February 4, 2009

Say this five times fast...

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Don't ask me how to say it, I've heard it about a hundred times, and I still can't remember.
What I do remember is what he's known for, which his concept called "Flow." This is an amazing concept, that I completely believe in, and have studied pretty extensively in school. I tried to find a good video to post of him explaining it himself, but was at a loss so you'll have to do with my cave-woman language.

The idea is that there's an area of optimal enjoyment and productivity that happens when you reach flow. Have you ever been so in something that time flies, you're enjoying yourself, and when you're done, you feel like you completed so much? The best example I can think of is on the occassional evening or Saturday morning when I get the itch to clean or organize, or bake something. I can work for hours, and it feels like nothing, and I feel so accomplished and happy when I'm done, even if I'm tired I'm happy because I had flow. I was in that optimal range with just enough challenge and ability where a task was easy enough for me to complete, but hard enough for me to feel that I completed a challenge. Maybe this graph will help.

Look at this closely. If it doesn't make sense, examine the skills vs. challenges, and where the flow area falls. When you have a balance of challenge and ability, you can be productive and satisfied without feeling either bored or over worked.

The reason why I think this concept is so groundbreaking is because it is applicable to so many areas of life, and I think it should be considered in all of them. I'll talk about a few:

Work- This is possibly the most obvious. I think that most people would agree that their work day does not operate in the optimal range for flow. For me, mine oscillates through each of the three areas daily. One moment I can be completely stressed, the next I can be bored, and the next I can be accomplishing things and making progress like crazy, enjoying my job. Which one do I want to be in? Which one should my employer aim to have me function in? I think a lot of the problems found at work is because people are not opperating in flow. They're either bored or stressed, and productivity lacks in both of those areas.

Play- I took a family recreation class where this was the main theme of our class discussion for months. With recreation and play, especially when you have a family, it's hard to have an activity where everyone can enjoy flow. If you have toddlers, pre-teens, and adults all doing the same thing, it takes effort to make sure that they are all neither stressed nor bored with the activity. I think a great example of a family flow activity for all ages is camping. There are so many things to be done on so many different skill levels, that there's something for everyone. Older children can help set up tents, cook meals, or tend a fire, while younger children can help organize camp, collect twigs and firewood, and do other smaller tasks. When I look back on my family's camping trips, I have fond memories at all ages.

Family- This might seem like a bit of a stretch, because it's much more of an abstract concept then the previous two. However, I like to think of this as something to aim for rather than there being a set way to achieve flow in a marriage or family. Obviously, every family/marriage is different. I think it's a good idea to take an occssional assesment of where you are in your marriage. Are you bored? Are you anxious or stressed? What things can be done to bring you back into the range of flow? Things are never perfect, but having something to aim for helps me to "come back" more quickly when I'm not in flow.

This brings up the last thing I want to point out about flow. You should never wait for flow to happen. It's something you should actively seek, always. I know that everyone opporates the best when they're in flow, because that is the definition of flow itself. Finding that balance is difficult, but understanding the concept makes finding the area of optimal enjoyment so much easier. As with everything in life, it's not going to happen unless we work towards it. In his own words:

"What I "discovered" was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy."


JAG said...

Interesting. I like it!

ma said...

Great idea's and definatley something productive to think about while I am doing mundane chores around the house. I guess if I had more flow they wouldn't feel so mundane!

Jenny said...

I've been thinking about this since I read it. It's really interesting. When I get the time, IF I get the time, I really want to read up more on it.

Sadly, I'm mostly in the stressed section and never in the bored. Sometimes I find "FLOW." I guess that's teaching for you. Thanks for sharing!

stevenellie said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. What a great concept. It made so much sense to me. I think I'm already striving for it in my daily life. Innately I think mothers try to gain this by trying to please/meet each of her children's/husband's needs.