The Art of Flow

Image of Waterfall

A couple of weeks back, I read this book called Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It was a good read and helped words to the feeling I‌ slip into when performing certain activities such as writing or programming.

In this article, I‌ would like to discuss flow in more detail and what lessons I‌ gleaned off the book as well as my own take on the phenomena.

Defining Flow

Put simply,

Flow is a mental state where one loses their sense of time fully involved in some activity.

This is similar to the Taoist principle of Wu Wei. Meaning “effortless action”.

How does One Achieve Flow?

Flow is achieved when one participates in an activity with a proper balance between personal skill level and challenge.

If the activity is too easy with their skill-level, the person will become bored.

If the activity is too hard with their skill-level, the person will become intimidated.

When the proper balance between the two is struck, flow occurs.

A Diagram of Flow

Methods for achieving flow

This will vary from person to person.

I believe that the key is to take activities and dice them up into sub-activities. Within each sub-activity, flow can be achieved.

Given any activity, one can either spend time cultivating a higher-skill level or increased difficulty to achieve the flow state.

This may also require building up resilience and patience. Raising one’s skill level in any activity will result in some level of growing pains one way or another.

To gain strength, one must heal their damaged muscular tissue.

If the brain is treated as a muscle as well, the same principle applies.

The Concept of the Autotelic Personality

To have an autotelic personality is to do things for their own sake. The purpose of doing an activity is the activity itself.

Someone who has an autotelic personality shows curiosity, persistence, and are intrinsically motivated.

They also tend to find flow in their work, family life, etc as they are “fully immersed in the current of life” as said by Csikszentmihalyi.

Flow as a Force for Good and Evil

Flow is an indifferent mental state. As such, it can be harnessed and exploited by activities that may not necessarily be the most healthy/beneficial.

At some points, it may serve to be intoxicating/addictive when the state is achieved in unhealthy activities.

I’m not the one to say what should be considered the right or wrong activities. That is up to the reader’s discretion.

Conclusion

I‌ recommend reading the book, Flow. It goes into more depth about the entire flow experience.

By understanding the causes and effects of the state of flow, one can seek out flow experiences that give enjoyment to the individual.

– Navazhylau