Have you ever had an experience where you read or listened to an idea or concept that just seemed to make absolute sense to you? Like you’ve always been aware of the concept, you’ve always accepted its truth, but you’ve never really had anyone articulate it, until now.
That is exactly how I felt when I read Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (former Chair of the Psychology department at the University of Chicago). The book, relying on significant empirical research conducted over the course of decades, describes the conditions that are present in an “optimal experience” setting, or in other words, the contributing factors that are present when a human being is at their most fulfilled state.
The conclusion was not revolutionary for me, quite the opposite. In fact, it was an “of course, I always knew that, I’ve already experienced that” kind of moment for me. The conclusion from the book was that “optimal experience” is not the result of wealth, significance, or any other form of status (although these may be byproducts of the actions leading to optimal experience), rather “optimal experience” is when an individual experiences a state of “flow”. That is, a state of completely focused motivation, or single-minded immersion, where their mind and body are stretched to their absolute limits in a voluntary effort to achieve a difficult and worthwhile goal.
The times in my life that have been most rewarding (intrinsically) have been the moments when I was in “Flow”. My mind and body were completely dedicated to a clearly defined goal. I was immersed in the activity and time seemed to fly (or completely stand still) while in the immersion. I have experienced Flow in various contexts in my life, both athletically, academically, in business, and in relationships. Honestly, they were the best times in my life, and looking back it had nothing to do with the actual “achievement” of a goal. The fact that I actually achieved the goal (or didn’t for that matter) didn’t matter because I felt so good about the “process” (of which I spent a significant time in a “Flow” like state).
With 2012 around the corner, and my eyes on reaffirming my short and long-term goals, I want to make sure that I fully incorporate the concept of “Flow”. That is, I realize that it isn’t just the attainment that makes a goal so desirable, rather it is the process. So it is important for me not just to set and strive for goals that are meaningful to me, but also to set up the game to win, that is, ensure that my path to attainment also leads to optimal experience. I believe that this is what makes the difference in one’s life.
Read the book, it is fantastic.