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Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement…
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Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (Masterminds… (1997)

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Series: MasterMinds

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Concept that our leisure can be active and passive; we can involve ourselves in short-term rewarding relaxation t-v watching with diminishing returns, or more fulfilling active study, learning an instrument, experimentation, or hobby where there is high-difficulty and high-skill.. In these situations it may require and initial investment of time before a sense of getting somewhere; the author refers to the sense of time-flying, as 'flow.' An 'Autotelic' person is one who has purpose on the inside, and isn't as much motivated by outside rewards, or is self-motivated; a self-starter. He suggests that a person learning music, to be a scientist, doing prayer/meditation, or working out, focus on building attention rather than the rewards that may follow from the discipline. Building attention and concentration will improve flow in said person's life. Highly interesting book with better core ideas than most, but with some filler and repetition. ( )
  timbrown5 | Sep 29, 2010 |
I found this book to be an enjoyable introduction to the concept of flow. The combination of self-help meets science, along with it's small size made the topic enjoyable and interesting. Despite the author's tendency to stray a bit far into humanistic realms than I choose to follow, I moved on to read this book's prequel: 'Flow'. ( )
  tyroeternal | Oct 16, 2009 |
Reviewed in my blog at http://www.sea-of-flowers.ca/weblog/sea/archives/2004/12/28/flow.php#more and at Blogcritics at http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/12/28/191625.php

Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience(ISBN 0060162538 , published in 1990, has been influential in several areas of psychology including sports and leisure, game design and theories of creativity. The language of flow has taken hold in business psychology, and flow is coming into vogue as a metaphor of engaged living within the major religions as well as among more alternative thinkers. He wrote a shorter version, more directly aimed at the self-help or popular psychology markets in 1997, Finding Flow (ISBN 0-465-02411-4).

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was an academic clinical psychologist at the University of Chicago. His approach is based in humanistic psychology, so it impressionistic and oriented to feeling, and not based in neurobiology or cognitive psychology. His research is in the form of analysis of subjective reports and surveys, rather than standardized tests. His field of study was happiness. He gathered data on why some people take great pleasure in some leisure activities, and why some people can be happy in what might seem to be boring jobs and work situations. His answer is that people can become engaged in tasks, finding a pleasant flow in identifying challenges, meeting them, and being positively engaged in tasks.

People who are busy with a meaningful tasks don't have time to be anxious and depressed. Some people don't like their work but they like challenging recreational activities like mountain climbing and organize their lives around fulfilling hobbies.

This seems to be simple common sense, or common experience. Cognitive psychologists and educational psychologists have developed theories of learning based on balancing challenges to accomplishments within a scheme for increasing competence. He has gathered some evidence, albeit in the form of subjective reports, to support his argument. He doesn't seem to pay much attention to the cognitive work, and he presents flow as his own new, modern psychological theory. His theories about why complex and challenging activities are enjoyable and important in leading a healthy, happy life are interesting and useful, but the theory and the book have significant limitations.

The book is reasonably clear, but is not particularly well-written. It sounds naive and romantic, and it is full of the jargon of humanistic psychology (for instance concepts of psychic energy, psychic entropy, autotelic personality). He mentions the theories and main players in humanistic psychology , Maslow, Rogers, Allport, with some debt to Jung. In Finding Flow (the 1997 sequel) he tries to distance his theories from other theories and thinkers in humanistic psychology. I don't think he does that successfully. He mainly presents his theory of flow as method of self-actualization within the main stream of humanistic psychology. He also dives deep into dreamy pool near the end of his book, like all the humastic thinkers since Jung - mysterical insight dressed up as science.

His basic claim is that people are happy in activities that generate flow. He recognizes that people are also happy when basic needs are met in a pleasant way - good food, erotic sex, but he distinguishes between mere pleasure and the enjoyment of a complex experience. The mystical aspect of his work is that he advocates seeking flow in to the point of losing self-consciousness and becoming engaged in the flow of life.

