In 1975, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of flow in his groundbreaking book, Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play. From the outset, he was interested in identifying why some people are more prone to having flow-state experiences than others, which led to a focus on “autotelics.”
What Does It Mean to Be Autotelic?
Autotelic means “an activity or creative work that has an end or purpose in and of itself.” Autotelics are people with autotelic personality traits. So-called “autotelics” find purpose and pleasure solely in the process of doing an activity, regardless of external rewards or accolades.
Csikszentmihalyi’s early research cultivated his theory that autotelics are more likely to experience flow and to experience flow states more intensely than those who don’t have an autotelic personality. For autotelics, losing oneself in the flow zone is often an autotelic experience, regardless of the activity.
In a 2012 paper about how the Big Five personality traits relate to people’s proneness for experiencing flow in everyday life, Csikszentmihalyi and co-authors concluded that “Flow proneness is associated with low neuroticism and high conscientiousness.”
Autotelic Personality Traits Are Back in the Spotlight
In 2023, almost 50 years after the concept of “flow proneness” was introduced, two psychologists in Norway unveiled a 13-item questionnaire that measures people’s proneness for flow-state experiences in daily life based on autotelic traits.
Magdalena Elnes and Hermundur Sigmundsson of NTNU’s department of psychology call their new test the General Flow Proneness Scale (Elnes and Sigmundsson, 2023). This 13-item scale for assessing flow proneness was published on February 20 in the open-access journal SAGE Open.
According to the authors, “Our General Flow Proneness Scale is a self-report questionnaire with 13 items focusing on preference for challenge, ability [to balance] skills and challenges, frequent flow experiences, and development of interests.” In a March 2023 news release, Sigmundsson said that the survey “is easy to administer and can be used in several different contexts.”
For their recent study on flow proneness in daily life, Elnes and Sigmundsson had 228 people between 18-76 years of age complete the survey below:
The 13-Item General Flow Proneness Scale
- I enjoy challenging tasks/activities that require a lot of focus.
- When I’m focused on a task/activity, I tend to forget my surroundings (other people, time, and place).
- I usually experience a good flow when I do something (things are neither too easy nor too difficult for me).
- I have several different areas of interest.
- It’s difficult for me to quit or walk away from a project I’m currently working on.
- I become stressed in the face of difficult/challenging tasks.
- It’s difficult for me to maintain concentration over time.
- I quickly become tired of the things I do.
- I am usually satisfied with the results of my efforts across various tasks (I experience feelings of mastery).
- I often forget to take a break when I focus on something.
- I get bored easily.
- My daily tasks are exhausting rather than stimulating.
- I develop an interest in most things I do in life.
How would you respond to these 13 prompts? When over 200 Norwegian study participants responded to this 13-item scale, Elnes and Sigmundsson asked each person to choose which numbered items described them best. Respondents also rated their feelings about each line item using a 1 to 5 Likert scale (1 = Strongly disagree, 5 = Strongly agree).
“The goal was to test whether flow proneness could be limited to specific characteristics of the autotelic personality, including deep concentration ability or attentional control, perception and adjustment of challenge, in addition to the development of interests and enjoyment,” the authors explain their paper’s discussion section.
Personality Essential Reads
Flow Proneness and Autotelic Personality Traits Go Hand in Hand
The latest (2023) study on flow proneness suggests that Csikszentmihalyi was definitely onto something when he posited in 1975 that “autotelics” are more prone to experiencing flow than people who don’t have autotelic personality traits.
In their paper’s conclusion, Elnes and Sigmundsson write, “Our current research can be considered important within the literature on the topic of flow, and the field of positive psychology in general, and may be used in future studies for the exploration of the autotelic personality.”
The authors note that more evidence is needed to support the validity of their recently unveiled General Flow Proneness Scale. In closing, they encourage people to use the 13 prompts as a tool that sheds light on how certain autotelic personality traits can help individuals increase their flow proneness in daily life.