Trans4mind Home Page
~ A Journey of Self-Discovery ~

Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd


Telic and Paratelic States

The term 'state' in psychology is used to describe something about a person at a given moment in time. States can change quickly, can last for various durations of time (from seconds to days) and can be affected by environmental cues, interpersonal transactions, cognitive processes, biological changes and motivation. There are thousands of adjectives that may be used to characterize a person's current operative state, such as 'angry', 'fearful', 'bored', 'serious', 'excited', 'sensation-seeking' and many others. This is clearly impractical as a basis for the understanding of psychological processes; a better solution is to look for clusters of inter-related states or behaviors that are amenable either to direct observation or psychometric measurement. Such a model would need to explain why individuals do not remain in one constant state of arousal, but introvert or extravert, withdraw or become involved, be thoughtful or spontaneous.

Take the example of a person riding a bicycle: the behavior is cycling, the goal is arriving at a certain place. If the cyclist needs to get to work on time, his behavior is chosen to meet the goal (arrival) that is in the foreground; the means of doing this is secondary. This is a telic state - the person is serious-minded, planning oriented and seeks to avoid arousal.

The alternative experience is for the behavior to be in the foreground and the goal in the background - the person may simply like the feeling of the wind in his hair as he cycles down a hill; where he is going is secondary. This is a paratelic state - the person is playful, prefers to be spontaneous, is 'here and now' oriented (pursues goals only insofar as they add to the immediate pleasure of the situation) and prefers arousal to be high, since it is pleasurable.

A certain behavior (cycling) may then be associated with contrasting motivational states (ends: goal achievement versus means: behavioral satisfaction), and the cyclist may switch between these states on different occasions or even several times during one cycle ride. This helps to explain why individuals do not seek to remain at a 'safe' medium level of arousal all the time, but engage in exploration, curiosity, risk-taking, play, art, religion and humor, sometimes because they lead to the achievement of a goal and sometimes because they are pleasurable in themselves. Neurosis or distorted thinking will however reduce this range and flexibility of experience due to fears of consequences.

Contingent events, i.e. genuine setbacks, may trigger a reversal from a paratelic state of pleasurable excitement to a telic state of unpleasant arousal or anxiety; or the reverse may occur if things suddenly go well. Frustration in which the needs of the person are not being satisfied may cause such a reversal, and a person may become satiated with one mode and increasingly sensitive to cues that may trigger a reversal.

The distinction between telic and paratelic states relates to many features of the experience of motivation:

Means-Ends motivation: Essential goals

Imposed goals

Unavoidable goals




Not essential goals

Freely chosen goals

Avoidable goals


behavior oriented


Time motivations: Wish to complete



Pleasure of anticipation

Wish to prolong



Pleasure of sensation

Intensity motivations: High rationality preferred

Low arousal preferred

Low rationality preferred

High arousal preferred

The psychological variables most central to the distinction between telic and paratelic states in respect of intensity, are felt arousal (the degree to which a person feels 'stirred up' or aroused) and hedonic tone (the degree of pleasure experienced). The following diagram illustrates this relationship:

High felt arousal may be experienced as unpleasant in the telic mode (anxiety) or pleasant in the paratelic (excitement). A climber may enjoy his climb and feel really excited at being near the summit and then remembering a sudden fall under similar circumstances, experience a panic-attack. Similarly a low felt arousal may reverse from pleasant relaxation (in the telic mode) to unpleasant boredom (in the paratelic), when the person has become satiated with that way of operating, and finds present circumstances inadequately stimulating. So a circumstance becomes stressful when it forces the person into a mode of operation that he would prefer not to be in.

An event or situation (such as a bank raid or an examination) that is associated with an increase in arousal (i.e. one that would typically be perceived as a 'stressful' event) is likely to be experienced as stressful only when one is in the telic state, and may be viewed as an exciting challenge in the paratelic state. Radically different responses to the same situation, in terms of affect, behavior and cognitions would be expected for individuals in these different states of mind. The one would involve anxiety, avoidance, resistance and a variety of defensive 'coping' strategies, while the other would be characterized by excitement, exhilaration, 'approach' strategies and a sense of challenge.

“A circumstance becomes stressful when it forces the person into a mode of operation that he would prefer not to be in.”
Thus paratelic dominant individuals have a higher threshold for high-arousal stress; on the other hand they are more susceptible to stress that results from under-stimulation, and may find boring, monotonous activities very stressful. These factors will be examined in greater depth later on.

Out of the box

Move on to The Use of Biofeedback in Therapy

Return to Transforming the Mind - Contents

Want to renew your life?

Our online, interactive video workshops present the most effective methods of holistic personal development...
Start off with a Free Life Assessment and a Free Consultation...

Have a question about Trans4mind Training?

Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Our Fees?
Email Peter Shepherd

Support your personal development with these popular and effective hypnosis downloads...

This is our selection of favorites, but there's a session for every need! Choose from over 800 Hypnosis Downloads...
Search now on an issue that interests or concerns you...

View all the Hypnosis Downloads here

Get a free Hypnosis Download at Facebook

Hypnosis is the key to unlocking your creativity, focusing your energy and understanding yourself

Hypnosis has a long history of helping human beings be the very best they can be. It can be used to control anything controlled by the unconscious mind - pain, blood pressure, fear, confidence levels, mood, sex drive... the list goes on:

  1. You'll become highly productive without getting stressed
  2. Tap into your creative energies instantly
  3. Really understand yourself and others
  4. You'll learn how to stay calm in high pressure or uncomfortable situations
  5. Develop laser-like levels of focus and concentration

Lean more... Uncommon Hypnosis Course

Welcome to the New Wave in Meditation Technology

Click here to learn more about the iAwake Profound Meditation Program
The iAwake Profound Meditation Program
is a way of enhancing your meditation practice, making meditation not only easier and more enjoyable, but also more efficient and effective.
Profound Meditation provides the smoothest, deepest, richest, most profound meditation experience available anywhere...
Here is a link to a free 20-minute track from iAwake Technologies - a sample of the type of tools that will deepen your meditation immediately and help you quickly become a successful meditator. It's the opening track of iAwake's flagship product, the Profound Meditation Program, called the iAwake Experience...
Learn More and Download the iAwake Experience
We think you'll find this technology a tremendous aid on your transformative journey of becoming your best and most creative self - and you can get started today!
And here's a fantastic resource for self-education...

The World of Inspiration eLibrary

World of Inspiration
A treasure trove of personal development wisdom

Step inside. Just like a real library, there are thousands of quality eBooks presented on three "floors" and in different "rooms." To purchase your $15 Lifetime Membership to the World of Inspiration eLibrary, click the following button:

Payment is made through our secure transaction agent, PayPal.
The transaction is in the language and currency of your choice.
"I want to just say 'WOW!' This collection is probably the best money I ever spent! I've already received many times over in personal enrichment after just 9 days. I've had a past metaphysical background, but even newcomers to this material will really benefit. Thanks again." ~ J.S. (Pennsylvania, USA)
"The collection is everything which you promised. And more! A superb contribution to the good of the world. Many thanks indeed." ~ R.P. (Georgia, USA)
"Just a short note of thanks for the library. I've only had membership for several days now but I already feel this is perhaps the most interesting compilation I have yet seen. Worth far more than the price of admission. The browser linked structure works well and makes it easy to manage such a large storehouse of information. It is rarely that I find something I like as much as this or that I feel strongly enough to write a note like this." ~ P.W. (Minnesota, USA)
Copyright © 1997-2017 Trans4mind Ltd