped to achieve. Find your North star, draw your own map, and begin your journey.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). The Concept of Flow. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 89-105). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Image by Catarina Sousa