This weekend, I reacquainted myself with one of my favorite books, Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihali.
Over the next few days I will be posting on this and a great follow-up book called Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning, also by Csikszentmihali.
I have been intrigued by the concept of the Flow Experience for years. Flow offers ground breaking and unique research, but that’s not why I like it so much. Here’s what I love: The model of the Flow Experience is elegant, optimistic, and actionable. In other words, once we understand how flow is achieved, we all can improve our lives. That everyday tasks can be flow experiences is wonderful!
Material success by itself does not make us happy – we all know this. Csikszentmihali’s research observed that people living under similar life conditions could experience dramatically different levels of happiness and enjoyment. The Flow Experience requires living in the present. Unless we enjoy activities as we do them, our life will be riddled with disappointment. When we experience flow, we are enjoying what we are doing – even if what we are doing is a mundane daily task.
Some descriptors of a Flow Experience
Work is going well, in an ecstatic state
I sit watching in a state of awe
Completely absorbed, completely focused
In this moment, life is full and happy
Happiness that comes from everyday activities
Relishing the moment
Happiness from the ongoing use of our skills and living in the present
At peace, serene, contributing something, making life more meaningful
Play, intensity, exhilaration, bliss
What is flow? Flow is what describes complete involvement, paying attention, reading feedback, and concentrating on the moment.
How the Flow Experience can change our lives
1. Makes everyday activities more enjoyable.
2. Flow experiences help us organize, synthesize, and harmonize elements of our existance so that each part supports the whole. Everything we do is aimed at the same purpose and meaning. When we enjoy and integrate all aspects of our lives, the entirety can become a flow experience.
3. Flow experiences help us get control over our inner lives.
4. We will learn to develop an increasingly complex self.
5. Flow helps us put together our day-to-day lives for greater satisfaction and happiness.
6. When we enjoy life, we are better able to help others.
What produces flow
Clarity of goals (end goal and smaller goals) and knowing what we want to do and accomplish contribute to the Flow Experience. When we set goals and establish play/games for even the most mundane of daily activities they can become more enjoyable. For example, when I used to have a long commute, I would try to achieve what I called the perfect commute. A perfect commute occurred when I did not have to put my foot down (motorcycle) from the time I got off the ferry to the time I reached the office. I only achieved a perfect commute twice, but it was always fun to try for it and doing this made me more attentive to road conditions.
We will increase enjoyment and flow when we build goals around our daily lives (our goals – not those set by others). If we set goals and do our best to reach them, activities become more rewarding. Regular maintenance activities can be enjoyable and this is time that would otherwise be wasted.
To increase flow, we should strive to do things with efficiency and elegance. When we achieve this, getting ready for work can feel similar to writing a poem or creating a drawing. Really! Experiencing flow during daily tasks provides an extra lift to our day.
Small things make a big difference.
Tomorrow, I will share the eight characteristics of Flow Experiences.
Have a great day. Enjoy every minute.