I learnt a new word (or rather, phrase) recently – atelic activity. An atelic activity is one that’s done without any end goal in mind. Essentially, anything that’s done for it’s own sake. Most hobbies would be considered atelic in nature, even though specific tasks inside the hobby would be telic in nature – you sit down with the specific goal of completing that puzzle, but what’s the overall goal of doing so? It’s just to enjoy (spending time with) yourself.
I found this phrase on a blogpost of a fellow blogger, Colin Walker, where he’s musing on a question asked by another blogger, Julian SummerHayes – is blogging just writing? Essentially, in a world where the act of blogging has been commoditized in many ways – Substack, Medium memberships, Patreon, YouTube sponsored vlogging, etc – what is just the purpose of an eponymous blog?
We’ve done this navel gazing many times about blogging, so instead, let’s focus on the new phrase. I love having hobbies and side projects. But side projects have end goals. Hobbies, do not. I love reading, but ask me to read towards a goal – studying up for anything, for example – and I will be the laziest person you know. But reading for pleasure? Gimme!
The opposite of an atelic activity – a telic activity – will give you some pleasure for sure, but the pleasure will dissipate quickly upon achievement of the goal. You were so focused on ending the activity that you didn’t consider that the end will bring about a state of confusion in your mind.
Instead, in an atelic activity, you focus on the activity itself. Sort of me writing this blogpost. I have no end goal in mind. I’m riffing. The moment I feel satisfied with how much of the screen I’ve filled up with my words, I’ll be done. Right about… now.