Your Newest Hustle Hack: Thinking Like an 'Autotelic'
November 5, 2018
You can feel when you’re just going through the motions—the hours fly by and you don’t really feel awake, you know? It feels like you’re hitting the snooze button all day long, whether you’re standing in line at the post office or talking to your boss about…what were you talking about again?
But searching for purpose and meaning in our day-to-day can feel like trying to find sun in Scotland: Not that simple.
Recently, I found something that can help—and it involves looking inward. I’m talking about becoming autotelic. Never heard of it? Neither had I—but now I’m obsessed.
The word comes from the Greek autos (“self”) and telos (“goal”) and the definition is “having a purpose in and not apart from itself.” The word’s used to describe people who are internally, rather than externally, driven.
People who exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity are autotelic. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, writes that the term “refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.”
An autotelic person depends less on external rewards—like praise, seeing a chart go up and to the right, a score on a test—and more on the internal satisfaction of just doing the dang thing. And it’s a smart move. Studies show that internal rewards are more satisfying than external ones. It’s more important to find meaning at work instead of simply chasing happiness.
“Increasing a sense of meaningfulness at work is one of the most potent–and underutilized–ways to increase productivity, engagement, and performance,” writes Jessica Amortegui in Fast Company.
But feeling that sense of meaning is rare. A recent survey of 12,000 employees across various industries found that 50 percent lack a level of meaning and significance at work.
Tapping into internal desire can create a new sense of drive and purpose in your day-to-day—and becoming an “autotelic” is one way to make the shift. Here’s how to think more like an autotelic at work and at home.
Connect With Your ‘Why’
Why do you go to work every day? Why do you help take care of your family? Why do you study for school? Why do you clean your underwear?
Uncovering a self-directed sense of purpose begins with why—and usually the answer isn’t what it seems. For instance, you might say that your reason for going to work is to earn money to pay your bills (I feel you!).
Yes, that counts as a why, but locating your internal why—or even creating one around your job in the first place—can give a greater appreciation or depth for your work.
Maybe you want to pay your bills because you like the feeling of independence and strength it gives you. Or, maybe you enjoy going to work because you’re contributing to some sort of greater good—helping a customer or business run smoothly can make you feel useful and integral, for example. Both of those reasons can transform an external motivator (making money) into an internal motivator (feeling like you’re part of a team).
See How Your Work Impacts Others
I was having a hard time completing a project the other day, but then I tried something new: I stepped outside of my own brain and thought about how finishing it would impact others.
Hitting my deadline would make my editor’s life easier, and my article could hopefully give some enjoyment to readers who would eventually find it. Maybe it would teach them something new or be a bright spot in their day—or, at the very least, an interesting way to spend three minutes.
When I thought about all these benefits, and not the other things competing for my attention (cough Instagram cough), I was able to gain a new sense of clarity and focus.
If you’re looking for motivation, think about how what you’re doing will affect someone else—it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, it only has to matter a little bit to give you the boost you’re seeking.
Realize You Have a Choice
If you are having a hard time finding these internal goals, remember that you are always in control of your actions and your goals.
As described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: “One of the basic differences between a person with an autotelic self and one without it is that the former knows that it is she who has chosen whatever goal she is pursuing. What she does is not random, nor is it the result of outside determining forces.”
When faced with a challenge or a troubling moment, take a step back and remember: You can choose what affects you, and you can choose how you respond. You can choose to find meaning in the day-to-day—what you choose is, as always, up to you.