Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience


Title: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Authors: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Edition: 1
Finished Date:
Rating: 5
Language: English
Genres: Pyschology, Flow
Level: Entry
Publishers: Harper Perennial Modern
Publication Date: 2008-07-01
ISBN: 978-0061339202
Format: ePub, Pdf, Mobi
Pages: 334
Download: ePub Pdf Mobi

1. Happiness Revisited

1.1 introduction

happiness is not something that happens. i.e., It is not the result of good fortune or random chance.

  • money can not buy
  • power can not command
  • not depend on outside events

depend 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.

Yet we cannot reach happiness by consciously searching for it.

“Ask yourself whether you are happy,” said J. S. Mill, “and you cease to be so.” It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist, summarized it beautifully in the preface to his book Man’s Search for Meaning:“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”

how can we reach this elusive goal that cannot be attained by a direct route?

My studies of the past quarter-century have convinced me that there is a way. It is a circuitous path that begins with achieving control over the contents of our consciousness.

Contrary to believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times

  • exception: such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them.
  • The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

=> Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.


  • For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far;
  • for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record;
  • for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage.
  • For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.
  • such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur

* simmer's muscles: ache during most memorable race
  • getting control of life is never easy, and sometimes it can be definitely painful
  • in the long run, optimal experiences add up to

    • a sense of mastery

    • better: a sense of participation in determining the content of life

Study: try to understand as exactly as possible how people felt when they most enjoyed themselves

optimal experience is based on

  • flow


  • the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter
  • the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it
  • useful

    • psychologist

      • happiness
      • life satisfaction
      • intrinsic motivation
  • application

    • improve the quality of life, the flow theory can point the way.

    • inspire the creation of experimental school curricula

    • the training of business executives
    • the design of leisure products and services
    • Flow is being used to generate ideas and practices in clinical psychotherapy
    • the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents
    • the organization of activities in old people’s homes
    • the design of museum exhibits
    • occupational therapy with the handicapped.

1.2 Overview

this book

  • not a “how-to” book

    cook books: tell readers how to accomplish a specific limited goal on which few people actually follow through

    what would really satisfy people is not getting slim or rich, but feeling good about their lives

  • well-intentioned, books cannot give recipes for how to be happy.

    Because optimal experience depends on the ability to control what happens in consciousness moment by moment, each person has to achieve it on the basis of his own individual efforts and creativity.

  • What a book can do, however, and what this one will try to accomplish, is to present examples of how life can be made more enjoyable, ordered in the framework of a theory, for readers to reflect upon and from which they may then draw their own conclusions

    • about mind, charted with the tools of science
  • Without some intellectual effort, a commitment to reflect and think hard about your own experience, you will not gain much from what follows

  • Chapter 2

    • how consciousness works
    • how it is controlled
  • how consciousness ordered => produce enjoyable experience

  • how complexity achieved
  • how can meaning be created

easy in theory, difficult in practice

obstacles to fulfillment implicit in the human condition

  • whenever some of our needs are temporarily met, we immediately start wishing for more
  • chronic dissatisfaction

human create protective devices

  • religions
  • philosophies
  • arts
  • comforts

=> give reasons for being satisfied with out lot

but, these shields are effective only for a while

When people try to achieve happiness on their own, without the support of a faith, they usually seek to maximize pleasures that are either biologically programmed in their genes or are out as attractive by the society in which they live.

  • Wealth
  • power
  • sex

become the chief goals that give direction to their strivings.

But the quality of life cannot be improved this way.

Only direct control of experience, the ability to derive moment-by-moment enjoyment from everything we do, can overcome the obstacles to fulfillment.

1.3 the roots of discontent

  1. the universe was not designed with the comfort of human begins in mind

    J.H. Holmes: The universe is not hostile, nor yet is it friendly. It is simply indifferent

how we feel about ourselves depends directly on

  • how the mind filters and interprets everyday experieces
    => learn to master over consciousness

    ”measure for the quality of our lives. If it remains beyond reach, we grow resentful or resigned; if it is at least in part achieved, we experience a sense of happiness and satisfaction.

1.4 the shields of culture

Ch 4: the conditions of flow

flow activities

  • rules that activities are designed to make optimal experience easier to achieve

    • require the learning of skills
    • set up goals
    • provide feedback
    • make control possible
    • facilitate concentration and involvement by making th eactivity as distinct as possible from the so called “paramount reality” everyday existence

      example: sports

      • dress up in eye-catching uniforms
      • enter special enclaves that set them apart temporarily from oridnary motals
  • example of flow activities

    • play
    • art
    • pageantry
    • ritual
    • sports
  • 4 broad classes of games (Roger Caillois, the French psychological anthropologist)

    i.e., games can go beyond the boundaries of ordinary experience in 4 different ways

    1. (competition) agon 极度痛苦: game that have competition as main feature, such as most sports and atheletic events

