Have you ever been so engrossed in an activity that all sense of time and self has completely disappeared? Maybe your 90-minute football match has felt like five. Or perhaps you practised the guitar for so long you hadn’t even noticed that your fingers were bleeding. Or maybe even that book review you were forced to write was smashed out in a few short Friday morning hours. With this euphoric state of productivity, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi suggests we are experiencing a state known as ‘Flow’.
Back in the days of Sigmund Freud or Arthur Schopenhauer, the term positive psychology was interpreted as not suffering, or not being miserable; to strive to reach zero. One of the best elements of the Flow theory is that it goes beyond zero. It discusses this phenomenon of maybe actually enjoying life! Csikszentmihalyi discusses not only what this concept is but also ways we can approach life to help achieve this state.
“Despite the fact that even the least affluent among us are surrounded by material luxuries undreamed of even a few decades ago . . . people often end up feeling that their lives have been wasted, that instead of being filled with happiness their years were spent in anxiety and boredom.”
Csikszentmihalyi, M, 1990
The question of what makes us happy is not answered in the physical items that surround us; it is a deeper-rooted motivation within us (also spoken about by Dan Pink in Drive amongst other books). Whilst Csikszentmihalyi is certainly not alone in writing about this concept, his theory to the everyday person is so simple it introduces psychology that can actually have a tangible benefit to our lives.
I am hesitant to give too much away as it is obviously encouraged that you read the book. However, to address one of the concerns I had, it is certainly not just yet another self-help book about ‘being at one with the music’. Flow offers the opportunity to review and reflect on our current state of productivity and to take control of how we reshape it. Applied to life in and out of work, this is a more conscious approach that guides the reader not only to the next level but provides the invigorating revelation that, as humans, we will enjoy the challenges on the way.
The book is titled Flow simply because that is the main channel we are aiming for. However, as we progress, increasing our skill or the challenge to achieve this, we will naturally fall into other categories on occasion. Boredom, apathy, anxiety and worry (amongst others) are all part of the journey – and that’s okay. There is a reassurance with this book that combines the main aim of improving who and what we are with the awareness throughout that we remain human. It is human-being meets human-doing.
Go and find your flow.
Stuart Fenwick (@StuFenwick7)
Motivational Speaker at Tree of Knowledge (@tree_of)