This is a follow up to an older post Free Your Mind, with the idea that focus and intention may free your mind to true happiness. In my quest to train my mind to be more focused and in the moment, I came across articles mentioning this concept of “Flow”. I decided to listen to the book “Finding Flow: The Psychology of engagement with everyday life.” by Csikszentmihalyi.
I figured it was worth digging a little deeper to get a better idea of the concept of Flow. I listened to the audio book on Audible during my commutes back and forth to work. I was surprised what a quick listen it was, it maybe took about 4 one way trips varying from 20-30 minutes. I listen to my books at 1.25x speed. I will provide an overview, but it may not do it justice in one post.
So, what is Flow?
In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.– wikipedia
So this state closely aligns with the ideas of intentional, mindful mental state that can create a more calm and collected feeling, thus giving us more enjoyment, more connection, and happiness. This state of mind is also a place that reduced distraction and chaotic thoughts.
I enjoyed the listen, but I will sum up the book here. There is a zone in which we can obtain Flow when we are intrinsically motivated and skill and challenge are balanced.
Skiing is a good example of Flow, if you’re not a skier I’m sure you could imagine another activity that this may relate. Let’s say you enjoy skiing, so this an intrinsically motivated activity. You’re on your way down the slope, going quickly with full attention to your skis, your movement, complete concentration on the task at hand. You’re thinking of nothing else and your body is using muscle memory skill to navigate down the mountain. To a competent skier, they are “in the zone”.
Csikszentmihalyi walks us through many research results (using Experience Sampling Method, or ESM) on groups of people logging their activities and the level of happiness. Although, the author seemed to feel, the happiness results were suspect because the participant was not doing something meaningful (which I felt was a bit subjective). I think the author wanted the results to align with the model of optimal experience, not only for the individual, but the community as well. TV watching was low skill and low challenge, but a participant would mark it as a happy experience.
The author divides our time into three main categories:
- Maintenance – scheduling,bills, house cleaning, tending to family
- Leisure – hobbies, media, social
- Work – employment, volunteering
I believe Csikszentmihalyi might be a little behind the times on gender stereotyping in this book. But, I will give him a break, due to his age and the timing of the research. He does go into detail about the differences of male and female experiences with Flow and when each experience better flow. Although, he does integrate the idea of a working mother and indicates that women tend to have the majority of the maintenance tasks that may not have a high intrinsic motivation.
The book points out several ways to change your mindset to experience Flow more often, even with the maintenance activities. It goes on with an example of thinking through a maintenance activity, such as doing the dishes. Instead of thinking “I have to” do the dishes, to think “I get to” do the dishes (Yay, <insert sarcasm here>). But, in all seriousness, I think the idea works in the mindset of what our ‘why’ is. Instead of thinking of it as a drudgery, to think of it as achieving the goal of keeping a tidy house free of bugs. In this way the goal provides the path for the intrinsic motivation to do the task.
He elaborates on this with an example of setting performance goals associated with these maintenance activities such as doing the dishes faster than the last time, or more efficient than the previous time. Make a game of it, to increase skill and complexity…therefore increasing Flow opportunity. Here is a post that might help…
Keep the goals closely aligned with skill as to create a challenge that is not too overwhelming. Small increments to challenge to build the skills.
As I got to the end of this book, I thought the exploration of social and religious comparisons of creating positive Flow activities were interesting, but I think they drifted a little further than my intention for the topic and what I was looking for.
I couldn’t help thinking, while listening, how do we reduce the chaotic consciousness from interfering with flow. Things like text messages, kids emergencies, parent illnesses, scheduling conflicts, etc. The the narrator got right to it. You have to prioritize and proactive with your time and be intentional about doing or not doing activities as to reduce the chaotic thoughts.
My next thought, was what if my list outways my time. The very next section indicated to draw a line under the planned tasks for the day and not let anymore be added to that day. < insert small chuckle and shrug >
So, I’m going to refresh my daily task organizer and prioritize. I will start up my 7 habits program again. Which seems to be very much in alignment with the philosophy. I would say this book was motivating and revisited a lot of things I’ve already learned, but I may have lost that intrinsic motivation on.