What is Meaningful Purpose Psychology (Logoteleology)? Part 2

Luis A. Marrero, M.A., RODP, LLP

Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose

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Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”Viktor E. Frankl

This is the second part of a series on Meaningful Purpose Psychology. You can read Part 1 linking here.

This post will briefly explain the Meaningful Purpose Psychology’s (Logoteleology) identity model. In addition, this model offers a perspective on why you act the way you do. Through a meaningful life purpose, the Logoteleology Identity Model also aids in:

  • diagnosing and strengthening self-determination
  • enhancing the ability to successfully adapt to life’s demands
  • building the confidence to thrive in life

For a full explanation, please refer to the book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations to Logoteleology.

The Logoteleological Identity

In my previous post, “Knowing Who You Are, and Learning to Become”[1] I explained the three types of identities based on Peter J. Burke and Jan E Stets’ work. [2] This paper’s subject is The Meaningful Purpose Psychology (herewith Logoteleology) Identity Model. The model has four parts and is explained through the formula:Image

I = P + Mo + Me

Where…

I = Identity

P = Purpose

Mo = Motivation

Me = Meaning

The formula states that an identity is made of purposes, motivations, and meanings. Each time you self-reference, as in “I am ____”, you are talking about your identity or how you self-describe. Purpose, Motivation, and Meaning are not just components, they also are and perform functions in a personality or identity. By “function” it is meant that each one of these parts has a role to fulfill in an identity. As such, identities operate and can be studied as a psychological and social system.

Meanings trigger a Motivation that spurs Purpose

According to the model, behavior starts from the meaning function, which spurs a motivation type with a degree of energy, which in turn provokes a purposeful action. It is represented through the formula:

I = P ← Mo ← Me

Explained in simple terms, the meaning we give to a situation, another person, his or her behavior, our own self-worth, etc. determines a motivation. The motivation in turn triggers a type of response or purposeful behavior. Let’s see an example:

Mary sees her professor at a distance and remembers she owes him a class paper. She would be embarrassed to face him; so she ducks into the nearest store to avoid him.

Here is the explanation:

Mary may have given a few meanings to the situation; such as, that she believes that she is irresponsible, afraid to confront the professor, and unable to give a defensible explanation for her procrastination.

Those meanings subsequently send a message to the motivation function that instructs: “Quick, avoid!” (fight/flight response)

The instructions from the motivation function, “Quick, avoid!” triggers a purposeful action (e.g. applied competence), “Run to a hiding place!” So Mary’s purpose function scans for a potential route of escape, and hastens into the nearest store. By this action, Mary is being purposeful — defined by the dictionary as having purpose and full of meaning. In other words, her action is propelled by meaning or significance. The purposeful action responds to and fulfills the intended meaning.

What are meanings?

Viktor Frankl provided a simple and practical answer: “Meaning is what is meant, be it by a person who asks me a question, or by a situation which, too, implies a question and calls for an answer.”  And, “There is only one meaning to each situation, and this is its true meaning.”  (Frankl 1998) Here are two additional and complimentary definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  • the idea that a person wants to express by using words, signs, etc.
  • something meant or intended

In logoteleology, a third definition for meaning is tied to identities; and to a construct which I call meaning sets made of meaning types. These will be discuss in the next segment below.

Pertaining to what a person wants to express, British analytical psychologist Dale Mathers (2001) summarized well what the combined intended meaning and the decoded meaning denote: “Meaning is an act of communication, rather than a communication.” Here, communication is a two-way exchange that succeeds when both parties are “on the same page” or when understanding is shared and mutual.

There is survival value in the will to meaning, as we have seen; but as to mankind, there is hope for survival only if mankind is united by a common will to a common meaning – in other words, by an awareness of common tasks. ~ Viktor Frankl [i]

For instance, cultures vary on their approach to timeliness. In many countries in the northern hemisphere when one agrees to meet at 8:00 a.m. it means just that. It assumes the parties will be a bit early or meet at 8:00 a.m. as planned. On the other hand, in many Hispanic countries, saying you are going to meet at 8:00 a.m. means a range of time after 8:00 a.m. For instance, 8:15 a.m. would not be considered “being late.” As a traveler myself, I have learned to pay attention to these and other cultural differences so that I can be “on the same page” — or share the same meaning — with my hosts to prevent misunderstandings.

The second, meaning as “something meant or intended” is about conveying intentions or aims. This intentional effort is stronger than casual everyday exchange of information. Here is how the dictionary defines [to] “mean”: [vi]

  • to have in mind as a purpose: intend
  • to serve or intend to convey, show, or indicate: signify
  • to have importance to the degree of
  • to direct to a particular individual
  • to have an intended purpose
  • Something that is conveyed or intended, especially by language, sense of significance [vii]
  • Full of meaning, expressive [viii]

In MPP, we use these definitions of “meaning” or “to mean” to explain how individuals intend, convey and grant significance and value. For instance, I hear the chime of my clock that it is 9:00 a.m. The time is significant because I intend to meet a friend whose friendship is valuable to me. Granting significance, intending to take an action, and valuing means something.

