“Your concentration is very complete. Your mind isn’t wandering, you are not thinking of something else; you are totally involved in what you are doing…. Your energy is flowing very smoothly. You feel relaxed, comfortable, and energetic.” a dancer describing the feeling during a performance.
Have you ever experienced a moment in which you was totally focused on what you were doing, forgetting about everything else but your task? Minutes passed, the light from the windows changed it’s angle, but you nether noticed it. The italian writer Vittorio Alfieri in order to commit for a long time to literature arrived to ask his friend to tie him with a rope in his studio. What he was trying to attempt was the devotion to writing, in order to achieve a moment of total focus.
What makes life worthwhile, if we are not involved in what we experience? Many times during the day we pass through different states of focus and differnet emotions. But try to remember the happiest moment of your life? Where were you? What was your thoughts like? Was you over-thinking everything? Or maybe you was “inside” your actions, being like an observer of a mysterious and funny plan?
What you will read today is about the Flow or Optimal Experience.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, considered one of the leading researcher in the field, describe the Flow as a state of mind or a state or experience in which we feel totally involved in what we are doing. “TWENTY-THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. While happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal—health, beauty, money, or power—is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy. Much has changed since Aristotle’s time. […]
And yet on this most important issue very little has changed in the intervening centuries. […] 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. […] What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. […] is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. […] ”
The “best moments of our lives“, marks in our memory how our life should be, and from here comes the name of Optimal Experience. As Csikszentmihalyi says “It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt—sails, hull, wind, and sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins. It is what a painter feels when the colors on the canvas begin to set up a magnetic tension with each other, and a new thing, a living form, takes shape in front of the astonished creator “.
This moments comes usually when the person’s mind and body are stretched to the limits in order to win a voluntary challenge. Flow requires effort, at least at the beginning, but this could lead to a state of ultimate enjoyment. And here is the main difference between enjoyment and pleasure. Pleasure is passive and effortless.
Csikszentmihalyi point out 7 key elements common in many persons who experienced the Flow. It’s important to understand that this condition was felt from person coming from very different conditions of age, social state, culture etc.
1- Complete Involvement
We concentrate their attention in order to achieve our task. All other thoughts disappear. The difficult assignment for the next week, the housework to be done, hunger…everything seems irrelevant in comparison of what we are doing.
2- Inner Clarity
Every action comes with order and seems automatic. There is almost a direct correlation between thoughts and action. No wondering, but actions. Furthermore we can assess how our “work” is going through immediate feedbacks.
“Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” J. S. Mill,
There are no worries in the air. Whatever will go in the right way. There is no time and no focus left to ask us if we are happy or not. We are too involved in our actions.
4- You can do it (Skills)
Our skills and competences are stretched at the maximum level in order to achieve our task. But there is a believes. We know how to do it. Also if in now we don’t have the answer….in some way we will find it.
5- Intrinsic Motivation
This should be a memorandum for all we do in our lives. The action that people under Flow do are self rewarding. Doing the action is already the end. The journey and not the destination is the important thing. Person who do things for their own sake, rather than in order to achieve some later external goal, have more possibility of entering a state of Flow.
“The mystique of rock climbing is climbing; you get to the top of a rock glad it’s over but really wish it would go on forever. The justification of climbing is climbing, like the justification of poetry is writing; you don’t conquer anything except things in yourself…. The act of writing justifies poetry. Climbing is the same: recognizing that you are a flow. The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going. There is no possible reason for climbing except the climbing itself; it is a self-communication.” from the words of writer and rock climber.
The word comes from the greek “ex-stasis“, being outside. Many persons describe the Flow as a kind of transcendental experience. They stand just as observer while everything seemed to go on it’s own way. Experiencing the Optimal Experience, we feel more then out from the ordinary life routine, we feel like disappearing.
“You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and time again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself” a composer describing the experience of Flow.
7- What time is it?
Time’s perception is altered. Hours seems passing as minutes. Everything flows (again this word) away.
Here is the video of the speech of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at TED Talks:
Thanks for reading this articles.
see you at the next post,