Reprint from the December 3, 2015 International Positive Psychology Association Work & Organization Division Newsletter
Luis A. Marrero, MA, RODP, LLC
Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose
Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP) or Logoteleology examines the meanings that successful people, groups, and organizations apply in order to thrive and succeed. This paper gives a brief explanation of MPP theory, some of its propositions, and its application as an intervention tool. For a comprehensive explanation of the science, please refer to my book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology (Marrero, 2013).
Logoteleology comes from three Greek words:
- Logo (λόγος), which stands for reason, meaning, or cause.
- Thelos, (θέλω), defined as will or motivation.
- Telos (τέλος), signifying end or purpose.
Compatible with self-regulation psychology (Vohs & Baumeister, 2011), a fundamental proposition of MPP is that humans are logoteleological or goal directed by meanings. In short, following the definitions above, we are motivated (Thelos) to fulfill meanings (Logos) through action-oriented purposes (Telos) for the sake of a target. Meanings provide the why, motivation provides the will, and purposes explain what actions will be taken and how they will be implemented; and for a “so what?” outcome.
I developed an identity formula to explain, research, and study this phenomena where meanings are a precondition to motivation; and motivation is a precondition for purposes.
Meanings → Motivations → Purposes = Identity
In MPP we also propose that individuals give meaning to the self, to others, and to situations. For instance, anytime a person states “I am___” she or he is giving a meaning to her or his life and to life’s experiences (Dweck, 2000). The same applies when interacting with others. We treat others as we define them. If the meaning given to another is positive and meaningful (logos), as a rule, and assuming competence, the response (telos) will also be positive. On the other hand, if the other person is viewed as an undesirable (logos), then the behavior that follows (telos) will be compatible with how the person has been defined. Pertaining to assigning meaning to situations, many of us are familiar with our tendency to pursue or avoid places (i.e. approach and avoidance goals) based on our need for affiliation or security, for instance. Hence, the meaning given to self, others, and situations are fulfilled through purposeful actions.
Finally, meanings instruct our motivation system to generate a type and degree of energy (i.e. directed energy in motion) so that an action (purpose/telos) fulfills the intended meaning (Reeve, 2005). In MPP there are three types of motivation: Drive (“I have to”), Will (“I want to”); and Amotivation or the inability or unwillingness to participate in a social situation (“I don’t want to”). (Marrero, 2013; Ryan, Sheldon, Kasser & Deci, 1996; Reeve, 2005; Frankl, 1998; Deci & Ryan, 2002; Myers, 2005 ) As you can deduce, this presents an opportunity for people who wish to enhance their quality of life, as well as for teams and organizations interested in increasing positivity, engagement and productivity.
Logoteleology came to being as a result of a paradox: Why, despite the vast amount of knowledge and experts around the globe, do so many humans suffer? Or as I penned in my book: “Humanity … does not suffer from a lack of answers. Rather, it suffers despite the answers being available” (Marrero, 2013). This paradox applies to problems such as world hunger and human trafficking, as well as governments and companies’ ability to self-regulate for success.
For instance, consider the billions of dollars invested annually on leadership development. How do we reconcile such investment with the low level of global worker engagement now standing at 13%; and with The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer’s conclusion that “The majority of countries now sit below 50 percent with regard to trust to business.” The same report affirms that only 43% of CEO’s are trusted and viewed as credible. One would have hoped that many of the top business and governmental leaders would have been shamed by the heading in the 2013 Edelman’s Trust Report: “Crisis in Leadership – Trust in Ethics and Morality Very Low”, and would step up to the challenge. Yet, in my study of key credible indicators, no significant improvement has been recorded since. Should we then be surprised by the conclusion of the United Nations’ World Happiness Report 2013 that “We increasingly understand that we need a very different model of humanity…”?
MPP is committed to lead, collaborate and contribute to the shaping of a meaningful model of humanity. MPP practitioners realize that the problem is not and cannot be solved merely through competence or skill building. Rather, true to the MPP approach, skill building is preceded and complemented with practical, meaningful (e.g. positive, ethical, virtuous, and noble) intentions to improve and to edify the human condition. For instance, in contrast to the findings previously quoted, for the meaningful purpose leader, seeking profit and being humane are compatible goals. To be brief, the solution requires a meaningful life purpose that serves as a guiding compass and decision-making tool.
While the previous findings are disappointing, there are also positive deviants, — or individuals, groups and organizations — that demonstrate a willingness and ability to do what is meaningful. According to the Positive Deviance Initiative:
“Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.
The Positive Deviance approach is an asset-based, problem-solving, and community-driven approach that enables the community to discover these successful behaviors and strategies and develop a plan of action to promote their adoption by all concerned.”
These exceptions are worth being studied and emulated.
What types of solutions does Meaningful Purpose Psychology offer, and how effective are they? MPP is a new theory, and while we are not yet at a stage of having a significant number of research subjects to reach trustworthy conclusions, we are encouraged by preliminary results through both quantitative and qualitative findings.
At the core of any logoteleological intervention is the analysis of the individual, group, or organizational meaning DNA. Since meanings stimulate a type of motivation and subsequent actions that lead to results, logoteleologists help the client understand the content and link from meanings to outcomes or consequence. One way in which we do this is through Meaningful Purpose Laboratories, where participants discover and study their meaning DNA, and learn ways to make meaningful improvement. The method is also applied through coaching, consulting, and clinical therapy. The goal is to thoughtfully and responsibly embrace and enjoy positive life-enhancing meanings that benefit the self, others, and our environment.
Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human.
~ Viktor Frankl
For more information contact the author at Luis@bostonimp.com.
About the Author
Luis Marrero, MA, RODP,LLP, is CEO of the Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose, based in Westfield, Massachusetts. He is also Deputy Chairman of the Board of the International Network for Personal Meaning (INPM); and Chair of the Membership and Partnership Committee for the Work and Organization Division of the International Positive Psychology Association; a Division which he co-sponsored. With Dr. Gordon Medlock, he also co-sponsored the Work and Meaning Division of INPM, where Marrero plays an advisory role. Marrero has worked for global Fortune 100 companies in three continents as a Human Resource practitioner, Logoteleologist, Organization Development Consultant, lecturer, executive coach and facilitator. He held senior Human Resource / Organization Development Consulting roles for companies such as the Walt Disney Company, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC); and YSC Business Psychologists,
Marrero, Luis A., The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. Bloomington: IUniverse LLC, 2013
ii Vohs, Kathleen D, and Roy F. Baumeister. Eds., Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications.New York. The Guilford Press.2011
iii Dweck, Carol S., Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. (Philadelphia: Psychology Press, 2000), x1
iv Reeve, Johnmarshall. Understanding Motivation and Emotion. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2005, p 6
v Marrerto, Luis A. The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. P. 120-161
vi Ryan, Ricahrd M., et al., Eds., “All Goals Are Not Created Equal: An Organistic Perspective of Goals and Regulation.” The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and motivation to Behavior. New York: The Guilford Press, 1996. 7-26.
vii Reeve, Johnmarshall. Understanding Motivation and Emotion. p. 34
viii Frankl, Viktor E. the Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. New York: Meridian, 1998, p 87
ix Deci, E. L., and R. M. Ryan, Eds. Handbook of Self-Determination Research. New York: The University of Rochester Press, 2002, p 16
x Myers, D. G., Social Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005, p. 60
xi Marrero, Luis A., The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. p. 3
xvii For instance: Sisodia, Raj, Sheth, Jag, and David Wolfe, Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2014