Saturday, April 03, 2010

Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience

This is a very interesting book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Have you ever wondered the difference between pleasure and enjoyment?

Pleasure : 

When you are involved in a pleasurable activity - it takes your mind out of the worries you are having ( watching TV to escape from stress ) and satisfies the needs of the moment ( drinking coke to quench thirst ).

Enjoyment : 

An "enjoyable" activity, not only gives you pleasure - but gives you the feeling of fulfilment, the feeling of joy and living life.

You need to put some effort to "enjoy". Playing a guitar, compiling linux, playing badminton - all these are very enjoyable activities. It takes effort, requires skill, practise and is extremely rewarding in the end.

There needs to be clear goals and feedback in such activities. 0 errors, 0 warnings is the reward in the end - till then you should keep tweaking,do more research, try different approaches.

You lose your self-consciousness and sense of time. Your entire concentration is on the job at hand - and will give you immense enjoyment.

Autotelic Experience

When you have really enjoyed an activity - you had just had an autotelic experience. 

When you solve a sudoko puzzle - you really do not gain anything in the end. The boxes get filled - so what? It is the time you spent solving the puzzle that gives the maximum enjoyment. This is an example of Autotelic experience. The reward is the activity itself.

There are some who can derive this experience on all the activities they do in a day - watering plants, washing the car, answering customer support emails. These autotelic personalities can go from one task to the other - and their mind is always in the "zone" - they are happy throughout the day - they are immersed in the "now" and they enjoy their life.

There are lot of by-products - the task gets completed perfectly. There is a sense of peacefulness around this person - which affects everyone else in a positive way. It is a joy to work along side such people.

So how can one cultivate an Autotelic personality? :

The suggestion given by Mihaly is quite simple - for any activity :

Set a goal
Become immersed in that activity
Pay attention to what is happening
Learn to enjoy the immediate experience.

In Conclusion :

I started observing that I go into the "zone" when I code or when I write a blog post. I have talked about it here -

This book just opened my inner brain - there are so many activities that we do in a day - exercise, playing with a kid, washing the car, cooking - what if we aim to go into the "zone" in all these activities? Thats when we will get "flow" in our life.

Then life would be more enjoyable - and more meaningful.


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