Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi



A good follow up to after learning how our brains work I felt was to then learn about the concept of “flow,” and how it works in our lives. For that, I picked up Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It had so many little bits of wisdom, so hard to narrow it down to just a few, but the main ones that stuck out for me:

1. Happiness Revisited

What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Our consciousness is ours to control. The idea of conscious thought is our responsibility to direct it in a manner of efficiency and for good use, or for destruction and negativity.  We struggle with consciously controlling our conscious decisions because the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind. It’s up to us to organize the contents of our consciousness to be in a flow state consistently.

It goes back to what David Rock talked about with Cognitive Reappraisal – It looks as though reappraisal is one of the most important skills needed for success in life. It’s your responsibility to interpret the meaning of events in a way that best fits what you want. – David Rock

2. Flow in Action

Flow is broken down in a simple concept of an action you’re taking and you could be described to someone as: “I felt as if I was floating,” “I was being carried on by the flow, without any concept of time and purely submerged into what I was doing.” “A strong relaxation and calmness comes over me.”

There is no havoc going on in ones mind and body. There is nothing opposing a threat to you or your sense of self. The battle isn’t against “the self,” where it’s more a battle of struggling to establish control over our attention. We can think about it as a battle for the self.

3. The Quality of Consciousness

The ultimate test for the ability to control the quality of experience is what a person does in solitude, with no external demands to give structure to. It is relatively easy to become involved with a job, to enjoy the company of friends, to be entertained in a theater or at a concert. But what happens when we are left ot our own devices? Alone, when the dark night of the soul descends, are we forced into frantic attempts to distract the mind from its coming? Or are we able to take on activites that are not only enjoyable, but make the self grow? – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

This was a huge one when I read the above quote. How often when we’re done with the distractions of everyday living do we feel a sense of emptiness. Our obligations our done for the day, so no what? How do we use “our” time? Do we use it for growth, or for more distractions such as drinking, television?

Csikszentmihalyi emphasized focusing on activities that lead to the development of self. Use your time to separate yourself from the external distractions and invest in things that require you to exert effort on things that require concentration. He emphasizes creating harmony based on reason and choice.

4. The Flow of Nihilism

Life has no meaning. There is no supreme goal built into the fabric of nature and human experience that is valid for every individual. As individuals we create our own, purely subjective meaning. We create our own meaning by bringing order to our conscious thought and integrating out action in the flow experience. Csikszentmihalyi talks about over and over; unified purpose is the main goal, to focus on an achievable and enjoyable activity. Purpose gives direction to one’s efforts, but it does not necessarily make life easier due to the many natural problems that arise.

We’ve become separated with one another as we progress in life and rely on the use of sciences and technologies. To learn to integrate into our environment and the people that are apart of it without discriminating; we can recognize the limitation of humans, but without the loss of our own individuality.

5. Simple

Simply put how we feel about ourselves and about what happens to us determine the level of enjoyment we experience in our life. We must work on improving the quality of experience by controlling our focus and making sure our concentration is on purpose. By finding ways to make life more harmonious and more satisfying external situations will resolve themselves.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gives a simple formula of establishing flow:

  1. Setting goals
  2. Becoming immersed in the activity
  3. Paying attention to what is happening
  4. Learning to enjoy the immediate experience



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