Book Reflection: Flow

Lei Xu
Lei Xu
May 7, 2017 · 5 min read

Book: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


To cultivate flow, one must be active and engaged, not passive and succumbing to desires. It’s an active thing.

Overly trusting instinct is not good. Slaves of rewards, whether organic or social.

Pleasure vs enjoyment. One is passive, the other is active. It’s impossible to play a good tennis match without paying attention. Enjoyment leads to growth and complexity. Pleasure restores order and energy.

Enjoyment can be gamified. Challenge level needs to match skill, otherwise it’s anxiety or boredom. Activity need not be physical: reading counts. One can restructure day to day activities to be more challenging.

Flow: concentration is so focused that it is engrossing. It feels automatic and effortless. But it’s actually not. It’s result of full concentration.

Clear goal and immediate feedback. Goal cannot be trivial.

Flow is concentration. Nothing else enters the awareness.

In flow, one loses consciousness of the self. And becomes part of a larger system that constitute the task / experience at hand. Then in reflection afterwards one has grown because losing concept of self means going deeper into the experience.

Flow is just a tool. It can be used for bad, violence and crimes. It can be addicting. But just because it may be dangerous doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be familiar with it and leverage it.

Autotelic experience, doing things intrinsically for its own sake and not for external consequences. The intent separates flow from boredom. Office worker, detached, bored. Stock trader that trades as a challenge for his ability to predict trends, flow, internally motivated.

Some activities (games, competition) are designed to induce flow, but skill and challenge levels need to match.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to tear things apart in order to rebuild and find meaning again.

Anomie — lack of rules. When rules aren’t clear and always flip flopping, behavior becomes meaningless. People become anxious. For society, also for company.

Flow happens when one is less self centered and self conscious. It can happen in the harshest of conditions, eg prison cell. That means it can happen in any activity that I’m doing. It’s all within my control. Those that are narcissistic do not survive because they’re less willing to adapt to the change and re negotiate reality.

To be enjoyable, an activity needs to increase in complexity as skills improve.

Flow is about the control. It doesn’t matter the behavior or activity, as long as we are in control.

Entropy is the default state of mind. And the mind tends to naturally gravitate towards the painful or disturbing. Real or imaginary.

Autotelic (flow producing) jobs and people. Having both help to contribute to the experience.

People discount their positive experiences on the job, because it contributes to someone else’s long term goal and not their own.

Leisure is even harder to enjoy, because it’s unstructured. People miss the chance to shape it into something enjoyable.

Work challenges and antidotes. Lack of variety: it’s in the mindset. Conflict with people: see it as trying to reach both your and others goals at the same time as a challenge. Stress: there are technique to minimize it.

On solitude: with nothign to do, it’s hard to prevent negative thoughts from entering the mind. That’s why TV is addicting. It fills the void and keeps the negative away.

Family: willingness to modify individual goals for the collective goal and for each other.

To be completely free, one must become a slave to a set of laws.

Adolescents turn to their friends when they don’t feel strong family ties. Teenagers are fully developed physiologically, and they also need the challenges similar to adults do to feel fulfilled. If not at home, then they will turn to peers for an outlet, oftentimes leading to negative outcomes.

Friends are important because they allow us to express ourselves. But they are even more important when they challenge is to be more of ourselves. And not just passive affirmation.

On coping with stress: self assurance that one has the resources needed to prevail, but also having the humility to know one’s own place in relation to the world around. Pay attention to the outside world around him. And be flexible and open to discover new solutions and perspectives.

Set goals. Be immersed in the activity, and pay attention to what’s happening. Learn to enjoy the experience.

A meaningful life is when piecemeal flow activities are joined into a seamless flow experience.

Invest in goals that are so persuasive that efforts are justified even when resources are exhausted and life is tough.


Forging Resolve

To be completely free, one must become a slave to laws.

Entropy of the mind

Less attention → less memorable rewards

Autotelic experience

Flow, skill vs challenge

Components of enjoyment

On instinct

Attention and an example

Experience sampling method

Best moments are not passive

Lei Xu

Written by

Lei Xu

entrepreneur, product, ex-Google, ex-YC |

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