FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Athletic Bookworm’s Review + Highlights
“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is THE book on flow state that you always hear about in other books, on podcasts, and in Instagram quotes. So, I wanted to go to the actual source and see WTF he actually says about Flow State, versus what other people say that he says. If you read along with this month’s Athletic Bookworms, I’d love to hear in the comments what you took from the book, but here are a few of the key things that I highlighted and pondered!
I didn’t realize how much of the concept of flow was about the broader idea of happiness in general — it’s not just something that you experience when surfing a huge wave or having this momentous moment in your life, flow means that you’re whole life is being lived with purpose, which leads to happiness. He writes:
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… What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.
The Montage Moment
What he writes: “We have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.”
What it made me think of: I admit, reading that made me immediately think of this clip from Legally Blonde, and no, I am not proud of it:
What is Flow State?
“Flow.” The short and simple word describes well the sense of seemingly effortless movement. But in flow there is no need to reflect, because the action carries us forward as if by magic…. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered.
On Flow + Running
Yo guys know I love the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. His main inspiration was the Tarahumara, and I was surprised to see them pop up in Flow as well — so even back in 1990 when this book was published, the Tarahumara were being lauded as running superheroes. I’ve always found my best flow state happens when trail running, and I don’t think that’s uncommon. (Side note: he also adds the flow can be found by walking, which got me super psyched.)
Whether jogging alone, racing the clock, running against competition, or—like the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who race hundreds of miles in the mountains during certain festivals—adding an elaborate ritual dimension to the activity, the simple act of moving the body across space becomes a source of complex feedback that provides optimal experience and adds strength to the self. Each sensory organ, each motor function can be harnessed to the production of flow.
“Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal.” Thanks, Mihaly. This was a good month to be reading this, as I was going through a bunch of stresses around my knee being injured, and this website going through some major issues. I actually had this sentence printed out and on my desk so I could remind myself to use those stresses and control the situations: doing all of the therapies needed for my knee, from eating better to seeking expert help to working on mobility and crosstraining, and with my website, from going to a professional developer to unravel the problems on the backend while compiling content to eventually post, even though I couldn’t post at the time. I realized that I could have let myself just be annoyed and frustrated, but those emotions wouldn’t get me anywhere. Working towards the solutions, even though the fixes weren’t immediate, helped strengthen my body and this site in the longer term!
And, on Reading
Had to finish this post with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s point about reading as children and how it can lead to happiness, because this is the Athletic Bookworms! “People who as adults develop coherent life themes often recall that when they were very young, their parents told them stories and read from books. When told by a loving adult whom one trusts, fairy tales, biblical stories, heroic historical deeds, and poignant family events are often the first intimations of meaningful order a person gleans from the experience of the past. In contrast, we found in our studies that individuals who never focus on any goal, or accept one unquestioningly from the society around them, tend not to remember their parents having read or told stories to them as children.”
One last thing. To sound fancy at your next social gathering: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is pronounced Me-High Cheek-Sent-Me-High