I recently read most of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. This was an interesting, although highly pedantic, book about maximizing performance and satisfaction by getting and staying in the groove. Flow is defined to be the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. Research for Flow was conducted, inter alia, by monitoring people who wore an electronic paging device and by having these people record their feelings and thoughts whenever the pager signaled.
Among the interesting points of discussion in Flow were:
- 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.
- Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy.
- The eight major components of enjoyment are: a) The experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. b) We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. c and d) The concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. e) One acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. f) Enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. g) Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. h) The sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.
- Those who seemingly take huge risks derive their enjoyment not from the danger itself, but from their ability to minimize it.