Book Cat: Flow

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is about the psychology of optimal experience. Optimal experience is the idea that the perception of an experience is more important to your enjoyment than the nature of the experience itself. The popular conception of the book I had gotten was about how to produce a flow state and therefore be more productive. That was part of the book, but the reality of the concept was much more complex than I realized. The eight components that are used to describe a flow activity are:

  1. An achievable task
  2. Concentration
  3. Clear goals
  4. Immediate feedback
  5. The activity has enough depth to take up your full attention
  6. A sense of control over your actions
  7. Loss of sense of self
  8. Time dilation

Some of these components are things you can control to try to induce flow (1-6), and some of them (7 and 8) are what you experience under flow. Not all flow experiences have every component, and just because you meet the first six items it doesn’t mean you will have achieve flow. Flow is an enjoyable state but not all enjoyable experiences are flow eligible; you don’t achieve flow watching TV, it is a passive action not something you actively engage with.

The book was more about understanding that flow appears in any place that you achieve deep satisfaction than about exactly how to achieve it. Flow can be in the way you can lose yourself in any significant activity: playing sports, spending time with your family, at work, or overcoming adversity. It isn’t that flow creates satisfaction or activities that cause satisfaction have the innate ability to create flow. It is about the underlying way that your mind process experiences and what that means for building a satisfying life. There is significantly more to the book than a way to increase focus on an activity. It could almost be described as a philosophical text on the meaning of enjoyment in the human experience.

There was a section discussing the flow that some people found in overcoming adversity. There was a story of a man who found life after losing the use of his legs to be more satisfying since he stopped to recalibrate his expectations and found enjoyment in the challenge of living everyday life. There were other similar stories of those who overcame hardship and found flow in doing so. From a logical perspective there isn’t a way to see losing your vision as a positive, but there were accounts of people who did.

Since the book wasn’t what I was expecting, I feel like I need more time to digest what was there and what it means to me. The philosophical aspect of it reads much more deeply than most of what I normally read; even when it was prescriptive it was less concrete and more aspirational. I picked up a copy of another of his books, Finding Flow, which seems like it is more practical. I hope that I can take away more of the specifics of this on how you can live a more fulfilling life.

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