Notes and quotes from Psychology Today: Finding flow - creativity and optimum functioning
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE SKIING DOWN A SLOPE and your full attention is focused on the movements of your body and your full attention is focused on the movements of your body

There is no room in your awareness for conflicts or contradictions; you know that a distracting thought or emotion might get you buried face down in the snow. The run is so perfect that you want it to last forever.

It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life. We can be happy experiencing the passive pleasure of a rested body, warm sunshine, or the contentment of a serene relationship, but this kind of happiness is dependent on favorable external circumstances. The happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it leads to increasing complexity and growth in consciousness.

In contrast to normal life, these "flow activities" allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible, and provide immediate feedback.

Flow also happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.

Almost any activity can produce flow provided the relevant elements are present, so it is possible to improve the quality of life by making sure that the conditions of flow are a constant part of everyday life.

Friday, March 09, 2007 11:18:52 AM Finding flow - creativity and optimum functioning - excerpt from the book 'Finding Flow' Psychology Today - Find Articles


Admittedly, there are few options when we realize that our job is useless or actually harmful. Perhaps the only choice is to quit as quickly as possible, even at the cost of severe financial hardship. In terms of the bottom line of one's life, it is always better to do something one feels good about than something that may make us materially comfortable but emotionally miserable. Such decisions are notoriously difficult and require great honesty with oneself.

Short of making such a dramatic switch, there are many ways to make one's job produce flow.

Turning a dull jot into one that satisfies our need for novelty and achievement involves paying close attention to each step involved, and then asking: Is this step necessary? Can it be done better, faster, more efficiently? What additional steps could make my contribution more valuable?

If, instead of spending a lot of effort trying to cut corners, one spent the same amount of attention trying to find ways to accomplish more on the job, one would enjoy working--more and probably be more successful. When approached without too many cultural prejudices and with a determination to make it personally meaningful, even the most mundane job can produce flow.

The same type of approach is needed for solving the problem of stress at work.

First, establish priorities among the demands that crowd into consciousness.

Successful people often make lists or flowcharts of all the things they have to do, and quickly decide which tasks they can delegate or forget, and which ones they have to tackle personally, and in what order.

The next step is to match one's skills with whatever challenges have been identified. There will be tasks we feel incompetent to deal with. Can you learn the skills required in time? Can you get help? Can the task be transformed, or broken into simpler parts? Usually the answer to one of these questions will provide a solution that transforms a potentially stressful situation into a flow experience. ''' FLOW AT PLAY'''

Free time is more difficult to enjoy than work.

Not all of these free-time activities are the same in their potential for flow.

Why would we spend four times more of our free time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?

Each of the flow-producing activities requires an initial investment of attention before it begins to be enjoyable. If a person is too tired, anxious, or lacks the discipline to overcome that initial obstacle, he or she will have to settle for something that, although less enjoyable, is more accessible.

To make the best use of free time, one needs to devote as much ingenuity and attention to it as one would to one's job.

Active leisure that helps a person grow does not come easily. In fact, before science and the arts became professionalized, a great deal of scientific research, poetry, painting, and musical composition was carried out in a person's free time. And all folk--art the songs, fabrics, pottery, and carvings that give each culture its particular identity and renown--is the result of common people striving to express their best skill in the time left free from work and maintenance chores. Only lack of imagination, or lack of energy, stand in the way of each of us becoming a poet or musician, an inventor or explorer, an amateur scholar, scientist, artist, or collector.


Of all the things we do, interaction with others is the least predictable.

our findings suggest that people get depressed when they are alone, and that they revive when they rejoin the company of others.

The moods that people with chronic depression or eating disorders experience are indistinguishable from those of healthy people as long as they are in company and doing something that requires concentration.

But when they are alone with nothing to do, their minds begin to be occupied by depressing thoughts, and their consciousness becomes scattered. This is also true, to a less pronounced extent, of everyone else.

The reason is that when we have to interact with another person, even stranger, our attention becomes structured by external demands.

require the orderly investment of mental energy

The strong effects of companionship on the quality of experience suggest that investing energy in relationships is a good way to improve life.

A successful interaction involves finding some compatibility between our goals and those of the other person or persons, and becoming willing to invest attention in the other person's goals.

The secret of starting a good conversation is to find out what the other person's goals are: What is he interested in at the moment? What is she involved in? What has he or she accomplished, or is trying to accomplish? If any of this sounds worth pursuing, the next step is to utilize one's own experience or expertise on the topics raised by the other person--without trying to take over the conversation, but developing it jointly. A good conversation is like a jam session in jazz, where one starts with conventional elements and then introduces spontaneous variations that create an exciting new composition. ''' OVERCOMING OBSTACLES'''

How much stress we experience depends more on how well we control attention than on what happens to us.

It is better to look suffering straight in the eye, acknowledge and respect its presence, and then get busy as soon as possible focusing on things we choose to focus on.

To learn to control attention, any skill or discipline one can master on one's own will serve: meditation and prayer, exercise, aerobics, martial arts. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one's attention.

It is also important to develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention.

Even the most routine tasks, like washing dishes, dressing, or mowing the lawn, become more rewarding if we approach them with the care it would take to make a work of art.

We must then transfer some psychic energy each day from tasks that we don't like doing, or from passive leisure, into something we never did before, or something we enjoy doing but don't do often enough because it seems too much trouble.

This sounds simple, but many people have no idea which components of their lives they actually enjoy.

Keeping a diary or reflecting on the past day in the evening are ways to take stock systematically of the various influences on one's moods. After it is clear which activities produce the high points in one's day, it becomes possible to start experimenting, by increasing the frequency of the positive ones and decreasing that of others.

to make a creative change in the quality of experience, it might be useful to experiment with one's surroundings as well.

Outings and vacations help to clear the mind, to change perspectives,

How many of our demands could be reduced if we put some energy into prioritizing, organizing, and streamlining the routines that now fritter away our attention? One must learn to husband time carefully, in order to enjoy life in the here and now.

one must also choose goals that will reduce the sum total of entropy in the world.

How can we find a goal that will allow us to enjoy life while being responsible to others?

Buddhists advise us to "act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference."

This serious playfulness makes it possible to be both engaged and carefree at the same time.

Friday, March 09, 2007 11:36:45 AM Psychology Today: Finding flow - creativity and optimum functioning - excerpt from the book 'Finding Flow'