Meaning is the stuff that makes thinking and feeling possible. It allows us to define and to recognize things, individuals, and concepts. It also aids us to exchange information with others in order to make sense of things, and to cooperate to get things done.  Meanings too, evaluate and convey the significance we attribute to concepts, things, and people.

What are Meaning Types?

As defined by Frankl, meaning is what is meant or intended. When someone means or intends something, she or he uses a whole array of mental resources to explain or to encode information. In turn, when receiving incoming information, the individual uses those same resources to decode and analyze significance or meaning. Such resources we label “meaning types”, and there are six of them: attributes, beliefs, attitudes, aims, feelings, and values.”[3]. In Logoteleology, meaning — what is meant or intended — is a construct of these six meaning types. In other words, a meaning is made of components called meaning types. Again, those meaning types help us understand and respond to what is meant or intended.

Meaning types actually organize themselves and interact as a meaning set or a psychological meaning DNA. Thus, meanings are narrative, sensory-filled, and affective stories that explain self, others, and situations.

To illustrate meaning types in action, let us follow the example of the student, Mary, and her professor. Seeing the professor at a distance, Mary

  1. believes (belief meaning type) the professor could reprimand her
  2. knows she is not meeting her own standards (value meaning type) of what a responsible person does
  3. labels herself as  careless and negligent (attribution meaning type)
  4. feels embarrassed and mortified (feeling meaning type) of confronting her professor
  5. spurs an attitude (attitude meaning type) of avoidance at all cost
  6. decides to hide from the professor (aim meaning type)

In linear form it would look like this:

belief → values → attribution → feeling → attitude → aim

Meaning mental processes, however, can be — and actually are — more complex than the simple illustration above. Organized as meaning sets, these meaning mental processes happen quickly, and most of the content of this type of dynamic progression is unconscious. But it serves to clarify the point.

The analysis of meaning construct or set (e.g. meaning types) is relevant to Logoteleology- trained therapists,  coaches, counselors, and consultants. While an in-depth explanation is beyond the scope of this article, we discuss a few points below. However, you are encouraged to read my paper, What Makes a Meaning: A Logoteleological Perspective.

Situational Meanings and Identity Meaning DNA

Meaning can be applied to a specific situation, as in the case of Mary and her professor. People experience these types of situational or transactional meanings hundreds if not thousands of times a day. We thrive, relate, adapt and strive to cope in our environment through moment-to-moment meaning transactions. Because each situation is unique, its meaning type content and ultimate response or purposeful action will also be reasonably congruent with circumstances. It is also sensible to expect, for instance, that if the Mary in our example would have seen her loving boyfriend at a distance on the same university campus, her response (Meaning set content) would have been totally different to her professor’s.

In addition to these dynamic situational meaning sets, each person has an individual meaning imprint or meaning DNA that sets her or him apart from others.  Remember that Viktor Frankl defined meaning as what is meant and intended. Applied to an identity, each human being has a default “meaning of life” and intended calling shaped, formed and made of what we call meaning antecedents. There are five meaning antecedents:

  1. Our biogenetic DNA
  2. Family (psychosocial) influence
  3. Culture (sociocultural) or following dominant social norms
  4. Accumulated learning and life experiences (biographic history)
  5. Current situation and context

These five meaning antecedents give each person his or her unique identity or default “meaning of life” construct or meaning set. The individual is not always aware of what that meaning is, but she or he does have a default operating meaning of life that guides every decision and action of consequence. Logoteleologists help clients discover the operating default meaning of life (meaning set), assess its quality, and when required, improve its content for a self-chosen improved and genuine meaning of life.

The quality of the Meaning DNA (e.g. meaning of life) influences in turn the quality of many of the daily situational or transactional meanings. Continuing with Mary’s case, if her identity’s meaning DNA has a strong value system and attribution of being a responsible person; and an unbending faith and confidence (e.g. belief meaning type) in her capacity to succeed, chances are she will have a very positive attitude and corresponding feelings that will serve her well fulfilling her academic requirements.

For additional information on meaning, please read my papers titled:

Meaning, Meaningful and Important: The Powerful Three . 

What Makes a Meaning: A Logoteleological Perspective

Differentiating between Meaning and Purpose, and Why it Matters 

Blocks to Meaning: The Calcification of Awareness

What is Logoteleology’s Definition for Motivation?

John Marshall Reeve offered a fitting definition for motivation: “The study of motivation concerns those processes that give behavior its energy and direction.”[4] The motivation function is tasked with providing the identity with the energy and direction based on a like/don’t like continuum.[5] Logoteleology defines motivation as directed energy. Motivation is ultimately decided by the meaning given to the situation or target.

In Logoteleology, emotions operate in the realm of the motivation system; while feelings are sensed in the meaning domain or system.

