Flow defined

From Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi’s “Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience“:

Pleasure by itself does not bring happiness. We can experience pleasure (e.g. eating, sleeping, sex) without an investment of psychic energy. Enjoyment on the other hand, happens only as a result of an unusual amount of attention. Pleasure is fleeting and, unlike enjoyment, does not bring complexity (growth) to the self. If one only invests energy in new directions solely for extrinsic rewards, one may end up no longer enjoying life, and pleasures become the only source of positive experience. Without enjoyment life can be endured and can even be pleasant. But it can be so only precariously, depending on luck and the cooperation of the external environment.

Eight Components of Enjoyment

1. Confronting tasks that we have a chance of completing.
2. Concentration.
3. Concentration is possible because the task has clear goals.
4. Task provides immediate feedback.
5. A deep, effortless involvement removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.
6. Enjoyable experiences allow one to exercise a sense of control over one’s actions.
7. Concern for self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.
8. Sense of time is altered – hours pass by in minutes.

When experience is intrinsically rewarding, one’s life is justified in the present, instead of one being held hostage to a hypothetical future, but we must constantly re-evaluate what we do, lest habits and past ‘wisdom’ blind us to new possibilities. The flow experience – like anything else – is not “good” in an absolute sense, but only in that it has the potential to make life richer, more intense and meaningful. One must distinguish between useful and harmful forms of flow, making the most of the former and limiting the latter.

Commencement of learning something is a flow situation – everything is new and flow absorption is present as one struggles to master the skill. As one progresses, either boredom will ensue because there is no more challenge (the skill has been learned at that level) or anxiety occurs because a bigger challenge than we can cope with presents itself. Either way, one wants to get back to flow, either by overcoming the anxiety challenge by becoming more skilled, or taking on a challenge that will overcome the boredom, thus getting back into flow at a more complex level.