Book Review: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This book discusses the science behind what make us content and feel that living life is worthwhile. What drew me to this book was its genuine, no-frills approach to achieving true happiness regardless of your material conditions. Anyone who knows anything about contentment knows that material conditions are secondary to our quality of life and in this book Csikszentmihalyi describes how we can enjoy more of our life, more often regardless of our current material advantages or disadvantages.

Throughout the book he shares that the key to our enjoyment is in increasing the amount of “optimal experience” or “flow” we cultivate in our lives. We’ve all experienced it in those moments when we are fully engrossed in an activity that demands our full attention to completing the task at hand. During these situations we remove ourselves from the any worrying, boredom, anxiety or any other “entropy that brings disorder to consciousness” and we enter into the world of flow where we experience psychological growth and the feeling that perfection is attainable.

He deduces that the “autotelic personality”, the person who can enjoy themselves in a multitude of situations by blocking out distractions and focusing their energies on what is relevant for the moment will describe their lives on the whole as enriching, meaningful and challenging. This experience is the polar opposite of what many people feel their lives are which is a life that “passes in a sequence of boring and anxious experiences over which a person has little control”. This is most striking in our era where we are surrounded by a staggering amount of entertainment choices that despite their novelty and cleverness, leave us unsatisfied and intangibly frustrated. The reason for this boredom and emptiness despite the explosion of leisure activities that have been invented is that when they are only engaged in vicariously and for external reasons, they absorb our psychic energy instead of strengthening it, leaving us emotionally spent and more jaded than before.

Csikszentmihalyi goes into much more detail that what I have written here about how to experience “flow” in all aspects of life from work, to relationships, to simply thinking, and the science behind it. But if this subject has intrigued you at all, I recommend that you read this work. Its made me reevaluate what I see has truly enhancing my enjoyment and utilizing my psychic energy and what is inducing psychic entropy and disorder.

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Getting Clean: Be Honest About Your Motivations

Let’s be honest.

I’d wager that more often than you think, the interactions you have with people in your life have a secret agenda behind them. Without us really being conscious of them, we make decisions based on motivations that are impure.

So what’s the big deal?

Keeping secrets has actually been proven to be harmful to our brain. Neuroscientists believe that it is better for us to either confess our secrets or not participate in keeping them at all. The reason for this involves a lot of complicated medical terminology but basically, it stresses your brain out. It puts your brain in a limbo because a part of the brain that is in charge of our emotional responses is also wired to tell the truth. Whenever you become privy to something secret, this part of the brain starts telling all the other parts of the brain to tell it and get it out so that it can do more important things like learning. When you don’t tell the secret and keep it locked in because you don’t want to hurt someone you prevent this part of the brain from working regularly and it becomes stressed. This can lead to some pretty unpleasant effects such as a low immune system, high blood pressure, memory loss, increase in the stress hormone coritsol and gastrointestinal and metabolic issues.

With that said, let’s get clean by following the steps below:

Step One

Pick something coming up in your schedule that you’ve committed to doing. Maybe you don’t have anything planned for this weekend, but you have to go to work on Monday morning. That’s fine — any commitment will do.

Step Two

Keeping this commitment in your mind, think about why you are doing it. I want you to ignore that first reason that pops up in your head — “because I have to” — and really go deep with this. Maybe you go to work because you need the money, because you want the recognition from your boss, but its mostly because you want the approval of your family. Who knows? Only you do, so think hard and find the reason that feels the most true.

Step Three

Now that you have the real motivation, think about what you let others think about why you are doing what you are doing. Using the example for going to work, if the real motivation is the paycheck, you may make your boss think that you love working for him or the company or it’s such a great opportunity to learn and grow and blah blah blah. If there is a disconnect between the reason in step two and this step, then you’re keeping a secret.

Step Four

Now that you have found a hidden disconnect — a secret — in your life, it won’t do to just sweep it under the rug. You’ve only just begun to clean up your motivations so to keep on going you have to be truthful to yourself. You can tell your boss that you love your job, but remember that you’re here for the paycheck. You can tell your friend that “No, that dress doesn’t make you look fat, but perhaps this dress will accentuate your body better”, but understand the reasons why you tell her that — because you value her friendship and companionship more than your opinions on her wardrobe choices.

Once you continue following the steps above as often as you can in your life, you will more easily live your truth and begin to attract people and interactions that bring out your pure motivations instead of people and situations that make you perpetuate a web of deception. In fact, this is the reason why therapy, whether it’s journaling or speaking with a professional doctor, is so helpful. By staying attuned to the real motivations in your own interactions,  you can quickly identify the motivations of others and their hidden agendas and intelligently make decisions to avoid involving yourself in situations that may compromise your truth. You’ll start to feel freer and lighter as you unravel the web of manipulation that tangled your brain and you’ll be able to use that boost of energy to focus on living your life the way you truly love surrounded with people who truly love you.

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