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Selected Materials from Book - Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Updated: Jun 24, 2019


The closest scientific explanation and approach to explain flow - "the process of total involvement with life." or spiritual growth without mention of spiritual.


Mihaly "What I 'discovered' was the happiness is not something that happens.. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person."


"The best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen." p3.


The book contains 10 chapters.


Chap 1 - Happiness Revisited (Introduction)


"...the evidence suggests that most people are caught up on this frustrating treadmill of rising expectations, many individual have found ways to escape it. These are people who, regardless of their material conditions, have been able to improve the quality of their lives, who are satisfied, and who have a way of making those around them also a bit more happy. Such individuals lead vigorous lives, are open to a variety of experiences, keep on learning until the day they die, and have strong ties and commitments to other people and to the environment in which they live. They enjoy whatever they do, even if tedious or difficult; they are hardly ever bored, and they can take in stride anything that comes their way. Perhaps their greatest strength is that they are in control of their lives."


"One of the major functions of every culture has been to shield its members from chaos, to reassure them of their importance and ultimate success."


"while humankind collectively has increased its material powers a thousandfold, it has not advanced very far in terms of improving the content of experience."


"The essence of socialization is to make people dependent on social controls, to have them respond predictably to rewards and punishments. And the most effective form of socialization is achieved when people identify so thoroughly with the social order that they no longer can imagine themselves breaking any of its rules."


"There is no question that to survive... it is necessary to work for external goals and to postpone immediate gratifications. but a person does not have to be turned into a puppet jerked about by social controls. The solution is to gradually become free of societal rewards and learn to how to substitute for them reward that are under one's own power... the most important step in emancipating oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moments... then.. power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated to outside forces."


"the control of consciousness determines the quality of life, has been known for a long time...why haven't we made more progress in this direction? ... control over consciousness is not simply a cognitive skill. At least as much as intelligence, it requires the commitment of emotions and will... Progress is relatively fast in fields that apply knowledge to the material work.. but it is painfully slow when knowledge is to be applied to modify our own habit and desire... second the knowledge of how to control consciousness must be reformulated every time the cultural context changes."



Chap 2 - The Anatomy of Consciousness - "Flow will examine the process of achieving happiness through control over one's inner life. We shall begin by considering how consciousness works, and how it is controlled."


"consciousness has developed the ability to override its genetic instructions and to set its own independent course of actions."


"the limitation of consciousness is demonstrated by the fact that to understand what another person is saying we must process 40 bits of information each second... [we are] possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second... over a lifetime, of 70 years... this amounts to about 185 billion bits of information. It is out of this total that everything in our life must come.. In any case, an individual can experience only so much. Therefore, the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life."


Self - "is also one of the contents of consciousness. It is one that never strays very far from the focus of attention... it contains everything else that has pass through consciousness. all the memories, actions, desires...Self represents the hierarchy of goals that we have built up."


"It is becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow. Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration. Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others. Integration refers to its opposite."


"When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. and once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows."



Chap 3 - Enjoyment and the Quality of Life - "The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order n consciousness. This happens when psychic energy - or attention - is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else. These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives.


"Two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better... Neither of these strategies is effective when used alone."


"...the phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components..." 1) when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. 2) We must be able to concentrate on what we doing. 3) task has clear goals. 4) the task provides immediate feedback. 5) "one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life." 6) allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. 7) concern for self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self energies stronger after the flow experience is over. 8) The sense of the duration of time is altered.


"when experience is intrinsically rewarding life is justified in the present, instead of being held hostage to a hypothetical future gain."


"but in flow there is no room for self-scrutiny. Because enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules, and challenges well matched to skills, there is little opportunity for self to be threatened." Thus, if we scrutinize other or make them conscious of criticism, we are taken away their possibilities of flow.



Chap 4 - The Conditions of Flow - "To understand why some things we do are more enjoyable than others, we shall review the conditions of the flow experience."


"when a person cannot control psychic-energy, neither learning nor true enjoyment is possible."


the study suggests "that people who can enjoy themselves in a variety of situations have the ability to screen out stimulation and to focus only on what they decide is relevant for the moment."


Importance of Clear Goals and Rules " Children who grow up in family situation that facilitate clarity of goals, feedback, feeling of control, concentration on the task at hand, intrinsic motivation, and challenge will generally have a better chance to order their lives so as to make flow possible ... Children who know what they can and cannot do, who do not have to constantly argue about rules and control, who are not worried about their parents' expectations for future success always hanging over their hears, are released from many of the attentional demands that more chaotic households generate. They are free to develop interests in activities that will expand their selves."


