Flow note the second #15

Half way through NaBloPoMo. Strangely, posting every day seems to make time slow down. It have to focus more: what’s going on, what could I write about, what do I feel like writing about. Interesting.

Anyway. This is the second installment in a series of posts on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. For the first post and reference, see here.

Says Csikszentmihalyi (2002: 49; emphasis mine):

the phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following.

The eight components with my attempt to find examples of them within my sphere of experience (all quotations Csikszentmihalyi 2002: 49):

1) “[T]he experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.” Which is why I like…knitting – something small, such as socks. I know I can finish them and even have something to show for my efforts.

2) “[W]e must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.” I often need complete peace and quiet to get anything done and enjoy many solitary tasks. Then again, teaching a large group of children demands total concentration and can give a profound sense of accomplishment afterwards.

3) The task should have a clear goal – like the finished sock, or the children learning a particular skill (or just enjoying themselves), or an energetic performance gone smoothly.

4) The task should provide immediate feedback – you can wear the finished sock, you’ll soon find out whether you’ve caught the children’s attention, the audience will cheer or boo (or stay silent, which might be worse).

5) “[O]ne acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.” That’s more elusive, isn’t it? Sometimes it happens, at other times the everyday is too strong, or maybe the other conditions aren’t met. However, even the most boring task can produce this sort of involvement; I’m thinking back to work assignments that I haven’t necessarily enjoyed as such but that I’ve decided to finish (and get rid of) before a self-set deadline, and that have seen hours disappear barely noticed. Although that’s not exactly “effortless”, is it (and the set-up certainly hasn’t always worked out the way I’d hoped it would). But many enjoyable activities require initial effort: running can be wonderful even if I’ve had to force myself to do it on a cold, dark morning. So, what does effortless mean?

6) “[E]njoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions.” For me, this immediately suggests physical activities. Learning to dance or sing, being able to run, finding my (still tentative) path in yoga are all experiences that have made me feel more in control. Or, going back to previous examples, teaching fits the description as well: the teacher chooses the topic, makes plans, changes them where necessary – exercises control. (The challenge, then, is to make that possible for the pupils as well, to enable their flow, while retaining necessary control over the situation.)

7) “[C]oncern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.” Is there a better description of a performance gone well?

8) “[T]he sense of the duration of time is altered,” i.e. the performance seems to be over before it has properly begun, the well-planned lesson finishes before anyone has time to grow bored, the knitting continues well past bed time.

My potential flow experiences suggested by this breakdown?

  • Knitting, running and other (usually, for me) solitary activities that require a combination of mental and physical activity but leave time for thought to roam free. Fairly fail-safe.
  • Dancing, singing, yoga (& running) – physical and artistic skills to master. Can be less than rewarding when goals are set too high.
  • Teaching, performing – putting myself on the line, hopefully altering other people’s experience. This is a risky one, because it relies on other people’s cooperation.

Food for thought. To be continued…


Howl at the moon

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