His effort to distinguish between ordinary pleasure and enjoyable flow is largely semantic and largely unconvincing, and this false dichotomy is probably the key flaw in his philosophy. Flow is simply a feeling of pleasure. It rewarding, and like the other pleasures, it can be addictive. It is not an absolute good.

He tries to build a system of thought and live around flow. He holds that the complex pleasures of creating art, writing books, making music and climbing mountains are better than the simple pleasures of working people, and his project is the improvement of the lower classes by teaching them to find flow instead of watching TV. His biases are transparent. Like the other humanistic psychologists, he is working within a system of thought which aspires to imitate Stoic philosophy but seems more influenced by neo-Platonism, European Romanticism, some Indian and Oriental religiion and neo-hippie consciousness-altering mysticism. He basically implies that humanity will be enlightened if more people can be led from the low pleasures of common culture to the higher enjoyment of living in a state of flow.

I agree with much of what he says about living an examined and purposeful life. (I am obviously less enchanted with humanistic psychology which mainly a recycling of Romantic ideas and Eastern religion under the pretext of science). I think popular culture had become fragmented by the commercialization of sports and art, and by fluffy thinking. We are living in an era of bread and circuses. My criticism is that his system undervalues the simple pleasures of shelter, food, intimacy, drama, ritual and social living and values altered consciousness as a higher pleasure.

The Stoics felt that virtue is its own reward, while flow theorists seem to believe that anything that produces pleasurable flow is good. The author is more of a hedonist than a Stoic.

I think this book is useful in its discussion of the role of leisure and the importance of being engaged in fulfilling leisure activities. While his claims for the moral importance of flow are overstated, he is very persuasive in identifying the importance of using leisure time in challenging activities, and engaging in life with people, instead of sitting on the couch alone.

At the same time, ironically, his noble project has been subverted as his theories have been applied to design video games that are full of nearly addictive faux flow experiences, which remorsely consume precious time. The Playstation was released in 1994 and the psychology of flow has been a central concept of game design. ( )
  BraveKelso | Dec 26, 2008 |
A re-read for me. I re-read this book every time I am noticing myself feeling bored & listless and engaging in habits that I don't enjoy, like vegging out in front of the tv for hours at a time, all the while thinking "I'd rather be reading...." Its sort of like a kick in the ass for me.

Csikszentmihalyi's basic assertion, from studying ans surveying people, is that when people engage in activities that interest and challenge them for the sake of the challenge itself, they enter a state called "flow" in which they are more open, more creative, more productive, and more satisfied with life. By contrast, when people engage in activities that are either too difficult or too easy and that do not require focus and commitment, they tend to be frustrated and/or bored. This is a really simple version of his assertion. The trick is not to avoid "mindless" activities like doing the dishes and pursue only lofty pastimes, but rather to assess carefully which activities actually make us happy and then pursue them instead of wasting time on things that don't satisfy us. When we must do things that we hate, we can make the experience more flow-like but focusing all our energy on accomplishing the task as best we can. It sounds silly, but its really about mindfulness and being in the present moment. I have found that I will lose myself in cleaning the house and not realize that hours have passed. In this way, I can actually enjoy the task.

This book will not make you do anything and it holds no transcendent secrets, but it is one of the smarter, better-written, more scientifically-sound "self-help" books out there. ( )
  fannyprice | May 22, 2008 |
Good basic book. I rated it lower than I might have because at the time I was looking for something slightly different - more about the "flowing" process. ( )
  jour149 | Oct 20, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465024114, Paperback)

Part psychological study, part self-help book, Finding Flow is a prescriptive guide that helps us reclaim ownership of our lives. Based on a far-reaching study of thousands of individuals, Finding Flow contends that we often walk through our days unaware and out of touch with our emotional lives. Our inattention makes us constantly bounce between two extremes: during much of the day we live filled with the anxiety and pressures of our work and obligations, while during our leisure moments, we tend to live in passive boredom. The key, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is to challenge ourselves with tasks requiring a high degree of skill and commitment. Instead of watching television, play the piano. Transform a routine task by taking a different approach. In short, learn the joy of complete engagement. Thought they appear simple, the lessons in Finding Flow are life-altering.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:47 -0400)

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