Paracelsus said:Flow, Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi
This is no doubt an important book to read, but that isn't to say it's perfect. Csikszentmihalyi is the creator of the concept of flow, i.e. the idea of optimal experience and what conditions one has to satisfy in order to reach it. Flow is not unlocking superhuman powers or concentration, it comes down to squeezing maximum enjoyment out of what one does and therefore happiness.
A couple of prefaces to bear in mind.
First is that the author is a psychologist, which means you take the ideas with a grain of salt because psychology in general is not a field generally amenable to replication and most of the people practicing it don't understand how statistics works. (On the other hand, and it's encouraging: no sign of the triple brackets in the guy's background, though his bio indicates as a kid he spent time in an Italian prison camp, though I can't seem to figure out why.) In general, you only accept psychology's principles where it's only restating or verifying something in the way the ancients led and practiced their lives; that's where its test of time applies.
Second is that, in common with a lot of stupid academics, Csikszentmihalyi tries pretty hard to make the isolated concept of flow have a lot more significance than it actually does, into a sort of unified field theory that unlocks how to be happy for all people everywhere. He's too greedy to let his ideas be an interesting toolkit for hacking the biological aspects of the brain and wants to suggest that his discovery of flow actually is the key to achieving meaning in existence. He's therefore atheistic in his outlook and when he does encounter a homeless man whose outlook on life is about as Christian as you can get, he smugly describes the discussion as "placidly hallucinogenic". (Still, the transcript of the homeless man's conversation makes it into the book, and it's like a bolt of clear lightning). His definition of happiness seems to be just "distract yourself until you're dead," which is fine because flow is in essence about distracting yourself.
Third, he's a classic liberal; asks us to engage in social justice goals almost as a reflex without explaining why, which is a big problem with his viewpoint and this quasi-philosophy surrounding the theory itself. There's a fair amount of moralising in here.
Flow is not a superpower. It's not going to make you better at your job, your hobby, or whatever it is. It's not unlocking the supposedly-unused 90% of your brain or whatever pseudoscientists like to tell us. At best it's the key to getting maximum enjoyment out of what you're doing.
All of that said:
It's a brilliant piece of work, and the studies conducted on the theory - I am largely assuming this - have been replicated. The book also contains a certain amount of redpill, if only because it calls into question the underlying and dominant mindset of current Western civilisation - that being that sensation, that whatever makes you feel good, is all, and self-denial is to be despised. And it's also a pretty good short summary of how consciousness works (assuming the materialist model, but anyway.)
Flow comes down to this: if you've ever had one of those moments when time seems to stop and you are just right in the moment and happy being there, you're experiencing flow. You're experiencing what seems to be the maximum enjoyment a human organism can have. And when we look across a wide variety of people, a wide variety of professions, the markers that seem to determine flow are these in combination:
1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment (focusing attention - your psychic energy - on what is happening right now, not on the future or past. This also means removing distractions, also see why serious listeners to music dim the lights and sit in a comfortable chair before listening to a piece of music)
2. Merging of action and awareness (No distinction between body and mind, or at least no time to be conscious of it)
3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness (No time to wonder how silly you look, i.e. all ego is submerged, something yoga is good at eventually but isn't a complete answer)
4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity (that is, the illusion of control: rock climbers are mostly in control of their situation, but ultimately answer to random rockslides or disintegration of a handhold)
5. A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered (comes part from the intense focus on the present moment)
6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience (generated by the fact the exercise is meaningful to the person, and does not require Big Success On Fifth Avenue - flow can be generated on assembly lines as consistently as it is generated by the inspired artist. What matters is one sets the goal for one's self.)
But there are also two other crucial components to this:
7. Immediate and continuing feedback on the success of one's actions. For the rock climber, it's the fact he made it to the next handhold and didn't die. Writing doesn't necessarily generate this: you don't get immediate feedback on whether that sentence you just wrote is good or not, so it isn't easy to enter flow.
8. A sense that the goal is achievable. This is crucial to flow: you have to feel you can actually achieve the goal. This is why you set smaller goals in pursuit of a larger one - because our egos are not strong; we like to believe we can succeed. You won't get in flow taking on insurmountable odds, you'll only get there if you're already at the level of ability where it's at least possible there will be a success. Compare the all-important idea of the growth mindset, something most self-improvement authors from Josh Waitzkin to Scott Adams have emphasised - that ability in a given enterprise is not set, that it's possible to improve incrementally across the lifespan.
I tend to trust a book when it seems to lock together other disparate concepts I've run across from different authors, and Flow does so. This is not a cheap instruction manual on how to achieve flow, the author is at some pains to point out the observations he's made need thought and application to the person's own life. And it pushes against some of the dominant mindsets in the West: consumerism, narcissism, and in particular against the unachievable "everybody Can Succeed" mindset that is pushed on us from our early teens. This is about finding enjoyment in one's own activities, and it's not easy.
The book is well worth a read. Check it out, you'll pick up some things. I took a bit too long reading this book and I'll have to come back to it, but I will be going back nonetheless.
I just skimmed this. My egg sarnie is nearly cooked. Shit, it's burned!
Never mind. Important matters are at hand.
Flow is the whole purpose of my life.
It comes with good sex. It can even come with a good meal. Cooking the meal. Even knowing how to eat it: enjoy every sandwich.
I have a very easy path for it: Music.
I can make beats and create harmonies. I can twist and turn sound to my advantage like a wizard. It's a rare trick. Perfected over a lifetime. But those frequencies do it for me. Not talking any of that 445Hz bollocks.
Sometimes I will start making a track at 11PM, and I will not eat or shit or piss or get out of my seat until 11AM. And there I have it. Finished. Perfected.
Pure fucking flow.
I can go like a monster for hours on end.
But it's within the arts I find myself. I also do 3D stuff - visual arts. It is how I almost made myself half blind, and I need glasses now. Damn.
But it's also within computer programming and doing higher computer stuff that I find 'Flow' as well. Need to get in to Virtual Machines? 18 hours solid. NO stop. Not even getting out of bed for a piss or something to eat. No shit. Pure adrenaline.
But the body pays a price after a while. There is only so long you can do that 'Flow'.
And my mind is so tortured these days. I just want to immerse myself in something that takes my mind off all my problems. So 'Flow' is a good way to go.
Learning new things. Things that tax your mind, that is good too.
Sometimes the spirit is not with you. I tried to play the guitar the other day and it was all wrong. I had forgotten everything. I could not play. Nothing. All those years of practice. 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, for years.
And then you forget it all again. And it comes good.
I can just about always get in to the zone with music.
I know the frequencies. I know the beats.
And I can combine that with colour and light.
Just a quick comment before I go to bed Paracelsus.
I'll read your comment again and do it justice next time.
It's gone 6 in the morning here and I'm wrecked.
Need to make another egg sarnie.
Might put a bit of grated cheese on it.
Mayo on one side of the bread.
Bit of Tomato sauce on the other.
The big question is: do I dare to get those fruity little Jalapeno peppers out of the pot? I love them, but they don't love me...
I may be gone for some time.