"the most important trait of survivors is a 'non-self conscious individualism' or a strongly directed purpose that is not self-seeking... Narcissistic individual, who are mainly concerned with protecting their self, fall apart when the external conditions turn threatening."


Bertrand Russell described how he achieved personal success "Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to center my attention increasingly upon external object: the states of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection."



Chap 5 - The Body in Flow - "To achieve control over what happens in mind, one can draw upon an almost infinite range of opportunities for enjoyment - for instance through use of physical and sensory skills"


"People were happiest when they were just talking to one another ... involved in a hobby; all of these activities require few material resources, but they demand a relatively high investment of psychic energy. Leisure that uses up external resources, however, often requires less attention, and as a consequences it generally provides less memorable rewards."


"How to keep love fresh? The answer is the same as it is for any other activity. To be enjoyable, a relationship must become more complex. To become more complex, the partners must discover new potentialities in themselves and in each other. To discover these, they must invest attention in each other -- so that they can learn what thoughts and feelings, what dreams reside in their partner's mind. This in itself is a never-ending process, a lifetime's task."


"Music, which is organized auditory information, helps organize the mind that attends to it, and therefore reduces psychic entropy, or the disorder we experience when random information interferes with goals. Listening to music wards off boredom and anxiety, and when seriously attended to, it can induce flow experience."



Chap 6 - The Flow of Thought - ".. through the development of symbolic skills such as poetry, philosophy or mathematics."


"Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment ... To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is readily available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings.. The better route for avoiding chaos in consciousness, of course is through habits that give control over mental process to the individual, rather than to some external source of stimulation."


"A mind with some stable content to it is much richer than one without. It is mistake to assume that creativity and rote learning are incompatible."


"Great thinkers have always been motivated by the enjoyment of thinking rather than by the material rewards that could be gained by it."


"A more substantive potential use of words to enhance our lives is the lost art of conversation...the main function of conversation is not to get things accomplished, but to improve the quality of experience." (why humor works, it doesn't need to be practical to be enjoyable.)


"the point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along... Writing gives the mind disciplined means of express."


"The importance of personally taking control of the direction of learning from the very first steps cannot be stressed enough."


"While specialization is necessary to develop the complexity of any pattern of thought, the goals-ends relationship must always be kept clear; specialization is for the sake of thinking better, and not an end in itself. Unfortunately many serious thinkers devote all their mental effort to become well-known scholars, but in the meantime they forget their initial purpose in scholarship."


"To write down one's insights expecting that someday they will be read with awe by posterity would be in most cases an act of hubris, that "overweening presumption" that has caused so much mischief in human affairs. But if one records ideas in response to an inner challenge to express clearly the major questions by which one feels confronted, and tries to sketch out answers that will help make sense of one's experience, then the amateur philosopher will have learned to derive enjoyment from one of the most difficult and rewarding tasks of life." p139.


Chap 7 - Work as Flow - Most people spend the largest part of their lives working and interacting with others ... Therefore it is crucial that one learn to transform jobs into flow-producing activities."


"the more psychic energy we invest in material goals, and the more improbable the goals grow to be, the more difficult it becomes to make them come true. Then we need increasingly high inputs of labor, mental and physical, as well as inputs of natural resources, to satisfy escalating expectation."


"the mystical heights of the Yu (flow in ancient china literature) are not attained by some superhuman quantum jump, but simply by the gradual focusing of attention on the opportunities for action in one's environment which results in a perfection of skills that with time becomes so thoroughly automatic as to seem spontaneous and otherwordly."


"we have the paradoxical situation: on the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore they tend to feel more sad, weak, dulll, and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure...Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time."


"People who learn to enjoy their work, who do not waste their free time, end up feeling that their lives as a whole have become much more worthwhile. 'The future,' wrote C. K. Brightbill, 'will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely."



Chap 8 - Enjoying Solitude and Other People - "...flow-producing activities ... in ways of making relations with parents, spouses, children, and friends more enjoyable."


"We are biologically programmed to find other human beings the most important objects in the world.. only in the company of other people do we feel complete...People are not important only because they can help make our goals come true, when they are treated as valuable in their own right, people are the most fulfilling source of happiness."


"idiot, Greek originally mean 'private person' someone who is unable to learn from others."


"the ultimate test for the ability to control the quality of experience is what a person does in solitude, with no external demands to give structure to attention... a person who rarely gets bored, who does not constantly need a favorable external environment to enjoy the moment, has passed the test for having achieve a creative life."


