Book Short: Not About Going With The…
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (book, Kindle), was a great read and a nice change from either strictly business books or my regular fiction/non-fiction reading. It’s basically about the process of achieving happiness through control over one’s inner life, but it’s far from a self-help book. It’s almost more of practical psychology deep dive into what brings about happiness and peak performance – a state the author calls Flow but others have called other things over time, like being “in the zone.”
The author talks about achieving this control as synonymous with the enviable ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks and transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of personality. This ability comes directly from ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. The normal entropy/chaos of the mind is the enemy. There were a few key moments or takeaways in the book for me.
1. When one’s experience is most positive – when one is achieving Flow – people cite the following conditions in this order of importance:
- Confront tasks we have a chance of completing
- Able to concentrate
- Concentration is possible because the task has clear goals and…
- …provides immediate feedback
- Act with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life
- Exercise a sense of control over actions
- Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the experience is over
2. Becoming more Autotelic – learning how to make experiences ends in and of themselves – coming from the Greek words for “self” and “goal,” this concept is savoring a given activity for its own sake, NOT for its consequences and is a key to achieving Flow. Whether you create a mental construct around beating a personal record, doing math or pattern matching in your head, or something else, being able to focus enough energy on the task at hand and not be distracted by the world around (present or future) is key. It’s a little like what I wrote a few months ago about how achieving mental discipline in the small areas of one’s life can lead to much greater things by building confidence and clearing mental clutter.
3. The concept of the “Flow channel” – as skill increases, challenges must also increase proportionally in order for us to continue learning, growing, and excelling – and achieving Flow.
4. Transformational coping is the ability to cheat chaos – transforming a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled and enjoyed and emerge stronger from…
- Unselfconscious self-assurance – ego absent but confident, not at odds with environment but part of it
- Focusing attention on the world – looking outward, not inward
- The discovery of new solutions – being able to perceive unexpected opportunities as a result
5. How to develop the autotelic self
- Set clear goals
- Become immersed in the activity
- Pay attention to what’s happening
- Learn to enjoy immediate experience
The book reminded me of a couple other things I’ve read, in case any of these resonate with you. First, Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game” books where he talks about “relaxed concentration,” basically the Flow state, and the inner conflict between focus on the event and focus on the consequences, between mental chaos and mental discipline, personified as Self 1 and Self 2. If you haven’t read these, any are good and give you the general idea, depending on which piques your interest the most: The Inner Game of Golf (book, Kindle), The Inner Game of Tennis (book only), and The Inner Game of Work (book, Kindle). Second, David Allen’s Getting Things Done theory about how a clear, uncluttered mind can do its best work. As Flow says, achieving an ordered mental condition is difficult – unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment.
I’m not sure this book short does the book justice. It’s pretty complex and is rich with examples, but Flow (book, Kindle) is well worth a read if you’re into the theory of self control leading to better results and more happiness in life. Thanks to my friend Jonathan Shapiro for this book.