'Flow' cover

About the Book
Title: Flow
Author: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Length: 336 pages (paperback)
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Copyright Year: 1990

In Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presents the fundamental concepts and prerequisites for achieving a flow state for peak performance. Whether it is an athletic pursuit, a purely mental one, or somewhere in between, the author presents evidence of people describing their peak experiences in much the same way, which is what he calls the state of flow.

First, Csikszentmihalyi clarifies the difference between pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure is simply anything that instinctively brings joy, such as good food. Enjoyment and enjoyable experiences, on the other hand, may not be inherently pleasurable at the time. For example, a runner that pushes him or herself to achieve a personal best time in a long-distance run will not find much pleasure in the pain in their lungs and muscles, but they will find extreme enjoyment, even elation, at the end. In short, enjoyment occurs when someone meets a need or a goal and goes beyond what they expected, providing an immense sense of accomplishment.

To achieve this enjoyment is to enter the state of flow, and to exercise control over one’s self in difficult situations. For the runner, it’s the fortitude to keep going. For the businessman, it’s the process of maximizing benefit during an intense negotiation. For a flow state to be achieved, rules must be in place. Many games provide the rules for you, but those who achieve flow in everyday life are able to make them up. In addition, there must be a goal that is challenging, but one that you have the skills to achieve. If the goal is too simple, you will become bored. If it is well beyond your skills, you will be anxious.

The author outlines a general process for achieving flow in any situation: set an overall goal, with as many sub-goals as necessary; find ways of measuring progress; maintain focus on the task, and continue to refine the tasks; develop the skills necessary to succeed; and keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring.

An important note to add regarding flow is the idea that people experiencing flow often feel that their destiny is within their control. The achieve flow, you must feel as though you can exercise control over a situation, but not in a self-centered way. Free of ego, a person seeking flow can try to function in harmony with their environment to achieve their desired outcome, ...

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