Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) – Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

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This review focuses more on the beginning of the book, especially on the chapter III

State of flow experience – Attention is freely invested into achieving goals making boring routines become purposeful and enjoyable.

Self grow/complex self:
Differentiation: movement towards uniqueness
Integration: union with others
The self becomes complex after experiencing the flow. We act freely for the sake of the action itself rather than ulterior motives. [Merriam-Webster Ulterior : going beyond what is openly said or shown and especially what is proper <ulterior motives> ]

Feeling secure is an important component of happiness. The sense of security can be improved, for example, by buying a gun. One cannot create a complete sense of inner security. Even though we recognize that material success may not bring happiness, we engage in an endless struggle to reach external goals, expecting that they will improve life. Wealth, status and power have become powerful *symbols* of happiness. To improve life one must improve the quality of experience.

Enjoyable events occur when a person has not only met some prior expectation or satisfied a need or a desire but also gone beyond what he or she has been programmed to do and achieved something unexpected, perhaps something even unimagined before. Regardless of culture, stage of modernization, social class, age, or gender, the respondents described enjoyment in very much the same way. What they did to experience enjoyment varied enormously. One of the most frequently mentioned enjoyable activities the world over is reading. Another is being with other people. Not only art and leisure can provide optimal experiences. Also productive work and everyday routines are also satisfying. Some people are compulsice doodlers, others chew on things or smoke to impose order in consciousness through the performance of patterned action.

Positive experience reflections (at least one, often all)

  1. Experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing
  2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.
  3. Task has clear goals
  4. Immediate feedback provision
  5. One acts with a deep but effortless incolcement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life
  6. Exercising a sense of control over actions
  7. Concern of self disappears (but after the flow sense of self emerges stronger)
  8. Sense of duration of time alters

People get great joy from goal oriented, rule-bound, “skill” needing and energy consuming task – a challenge. For those who don’t have the right “skills” the activity is not challenging; it is simply meaningless. [“Skills” are here more like ability to understand and comprehend than act or perform]. Competing is enjoyable when it becomes perfecting own skills. Too complex is frustrating, too easy is boring. Almost any enjoyable activity can become addictive, in the sense that instead of being a conscious choice, it becomes a necessity that interferes with other activities. Most enjoyable things are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make.

Objective aspects – general, known beforehand
Subjective aspects – individual, unpredictable
The whole point [in mountain climbing] is to avoid objective dangers and eliminate the subjective ones by rigorous discipline and preparation.

Flow does not happen without the application of skilled performance. The goals are not always clear. The feedback is often ambiguous. In flow there is no need to reflect our actions, because the action carries us forward. In flow one is able to forget all the unpleasant aspects of life and leaving no room in the mind for irrelevant information and there is a feeling (or having a possibility) of control, not actually having the control. There is first loss of sense of self separeated from the world by union with the environment. Later there is the self grow.
Time often seems to go faster, but sometimes it seems to go slower. If time is the essence of the activity, then person realizes the temporal element very well. Freedom of the tyranny of time does add to the exhilaration we feel during a state of complete involvement.

Autotelic Experience – Action is the goal it self. People do tasks just for doing it, not for external reward. Most things we do are neither purely autotelic nor purely exotelic. Much of what we label juvenile delinquency – car theft, vandalism, rowdy behaviour in general – is motivated by the same need to have flow experiences not available in ordinary life.

Nicely written book that truly sucks the reader in. Sometimes the author uses term experience and sometimes enjoyment or satisfaction to describe the same thing, which is quite confusing. This book gives a good insights about why people really like to do things that doesn’t seem so reasonable for others. Perhaps the most common misunderstanding is that in Flow the person just subconsciously achieves his/her goals, but actually the person needs to focus really hard into the action and his/her skills need to be challenged.

Posted by Sampo Teräs

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