Autotelic Thinking: Turning Problems into Challenges


26 May
26May

There are exercises that can help you think better, faster, more clearly and then there are insights that can change your life. Autoletic thinking turns problems into challenges to be met and learned from. It is an approach that will change your life if you practice it. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, a remarkable book in which he discusses how our thinking can enhance our quality of life. He explains how a rich, strong, powerful person is no more in control of his consciousness than someone who is sickly, poor, weak, or oppressed.  The difference is in whether he sees challenges as threats or as opportunities for action.

What he calls the autotelic self refers to someone who has the ability to translate potential threats into enjoyable challenges, and thus has an internal balance. The term autotelic self means a person who has self- contained goals. For most people, goals are shaped by biological needs and social conventions – things which are outside the self. The difference is that the autotelic self, or the person who is capable of defining things for himself, is also capable of transforming threats into non-threatening challenges. This can be done with a simple change of perspective, a shift in consciousness: that is, seeing a threat as a challenge that you can overcome. Once you can do that, the steps are simple:

  1.  Be crystal clear about the goal - Once you know exactly what the goal is, you'll know what you need to meet it. Then you can decide on a series of actions necessary to accomplish the goal. You can modify these actions as needed  to meet the goal.
  2.  Become involved in the activity - This means commitment. This means action. Whether things are going your way or not, you consistently take action with the next best steps. This demands concentration, commitment, and follow through.
  3.  Pay attention to what is happening – This really means that the project becomes more important than your own feelings about what is happening. Your concentration is on the results of the project. You invest your energy in the project. You are committed, you are involved – it’s about the project, not about you.
  4.  Enjoy the experience – the autotelic self can set goals, develop skills, be sensitive to feedback, get involved, and look past obstacles. The benefit of learning to be an autotelic personality is that anything that happens can be a source of joy because it is a source of learning and step to the next goal. In other words, there are no failures, only learning experiences.

This approach to thinking can mean the difference between living life in fear or living life in joy. Developing autotelic thinking will give you the ability to transform random events into learning experiences that eventually result in success. Life is change - by definition and for everyone. Seeing that as a challenge to be accepted, enjoyed, and built on is the “secret” to successful living.

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