      • stretch skills to meet the challendge provided by the skills of the opponents
      • improve experience only if attention is focused primarily on the activity itself
      • comptetition becomes distraction not an incentive to focus consciousness on what is happening when (extrinsic goals)

        • beat the component
        • want to impress an audience
        • obtain a big professional contract

          完全同意。 所以才会punished by rewards and competition, 真是一个distraction
    2. (chance) alea: games of chance, such as dice and bingo

      • give the illusion of controlling the inscrutable future
    3. (distortion) ilinx, or vertigo晕眩: games that alter consciousness by scrabling ordinary perception, such as riding a merry-go-round or skydiving

      the attraction of “consciousness-expanding”


      • turn around the circles until dizzy
      • drugs
    4. (mimicry) mimicry: games that alternate realities, such as dance, theater, and the arts in general

      • make us feel as if we are more than we actually are through fantasy, pretense, and disguise


      • dress like a deer

      • the little girl pays with her doll

Why the complexity of consciousness increases as a result of flow experiences? 相关关系, 而非”a result of”因果关系

  • 2 theoretically most important dimensions of the experience

    • challenges
    • skills
  • 4 states

    1. A1

      • no skills

        => doing whatever things can create flow, but cannot stay longer

    2. A2

      • keep practice -> skills are improved => grow bored when doing repetitvely from A1
    3. A3

      • realize that there are much harder challenges for him than just doing activities in A1 => anxiety concerning poor performance这就是我

        neither boredom nor anxiety are positive experience

    4. A4: set himeself a new and more difficult goal that matches his skills

      in order to come back to flow

      2 choices

      1. increase the challenges he is facing
      2. give up the activity
    if in anxious `A3`

    require that he increase his skills <font color="blue">这也是我现在在做的事情, 提高阅读能力</font> => return to state `A1`

* `A1` and `A4`

    * same: both are flow
    * difference: `A4` is a more **complex** experience than `A1` because `A4` involves greater challenges and demands greater skills

* `A4` are not a stable situation even if `A4` is complex and enjoyable

    keep practice => bored by the stall opportunities he finds at that level, or he will become anxious and frustrated by his relatively low ability

    in order to push back into the flow, at a level of complexity even **higher** than `A4`
  • dynamic graph: why flow activities lead to growth and discovery

    • we cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long
    • we grow either bored or frustrated => the desire to enjoy ourselves again pushes us to stretch our skills, or to discover new opportunities for using them

      作者错了。 flow只是一个状态。 从A2A4和从A3A4都需要deep work来把skill练习到一个更加高的层次, 这个过程很痛苦, 不会lose in time。 flow的学习状态是把刚学会的更加高层次的技能练习到unconscious level。flow的工作状态是运用已经学会的技能或者只有很少一点点点点的更难的技能来做当下的project。

      所以,是deliberate practice让技能提高而不是flow。 这和作者的flow提高了技能是相反的
  • caution: a person who is objectively involved in a flow activity do not necessarily have the appropriate experience

    It is not skills we actually have that determine how we feel, but the skills we think we have

the autotelic personality

not easy to transform ordinary experience into flow

  • Whether all people have the same potential to control consciousness?


    • schizophrenics suffering from anhedonia, i.e., lack of pleasure

      • unable to concentrate
      • attend indiscriminately to everything

        what causes stimulus overinclusion

      • genes

    • excessive self-consciousness => bordom


      • a person who is constantly worried about

        • how others will perceive her 这是我小学时候的经历
        • create the wrong impression
        • doing somehtign inappropriate
      • a person who are excessively self-centered => bordom

        a self-centered individual is usually not self-consciousness, but instead evaluates every bit of information only in terms of how it relates to her desires

        self-centered and self-consciousness is difficult to become interested in intrinsic goals => hard to lose onself in an activity that offers no rewards ouside the interaction itself

    • attentional disorders and stimulus overinclusion => anxiety

      because psychic energy is too fluid and erratic


      • self-centered and self-consciousness: attention is too rigid and tight

        neither extreme allows a person to control attention

    • environment obstacles

      • natural: harsh environment

        dessert area

      • social

        • slavery
        • oppression
        • exploitatino
        • the destruction of cultrual values
        • anomie, i.e., lack of rules => anxiety

          the norms of behavior had become muddled: no longer clear what is permitted and what is not => people who depend on the rules of society to give order to their consciousness become anxious

          happen when

          • economy collapses
          • when one culture is destroyed by another
          • prosperity increases rapidly 现在的中国
          • old values of thrift and hard work are no longer as relevant as they had been
        • alienation: opposite to anomie => boredom

          people are constrained by the social system to act in ways that go against their goals 我现在读phd的状态

  • If not, what distinguishes those who do it easily from those who don’t?

nuerophysiology and flow

  • people who need fewer external cues to represent events in consciousness are more autonomous from the environment

    have a more flexible attion => restructure experience more easily => achieve optimal experiences more frequently

    不就是intuition type吗?

