MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI

Source: Theory of Flow

What is flow?

In his book, Mihal Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as ‘the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.’

Flow first came to Csikszentmihalyi’s attention while he was studying artists for his postgraduate thesis. As they worked the artists seemed to go into a trance-like state.To his surprise he found that the finished product was less important to them than the process of doing the work itself. External rewards were less important than intrinsic pleasure, an observation that went against the grain of psychological thinking at the time.

At first it seemed that this state might be confined to rules-based activities such as games and creative professional activities such as art or music. However, in the following years thousands of interviews by his research team at the University of Chicago and other colleagues around the world revealed that flow was experienced by people from all walks of life and across many different cultures. What people did and why they did it varied immensely, but the quality of the enjoyment produced by investing attention in an activity was remarkably similar.

The research found that when they were asked what made the experience enjoyable, people cited at least one, and often all, of the following factors.

1. There are clear goals every step of the way. In many everyday situations, there are contradictory demands and it’s sometimes quite unclear what should occupy our attention. But in a flow experience, you have a clear purpose and a good grasp of what to do next.

2. There is immediate feedback to one’s actions. When you’re in flow, you know how well you’re doing.

3. There is a balance between challenges and skills. If a challenge is too demanding compared to your skill level, you get frustrated. If it’s too easy, you get bored. In a flow experience, there is a pretty good match between your abilities and the demands of the situation. You feel engaged by the challenge, but not overwhelmed.

4. Action and awareness are merged. People are often thinking about something that happened – or might happen – in another time or place. But in flow, you’re concentrated on what you’re doing.

5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness. Because you’re absorbed in the activity, you’re only aware of what’s relevant to the task at hand, and you don’t think about unrelated things. By being focused on the activity, unease that can cause anxiety and depression is set aside.

6. There is no worry of failure. In a state of flow, you’re too involved to be concerned about failing. You just don’t think about failure. You know what has to be done and you just do it.

7. Self-consciousness disappears. People often spend a lot of mental energy monitoring how they appear to others. In a flow state, you’re too involved in the activity to care about protecting your ego. You might even feel connected to something larger than yourself. Paradoxically, the experience of letting go of the self can strengthen it.

8. The sense of time becomes distorted. Time flies when you’re really engaged. On the other hand, time may seem to slow down at the moment of executing some action for which you’ve trained and developed a high degree of skill.

9. The activity becomes “autotelic” (an end in itself, done for it’s own sake). Some activities are done for their own sake, for the enjoyment an experience provides, like most art, music, or sports. Other activities, which are done for some future purpose or goal – like things you have to do as part of your job – may only be a means to an end. But some of these goal-oriented activities can also become ends in themselves, and enjoyed for their own sake. Csikszentmihalyi concludes by saying that “in many ways, the secret to a happy life is to learn to get flow from as many of the things we have to do as possible.”

2 Responses

  1. simply flowing amidst the NOW

  2. Great .. thanks

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s