Flow, as defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the state of full immersion. It’s simultaneously blissful and exciting state of being where one is utilizing the most potent parts of the mind and body without anything extraneous.
This occurs when a high level of skill meets a high level of challenge. Without a challenge, we don’t get excited. Without the skills to conquer the challenge, we get anxious. The state of flow is the place to live for maximal enjoyment of life.
Enjoyment is not the same as pleasure. Flow is not necessarily pleasurable. Pleasure is simply positive stimulation. It doesn’t excite us. It doesn’t immerse us. Enjoyment does. Enjoyment is the feeling of fulfillment. Fulfillment, as in it fills us full. The effects of enjoyment are long lasting. Enjoyable activities are the ones that we look at years later with pride. We don’t look back and pat ourselves on the back for pleasure. It’s sugar high of empty calories. We can bask in pleasure in the moment, but it leaves us hungry after. No one has looked back on their lives and said “Gee, I’m so glad that I let myself sleep in so many times and eat so much ice cream.”
One must remember that important note in that flow doesn’t have to be pleasurable. In fact, when we’re not used to finding our flow, the most flowful activities may seem the opposite. Public speaking is a source for flow for many people. Most don’t realzie it because they perceive the potential for flow as fear. Fear and excitement are two sides of the same coin. The only difference between fear and excitement is whether or not we approve of the aroused feeling in our bodies. When first met with a high challenge, we often won’t know what our skill level is. We don’t know if we’ll fall into Anxiety, Arousal, or Flow. The only way to give ourselves a shot at Flow, is to meet every challenge whenever possible. As we train ourselves to move towards fear, rather than away from it, we can train our personalities to achieve flow faster and more often. A personality that finds flow easily, is known as an autotelic personality, and will be the subject of the next post.
autotelic personality to strive for.