Other people’s notes

the effects of the family on the autotelic personality

certian types of relationship with parents were significantly more happy, satisfied, and strong in most life situations than peers

5 characteristics

  1. clarity of goals: the teenagers feel that they know what their parents expect from them

    goals and feedback in the family interaction are unambiguous

    所以我爸说随便考哪个大学都付学费,对我来说是个ambigious goal
  2. (feedback) centering: the teenagers know that their parents are interested in what they are doing in the present, rather than being preoccupied with whether they will be getting into a good college or obtaining a well-paying job

  3. (feeling of control) choice: the teenagers feel that they have a lot of possibilities from which to choose, including that of breaking parental rules – as long as they are prepared to face the consequences

  4. (conentration on the task at hand, intrinsic motivation)commitment
  5. challenge: partents’ dedicatin to provide increasingly complex opportunities for action to their children
  • families that provide an autotelic context conserve a great deal of psychic energy for their individual members, thus making it possible to increase enjoyment all around.

    • Children who know what they can and cannot do, who do not have to constantly argue about rules and controls, who are not worried about their parents’ expectations for future success always hanging over their heads, are released from many of the attentional demands that more chaotic households generate. They are free to develop interests in activities that will expand their selves. In less well-ordered families a great deal of energy is expended in constant negotiations and strife, and in the children’s attempts to protect their fragile selves from being overwhelmed by other people’s goals.

the people of flow

我觉得因为introverted intuition

According to Nardi’s work, INTJ’s and INFJ’s have the capability to achieve a flow state without first having attained expert knowledge. Other types only attain a flow state when they do something that they’re an “expert” in such as play a musical instrument (after 10,000 hours of focused practice) . For INXJ’s, whenever we use our Ni deeply we fall into this state, it seems as a consequence of Ni.

8 elements of enjoyment:

1. confront challenging but completable tasks
2. concentration
3. clear goals
4. immediate feedback
5. deep, effortless involvement (lack of awareness of worries and frustrations)
6. sense of control over actions
7. concern for self disappears (paradoxically awareness of self is heightened immediately after flow)
8. sense of duration of time is altered

5 elements of happy teenagers’ growing up:

1. clarity
2. centering: parents’ interest in the child in that moment
3. choice
4. commitment
5. challenge: parents provide appropriate challenges for their children

Quadrants of flow:

Goal: High challenge, high skill
Low challenge, high skill = boredom
Low skill, high challenge = anxiety

Roger Callois: Four kinds of play

1. agon: competition
2. alea: games of chance
3. ilinx: vetigo, disorienting pleasures
4. mimicry


1. yama: restraint
2. niyama: obedience
3. asana: sitting
4. pranayama: breath control
5. pratyahara: withdrawal; ability to see, feel, and hear at will
6. dharana: holding on; concentrate on single stimulus (opp. of 5)
7. dhyana: intense meditation (sans external object of 6)
8. samadhi: self-collectedness

The goal of loss of self is opposite of flow, but the first 7 steps yield greater self-control similar to flow. These 7 steps can be applied in various contexts, with other ultimate goals.

Music, Food: Consume passively or savor actively?

Memorize facts not to memorize, but to gain understanding and contextualized knowledge.
Applying scientific reasoning, mathematical thinking, is viewed as a pleasurable game by experts in the field. How can I encourage this intrinsic enjoyment in my students???

Question: The Bible states that work is a punishment for sin. Is our current ability to specialize jobs a gift of systemic cooperation? Maybe for fortunate people like me who love my work, but certainly not for everyone.

Transformational (not regressive) coping:” “If one operates with unselfconscious assurance, and remains open to the environment and involved in it, a solution is likely to emerge.”

Autotelic self:

1. Setting goals
2. Becoming immersed in the activity
3. Paying attention to what is happening
4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience

How does someone stay relaxed under extreme pressure? “There is nothing to it. We don’t get upset because we believe that our life is in God’s hands, and whatever He decides will be fine with us.”

Significant childhood pain can lead to a well-adjusted adult’s lifelong theme of service to correct the injustice.

## my summary

introverted intuition (INTJ和INFJ) 不需要先前有任何skill就能达到flow, 原因是introverted intuition

According to Nardi’s work, INTJ’s and INFJ’s have the capability to achieve a flow state without first having attained expert knowledge. Other types only attain a flow state when they do something that they’re an “expert” in such as play a musical instrument (after 10,000 hours of focused practice) . For INXJ’s, whenever we use our Ni deeply we fall into this state, it seems as a consequence of Ni.
作者错了。 flow只是一个状态。 从A2A4和从A3A4都需要deep work来把skill练习到一个更加高的层次, 这个过程很痛苦, 不会lose in time。 flow的学习状态是把刚学会的更加高层次的技能练习到unconscious level。flow的工作状态是运用已经学会的技能或者只有很少一点点点点的更难的技能来做当下的project。

所以,是deliberate practice让技能提高而不是flow。 这和作者的flow提高了技能是相反的