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Understanding the Autotelic Personality

Attaining a Balance Between Challenge-Seeking and Self-Development

To begin, it would be prudent for us to start with a definition of the aforementioned concept. Autotelic is defined as “having an end or purpose in itself”; someone with an Autotelic Personality is described as having “a disposition to actively seek challenges and flow experiences.” Flow itself is described as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity (i.e., being in the zone) in which nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

For the Autotelic person the goal isn’t the main objective, it’s the process itself, which bears its own reward.

By seeking out and embracing situations that are highly challenging, and there is also an equally high demand for skill ability, the Autotelic person will continue to find themselves in a state of Flow. It is worth noting that the Autotelic person doesn’t necessarily have to be well-versed in the skills required to face the challenge, but the skills required need to be just ahead of the current skills-set to make the situation truly challenging and attainable (i.e., demonstrating Conscious Competence rather than Unconscious Competence; understanding something theoretically rather than intuitively).

Researchers have examined the types of personality traits which together create the Autotelic persona which actively seeks out high challenge / high skill situations. Interestingly enough, Csikszentmihalyi et al., 1993 and Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002 found that different, even somewhat opposing traits tend to be simultaneously present within the Autotelic persona; this contradictory pairing is itself “conducive to ‘optimal’ personality development and the evolvement of complex individuals” (Baumann, 2012: 168). These personality traits include “enjoyment and persistence; openness to novelty and narrow concentration; integration (seeking connection and union with others) and differentiation (seeking individuality and uniqueness from others); independence and cooperation” (Baumann, 2012: 167). Furthermore, the occurrence of these traits tends to be prevalent within the Autotelic person’s environment, i.e., Autotelic personalities by and large have stimulating social networks and engage in activities that provide “challenge and support… flexibility and cohesion” (Baumann, 2012: 168).

Characteristics of an Autotelic Personality

Whilst the following is by no means an exhaustive list, it will undoubtedly highlight the qualities and attributes inherent within the Autotelic persona:

  • Tenacity and determination
  • Curiosity and an openness to experience
  • Possesses inner drive and an internal locus of control
  • Has a positive perspective on life
  • Motivated to learn and to be challenged
  • Seeks action-orientated situations

Those with an Autotelic personality also tend to set themselves regular goals and be receptive to receiving feedback. What is important to note here is that akin to the Flow state (which to remind you is the state of being completely absorbed in an activity, for the sheer sake of doing it), it is the very process of setting goals and receiving feedback that is just as, if not more important, to the Autotelic individual—therefore HOW something is achieved is just as important as WHAT was achieved. The HOW provides a rich source of information from which one can learn and continue to develop.

The Benefits of an Autotelic Personality and the Future for Research

Autotelic individuals enjoy various benefits associated with such a positive outlook and approach to life. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Higher self-esteem and lower anxiety
  • Greater sense of fulfillment and satisfaction
  • Heightened sense of wellbeing and interpersonal relationships
  • Greater a sense of purpose because of the intrinsically rewarding nature of their activities
  • Greater propensity towards Meditation and Mindfulness techniques
  • Less dependent on external motivators and rewards

Whilst much research has taken place into Autotelic personalities, I believe that more work is required to fully understand how these self-driven personality attributes impact other areas of the incumbents’ life: How does the Autotelic individual engage with their work to truly achieve job satisfaction? If two Autotelic individuals are in a relationship, does that make the ideal like-minded couple? Are Autotelic parents more likely to have Autotelic children? Do athletes with Autotelic personality traits perform better than those without these traits?

Working as a Business Psychologist and Life Coach, I find the possibilities of such research fascinating and I look forward to understanding more about the Autotelic Personality and its’ endless quest for challenge and self-development. To find out more visit www.patreon.com/flowinyoga

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