Motivation’s Directions and Energy

In Logoteleology, motivation can be any of these three based on the like/don’t like continuum:

  1. Attraction or intrinsically and free-willed motivation “I want to do this!”
  2. Resistance or extrinsically driven (i.e. compulsive) motivation “I will do it because I have to; but if I had a choice I would not…. [”We use the term “drive” following the dictionary definition: to send, expel, or otherwise cause to move by force or compulsion. However, we acknowledge that there are more intrinsic definitions for drive in colloquial usage and psychology. For instance, in psychology, when qualified by an adjective, such as a primary drive. Without the qualifier it insinuates extrinsic motivation.]
  3. Avoidance, which can be the outcome of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Avoidance is intrinsic when it is willed as a tactical retreat and free choice. On the other hand, avoidance is extrinsic because of feelings of:
  • Helplessness “I don’t have the confidence to do this”
  • Apathy “I am bored by or I don’t care for this situation”; and
  • Rebellion “I refuse to do this”

Each one of these types will spark a level of excitement or enthusiasm. Motivation can be sustained by high degrees of energy on the one end – as in the attraction type; and in the other extreme be totally absent – as in the avoidance type. This excitement (also known as a “telosponse”. See Rychlack 1994) is human (motivational) energy.Slide1

So, as seen above, the meaning set:

  • Ascribes the energy level (i.e. intensity); and
  • Assigns a type of direction (Will, Drive (i.e. compulsive), or Amotivate/Demotivate)

Why is this relevant? Because if the meaning we give to situations and targets influence energy levels and a type of motivation we can then find more effective ways to will ourselves toward success. It has application in building personal effectiveness, and in businesses interested in increasing productivity.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Unknown

Diagnosing Personality (Identities)

Logoteleologists study the content and quality of meaning sets. Studying these psychological constructs helps the practitioner and their clients explain why outputs (as consequences of behavior) are meaningful or meaningless. (For a brief description of what is meaningful and meaningless, please read my post titled, “What is Meaningful? And why knowing matters”)

Logotelotherapy Practitioners

Qualified Logoteleology therapists are known as “logotelotherapists” or by the shorter name (and most commonly used), “telotherapists”. Logotelotherapy means healing through meaningful purpose. Qualified coaches are known as Telocoaches. [Logo]Telocoaching means coaching through meaningful purpose. Finally, qualified Logoteleology Organization Development [OD] consultants are trained to assess, to facilitate, to consult, and to aid in transforming organizations through meaningful purpose. There are methods and psychometrics for these approaches taught through the Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose certification and licensing program. The Institute also promotes research in the methodology.

On the other hand, qualified Logoteleology facilitators, coaches, and Organization Development Consultants, respectively, are trained, certified and licensed to facilitate learning, to coach, and to consult for meaningful purpose to groups and large systems, such as corporations and government agencies.

I will say more about the type of diagnosis performed by telotherapy, telocoaches and consulting practitioners in a future post.

Strengthening Self-Determination

To date, through my coaching practice, the Logoteleology Identity Model has helped clients to better understand themselves, and to make conscious meaningful choices to improve their quality of life. Knowing how the meaning content influences a type of motivation and purpose makes sense. To strengthen self-determination for the meaningful, the improvement task requires adding, modifying or replacing meanings in order to trigger the right type of motivation and subsequent action and results. I am encouraging universities and other research centers to further research the benefit of the model and to find ways to improve interventions.

I also facilitate Meaningful Purpose Laboratories where participants work to strengthen self-determination for a meaningful life. For more information on the benefits of a Meaningful Purpose Laboratory, please refer to the Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose webpage at www.bostonimp.com, leave a reply in the box below, or contact the author at Luis@Bostonimp.com.

© 2014. Luis A. Marrero. Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose.


[2] Burke, Peter J and Jan E. Stets, Identity Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

[3] Marrero, Luis. The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. Bloomington: IUniverse, 2013. Page 64.

[4] Reeve, Johnmarshall, Understanding Motivation and Emotions. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005.

[5] See also Ryan, Richard M., Kennon M. Sheldon, Tim Kasser, and Edward L. Deci, “All Goals Are Not Created Equal: An Organistic Perspective of Goals and Regulation.” Gollwitzer, Peter M., and John A. Bargh, Eds. The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior. (New York: The Guilford Press, 1996), 7–26.

Additional References:

Frankl, V. E. (1998). The will to meaning: Foundations and applications of logotherapy. New York, NY: Meridian.

[vi] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meant

Mathers, Dale, Meaning and purpose in Analytical Psychology (Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis, Inc., 2001), 3

[i] Frankl, V. E. Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning. New York: Basic Books. P 135

Rychlack, Joseph F. Logical Learning Theory: A Human Teleology and Its Empirical Support. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. P. 322

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4 thoughts on “What is Meaningful Purpose Psychology (Logoteleology)? Part 2

  1. Pingback: A Psychological Definition for “Successful Living” | authorluismarrero

  2. Pingback: Engagement cannot be Pursued. It ensues: A logoteleological perspective | authorluismarrero

  3. Pingback: What is Meaningful Purpose Psychology (Logoteleology)? (Part 1) | authorluismarrero

  4. Pingback: Organization Development 2.0 (OD2.0): A Case Study | authorluismarrero

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