"the way to grow while enjoying life is to create a higher form of order out of the entropy that is an inevitable condition of living. This means taking each new challenge not as something to be repressed or avoided, but as an opportunities for learning and for improving skills."


"More important than structuring space, perhaps, is structuring time."


"Every relationship requires a reorienting of attention, a re-positioning of goals...When two people choose to focus their attention on each other, both will have to change their habits; as a result, the pattern of their consciousness will also have to change. Getting married requires a radical and permanent reorientation of attentional habits. When a child is added to the pair, both parents have to re-adapt again to accommodate the needs of the infant ... If a person is unwilling to adjust personal goals when starting a relationship, then a lot of what subsequently happens in that relationship will produce disorder in the person's consciousness., because novel patterns of interaction will conflict with old patterns of expectations."


"Cicero once wrote that to be completely free one must become a slave to a set of laws. In other words, accepting limitations is liberating... a person no longer need to worry whether she has made the right choice, or whether the grass might be greener somewhere else. As a result a great deal of energy gets freed up for living, instead of being spent on wondering about how to live."


"To provide flow, a family has to have a goal for its existence... The family must be both differentiated and integrated. Differentiation means that each person is encouraged to develop his or her unique traits, maximize personal skills, set individual goals... In an integrated family, each person's goals matter to all others."


"Unless the partners invest psychic energy in the relationship, conflicts are inevitable, simply because each individual has goals that are to certain extent divergent from those of all other members of the family. Without good lines of communication the distortions will become amplified, until the relationship falls apart."


"when a family has a common purpose and open channels of communication, when it provides gradually expanding opportunities for action in a setting of trust, then life in it becomes an enjoyable flow activity. Its members will spontaneously focus their attention on the group relationship, and to a certain extent forget their individual selves, their divergent goals, for the sake of experiencing the joy of belonging to am ore complex system that joins separate consciousness in a unified goal."


"unconditional acceptance is especially important to children. If parents threaten to withdraw their love from a child when he fails to measure up, the child's natural playfulness will be gradually replaced by chronic anxiety... Teenagers without strong family ties can become so dependent on their peer group that they will do anything to be accepted by it ... if the young person feels accepted and cared for at home, however, dependence on the group is lessened, and the teenage can learn to be in control of his relationship with peers"


"If a person surrounds himself with 'friends' who simply reaffirm his public persona, who never question his dreams and desires, who never force him to try out new ways of being, he misses out the opportunities friendship presents. A true friend is someone we can occasionally be crazy with, someone who does not expect us to be always true to form. It is someone who shares our goal of self realization, and therefore is willing to share the risks that any increase in complexity entails."


"those who try to make life better for everyone without having learned to control their own lives first usually end up making things worse all around."



Chap 9 - Cheating Chaos - "describes ways in which people manage to enjoy life despite adversity."


"there are two main ways people respond to stress. The positive response called 'mature defense' or 'transformational coping' the negative response is called 'neurotic defense' or 'regressive coping'.


Three main steps for transformational coping:

1) Unselfconscious self-assurance

2) Focusing attention to the world

3) The discovery of new solutions.


"The difference between someone who enjoys life and someone who is overwhelmed by it is product of a combination of such external factors and the way a person has come to interpret them -- that is, whether he sees challenges as threats or as opportunities for action."


The 'autotelic self' is one that easily translates potential threats into enjoyable challengess. The rules are simple:

1) Setting goals

2) Becoming immersed

3) Paying attention to what is happening

4) Learning to enjoy immediate experience



Chap 10 - The Making of Meaning - "how people manage to join all experience into a meaningful pattern."


"The meaning of life is meaning: whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life."


"Someone who is in harmony no matter what he does, no matter what is happening to him, knows that his psychic energy is not being wasted on doubt, regret, guilt, and fear, but is always usefully employed. Inner congruence ultimately leads to that inner strength and serenity we admire in people who seem to have come to terms with themselves."


"Inner conflict is the result of competing claims on attention. Too many desires, too many incompatible goals struggle to marshal psychic energy toward their own ends."


"when we can imagine only few opportunities and few possibilities, it is relatively easy to achieve harmony. Desire are simple, choices clear. There is little room for conflict and no need to compromise. This is the order of simple systems - order by default, as it were. It is fragile harmony; step by step with increase of complexity, the chances of entropy generated internally by the system increase as well... A simpler consciousness, no matter how harmonious, is preferable to a more complex one."

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