Talking about flow

I am a quarter of the way through reading the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who just passed away within the last week. He was a Hungarian-American psychologist who named the psychological concept of flow. He defined it as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

It may come as no surprise that writing has been the area where I have experienced many instances of flow. You can’t really produce books unless you get into periods of flow and make the most of them. However, as I have read more of this book I have come to see there are other activities where I experience this state. Tasks such as re-organising my workshop are one example, trail mountain biking another. What I find most interesting is how all these different activities can be so enjoyable and produce the experience of flow. For me it consumes my attention on the matter in hand, time flies by and things happen easily.

A workshop with shelving, tools and an electric bike
Flow with re-organising my workshop

Flow can come to many tasks when there are some specific components of enjoyment in play. Mihaly writes about these eight major components, that if applied to an activity can help make even the most boring tasks enjoyable. He found in his studies that participants reported experiencing at least one of these during a state of flow. I have found the first five he writes about key to my enjoyment of tasks. These are as follows:

  1. I take on tasks I have a chance of completing

  2. I am able to concentrate fully on the task without distraction

  3. I have clear goals set

  4. The task provides immediate feedback

  5. I act with a deep involvement in the task at hand

That’s not to say that flow comes to me like a click of fingers when these components are present. But it is much more likely than if they aren’t present. I can apply the above to my morning pages, which are three written pages of stream of consciousness:

  1. I can easily write three pages, even if it takes me longer on some days than others

  2. I let Catherine know I am in do not disturb mode or I go to a quiet spot free of distraction

  3. I have to write three pages of what’s on my mind. The goal is clear

  4. In this writing it is not about the quality, but that I lay what is on my mind onto paper. Feedback is immediate

  5. I am fully committed to writing these when I take up my pen, I know it will be enjoyable and cathartic.

What I like about the concept of flow is that you can experience it in many different activities, it is not just an artist’s secret. You could feel it in sport or a work activity. I am now using it as a guide for my own work in order to enjoy these activities more and feel less fatigued by them. I highly recommend Flow or following those five bullet points as a framework to increase your enjoyment of different tasks.

Stay sane, stay healthy.

Tom :)