Optimal Experience

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, and Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (Masterminds Series) by Dr.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presents further scientific evidence supporting the value of practicing the principles of positive psychology.  

Dr.C believes that, “Happiness can be reached by achieving control over the contents of our consciousness.”  “Optimal experience describes the feeling of being in control of our actions, masters of our own fate, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces.” 

Feeling as if one is closing in on personal goals is a measure of the quality of one’s life and a source of happiness and satisfaction. Goals that remain beyond our reach are a source of resentment and discouragement. 

Dr.C suggests that most people pursue goals that have been inherited or implanted within them through the process of socialization. By using the attraction of pleasure and fear of pain, parents, educators, politicians, churches, corporations and advertisers manipulate us to act in ways that are not necessarily in our best interests.  

Take a moment to think about this.  He’s saying that millions of people are profoundly unhappy because they are pursuing goals that have been chosen for them by others!  

He suggests we, “gradually become free of societal rewards and learn how to substitute for them rewards that are under one’s own powers.”  “The most important step in [freeing] oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment.” “If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one’s shoulders.”  

Dr.C encourages us to learn to master our thoughts and feelings so that we might attain that which is admired most by others; the ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks. (See Neil Armstrong and NASA in general.) 

In order to achieve greater mastery of one’s fate, it’s necessary to focus one’s full attention, like a beam of light, while ignoring distractions until a personal goal is accomplished.  The quality of your lifestyle at this moment directly reflects how you have applied your attention or psychic energy over the course of time.  

If you’ve ever been examined by an optometrist, you’ve had lenses changed while you’ve looked at different sized letters. Identifying what genuinely would make you happy is to shift to a lens that brings more important things into focus such as a happy marriage, warm friendships and a calling.  

Dr.C recommends participating in experiences that promote “flow” which is akin to being carried along in a river current. Flow experiences challenge one’s capabilities but do not exceed them to the point of anxiety.  Awareness is transfixed and the ability to concentrate attention is enhanced.  I think of “flow” experiences as having the same impact on one’s ability to focus as a pencil sharpener has on the point of a dull pencil.  The ultimate challenge is to convert all of one’s experiences into sources of “flow” - where action and awareness merge.  

According to Wikipedia “flow” experiences have at least some of these components:

Clear goals - expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities.  

Concentrating and focusing - a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention; a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it.  

A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness - the merging of action and awareness.  

Distorted sense of time - one's subjective experience of time is altered. 

Direct and immediate feedback; successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed.  

Balance between ability level and challenge- the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult.  

A sense of personal control over the situation or activity. 

The activity is intrinsically rewarding so there is an effortlessness of action.    

"When in the flow state, people become absorbed in their activity and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging." (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975. p.72).  

My favorite “flow” activities are conversations with friends and family, playing guitar, writing, reading, and skiing. Setting up and safely setting off fireworks displays for my friends works too. 




I love to play golf,
and that's my arena.
And you can
characterize it and
describe it however
you want, but I have
a love and a
passion for getting
that ball in the hole
and beating those
Tiger Woods


True artists are
almost the only
men who do
their work for
Auguste Rodin