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Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

March 1, 2015

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of “flow” — a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.

The photo of this post at the top comes from the wonderful movie ‘Man On Wire’ about Philippe Petit, a man who walked a rope between the two former World Trade Center towers in New York. I think a deep state of flow is required to be able to balance on a rope like this. You can watch this beautiful documentary online here:

When one is completely absorbed in interaction with the world, experience unfolds organically and it is possible to enter a state of flow. The flow state has the following characteristics: intense and focused concentration on the here and now; a loss of self-consciousness as action and awareness merge; a sense that one will be able to handle the situation because one knows how to respond to whatever will happen next; a sense that time has passed more quickly or slowly than normal; and an experience of the activity as rewarding in and of itself, regardless of the outcome. Parameters of experience that foster the flow state have been identified: clarity about one’s immediate goals, throughout the interaction; continuous and unambiguous feedback about the progress that one is making as the activity unfolds; and finally, perceived opportunities for action that stretch one’s existing capacities. In flow, people thus feel that their capacities are being fully used. Entering flow depends on establishing a balance between perceived capacities and perceived challenges; remaining in flow depends on maintaining this balance.

Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi

Autotelic

An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work, in family life, when interacting with people, when eating, even when alone with nothing to do, they are less dependent on the external rewards that keep others motivated to go on with a life composed of routines. They are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside. At the same time, they are more involved with everything around them because they are fully immersed in the current of life.

Mihaly, read more [pdf]