This week we will be breaking down Chapters 4 and 5 of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. If you haven’t read the breakdown for week 1 yet, go do so before continuing on with week 2.
What is this weeks reading about?
This weeks reading is broken down to the discussion of the following two things:
- The conditions of flow
- The body in flow
So basically, this week we get to learn what leads to flow, and what areas of our lives we are most likely to experience it.
What leads to Flow?
In the book, the author tells us that we experience flow when we experience something he calls “optimal experience.”
So, what is optimal experience?
Here is the way the book defines it:
“Optimal experience: a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous.”
I bet something came to mind for you while you were reading that definition. Maybe it is a sport you play, or maybe some hobby you have.
The author says that we tend to experience flow and optimal experience the most when “making music, rock climbing, dancing, sailing” or other similar types of actives.
Why is that?
According to him, it is because these type of activates are designed to cultivate flow.
But these are not the only areas where we can experience it. We can experience it even in the most mundane tasks or activities that we do each and every day.
It all depends in the way we look at the activities that we participate in.
In the book the author gives an account of Richard Logan and his discovery of how people, even in bad situations, can experience flow.
He says, “First, they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances.” He continues by saying that “They set goals appropriate to their precarious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received” and “Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves.”
We will talk more about this idea in the section below.
Where in your life will you experience flow?
Chapter 5 of the outlines the following 6 areas where we most easily experience flow:
- Sports and Fitness
- Yoga and Martial Arts
Take a look at that list. Are there any areas that stand out to you as places you have experienced the feeling of flow before?
I sure hope so!
What do those six things have in common that makes them places we so commonly can experience flow?
Well to start out with, all of them (except for sight) are activities that we can take part in voluntarily. Even in the case of sight, you could make the argument that really “seeing” is a voluntary thing – there is a difference between the act of looking at something, and actually seeing all the details of that thing.
Being voluntary activities, they tend to be things that we “want to do”, rather than other areas of our life that are made up of things that we “have to do.”
Second, they can all be challenging, and improved through practice.
At the beginning of this chapter the author highlights the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger” and how it applies to each of these areas.
According to the author, “Every person, no matter how unfit he or she is, can rise a little higher, go a little faster, and grow to be a little stronger.”
So basically, in each of these six areas – as well as all other areas of our lives – we can strive to improve ourselves. We can push ourselves a little more today than we did yesterday, and a little more tomorrow than today, and so on.
But, the author says that in each of these areas we can become bored if we do not strive to get better and make the activities more complex.
How do we constantly do this?
The author suggests that we use the following 5 step process:
- Set an overall goal, and as many subgoals as you can think of that support the main goal
- Measure your progress
- Concentrate on what you are doing, and constantly make “finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved in the activity”
- Develop skills needed to take on the tasks your goal presents to you
- Keep raising the stakes every time you begin to feel bored
So according to the author, one of the biggest keys to experience flow is to avoid boredom, and by striving to constantly make progress at an activity we enjoy we can effectively avoid getting bored.
Week 2 Wrap Up
There are tons of great ideas presented in this weeks chapters. I would encourage you to look back over this weeks reading, especially chapter 5 where it talks about each of these six areas, but the main point of both chapters is that to achieve flow we need to constantly work on getting better in areas that can lead to flow.
By concentrating on these enjoyable actives – activities that also present a challenge to us – and constantly working towards improvement, we can experience flow in our lives.
My Favorite Quotes
- We grow either bored or frustrated; and then the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them.
- To many people activities like working or raising children provide more flow than playing a game or painting a picture, because these individuals have learned to perceive opportunities in such mundane tasks that others do not see.
- Without challenge, life had no meaning.
- Potentiality does not imply actuality, and quantity does not translate into quality. For example, TV watching, the single most often pursued leisure activity in the United States today, leads to the flow condition very rarely.
- In fact, working people achieve the flow experience—deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction—about four times as often on their jobs, proportionately, as they do when they are watching television.
- Everything the body can do is potentially enjoyable.
- When a normal physical function, like running, is performed in a socially designed, goal-directed setting with rules that offer challenges and require skills, it turns into a flow activity.
- Every person, no matter how unfit he or she is, can rise a little higher, go a little faster, and grow to be a little stronger.
- The challenges of the activity are what force us to concentrate.
- As with anything else, to enjoy music one must pay attention to it.
- In our culture, despite the recent spotlight on gourmet cuisine, many people still barely notice what they put in their mouths, thereby missing a potentially rich source of enjoyment.
- Like all other sources of flow related to bodily skills—like sport, sex, and aesthetic visual experiences—the cultivation of taste only leads to enjoyment if one takes control of the activity.
- If a person learns to control his instinctual desires, not because he has to, but because he wants to, he can enjoy himself without becoming addicted.
It’s Action Time
- Make some progress. Pick an activity that falls into one of the categories listed above, and then apply the 5 step process to it. Write down goals and subgoals you can focus on each day for the next week that will lead to improvement at that activity. For example, if you pick fitness you can outline everything you can think of that would help you get in better shape this week. Then push yourself to actually do these things for the next week!
Coming Up Next…
We will breaking down chapters 6-7 next week. In the mean time, take the action steps above and jump into the Facebook group to help encourage others!