BS&R 2: Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Diagram 1 – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Ted Talks (TED, 2004)

Hello readers and friends.. (30 – 60 minute read)

Once again, thank you for supporting me by reading the posts and through feedback. I’ve been in a slow depressive lull for the past few days. It’s a very unpleasant feeling.

To get back on my feet, I’ve actually been writing on another post. However, since that’s taking some time, I’ve found something suitable to post in the meantime. I previously did a book review as part of my assignment on a book that really blew my mind away. I enjoyed the book summary and review as much as I did reading it. I hope you readers will too. You may find a few familiar parts as I actually read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl sometime before doing my assignment.

Before we begin, I fully attest that I am the original author of the book summary and review. As such, the writing style is distinctively  different from my usual posts.Additionally, if you see (p.2) or something similar, this means page 2 from the book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”.. However, I read from an e-book, so the page number will be different from the real book itself.

However, I have made some minor edits to accommodate for this blog post. Thus, it will differ in some part from the original.

This post will be divided accordingly as follow:

1) Author’s Background
2) Book Content
a) Introduction
b) Concept of Flow and Optimal Experience
3) Reflection
a) Personal Reflection
b) Relation to Business

So without further adieu, let’s begin.. It’s quite a long read, so brace yourselves and enjoy the journey. You’ll see why this book is beloved all across the globe.

1) Author’s Background

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was born on 29 September 1934 in Fiume, Italy (now Rijeka, Croatia) and while growing up, he spoke Hungarian, Italian and German fluently (Cherry, 2015). His name is “pronounced as me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee” (Cherry, 2015). As of 2015, he is currently 80 years old.

In his biography, WWII not only significantly affected his early childhood and life, similar to his contemporaries, but to a huge extent, what he chose as his career and his later works in life (The Pursuit of Happiness, 2015).

Among the many events in his life, the early years of his life that were wrought with hardship and suffering were ironically, the very basis of what would later become his magnum opus. His early thoughts on “flow” and “optimal experience” had its beginning at some point during his childhood, when he was incarcerated in an Italian prison camp (Cherry, 2015).

During a time when many suffered from sorrow and despair due to imprisonment, war, and grief from losing friends and family, Csikszentmihalyi discovered the game of chess to cope with the desolate realities of war and loss. In an interview done by Sobel in 1995 concerning his incarceration, Csikszentmihalyi apparently told Sobel that he found chess as “a miraculous way of entering into a different world where all those things didn’t matter” and that “for hours” he would “focus within a reality that had clear rules and goals” (The Pursuit of Happiness, 2015). Thus, he learned “an excellent way to divert his attention away from what was happening around him, something he believes helped him fare better than many others” (Cherry, 2015).

After surviving the war, he traveled to Switzerland at the age of 16 and had the opportunity to listen to Carl Jung, the famed psychologist, speak on various topics (The Pursuit of Happiness, 2015). This experience significantly changed his outlook. In his own words, Mihaly had this to say:

“As a child in the war I’d seen something drastically wrong with how adults – the grown-ups I trusted – organized their thinking. I was trying to find a better system to order my life. Jung seemed to be trying to cope with some of the more positive aspects of human experience” (Cherry, 2015).

Hence, his time with Jung sparked his interest in psychology. Being a relatively new field of study, there were few options in Europe for further study and thus, he decided he wanted to travel to the United States to study psychology there (The Pursuit of Happiness, 2015). After studying books by Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, Csikszentmihalyi decided to immigrate to America at the age of 22 to further his studies at the University of Chicago, earning his B.A. and Ph.D in 1960 and 1965 respectively (Cherry, 2015). In 1969, he returned to teach at the University of Chicago as a professor where he continued to work until 2000 (Cherry, 2015).

Csikszentmihalyi is best known for his works on flow theory and optimal experience. He is credited as the father of positive psychology. His early researches into flow theory began in the early 1970s, where “Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play” was the outcome of his initial research forays and findings (Cherry, 2015). Besides drawing on his experiences on playing chess, his hobby as an artist originated his initial observations and subsequent research on artists and creative types, which later on, was published as a journal article called “Optimal Experience: Psychology studies of flow in consciousness” (Cherry, 2015).

Through these activities and his research, Csikszentmihalyi “noted that the act of creating seemed at times more important than the finished work itself and he was fascinated by what he called the “flow” state, in which the person is completely immersed in an activity with intense focus and creative engagement” (Pursuit of Happiness, 2015). Thus, his life’s vocation has been focused on “scientifically identifying the different elements involved in achieving such a state” (Pursuit of Happiness, 2015).

The apex of his life-long research was published as “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” in 1990 that drew wide public acclaim that soon had psychologists, businesses, athletes, educators and more learning to apply the concept. Since then, Csikszentmihalyi has prolifically published more than 120 articles and book chapters on myriad topics in psychology while his findings “on happiness and creativity have also played an important part of the growing interest positive psychology” (Cherry, 2015).

2) Book Content

This section will talk about the origins of the idea of flow as conceived by the author and how the concept works.

a) Introduction

Firstly, Csikszentmihalyi (1990) begins by explaining that, humanity has always been on a timeless search for happiness. Health, beauty, wealth, status, power and more have always been stepping stones for our reasons for happiness, even in today’s society. We pursue happiness even in defiance of external pressures that threaten to disrupt humanity’s survival and progress. Yet, despite how far humanity has progressed immensely relatively from its humble beginnings to our modern times where materialistic wealth, scientific knowledge, state-of-the-art technology, high living standards, democratic freedoms, universal suffrage and more have been achieved in general across the world, humanity’s quest for happiness remains not achieved. Paradoxically, we are not as happy as we want to be.

Moreover, we have not progressed much in our understanding of what happiness truly is and in what ways can we fully achieve it. Worse, instead of being relatively happier compared to our ancient forefathers, we suffer from anxiety and boredom, while succumbing to hedonistic and mindless activities that not only does nothing for our individual growth, but causes us to deteriorate in our overall well-being while wasting our time. Thus, few of us ever unlock our full potential to truly feel a sense of pure fulfillment and growth.

This ironic circumstance is what interested Csikszentmihalyi. He wonders in what situation does humanity truly feels happiness? Thus, using modern psychology, the author decided to pursue his research in answering this timeless question. His “first studies involved a few hundred “experts” — artists, athletes, musicians, chess masters, and surgeons—in other words, people who seemed to spend their time in precisely those activities they preferred” and later extending his studies to people from all walks of life (pg.4).

Through his findings, he discovers an astounding revelation. He explains that “to call it a “discovery” is perhaps misleading, for people have been aware of it since the dawn of time” (p.2). For example, one very similar idea he cites is the concept of “Yu”, explaining a similar state of mind similar to “floating” like flow and “Wu Wei” in Taoist philosophy, meaning non-action (p. 150). Nevertheless, he continues to research this elusive phenomenon as “it had not been described or theoretically explained by” the field of psychology or other academic studies (p.2). He notes happiness 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” and achieve “as close as any of us can come to being happy” (p.2).

Yet, the explanation given is enigmatic. Csikszentmihalyi explains “we cannot reach happiness by consciously searching for it” (p.2). He quotes Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist from “Man’s Search for Meaning” who said:

“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.” Viktor Frankl (p.2).

Thus, this idea, his own experience and research allowed him to conceptualize what is now known today as “flow” and optimal experiences.

b) The Concept of Flow and Optimal Experience

Secondly, from his studies and the personal testimonials of people mentioned prior, he devised a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow, whereby flow is defined as “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” (p. 4).

Studying thousands of individuals from all walks of life regardless of who they are, Csikszentmihalyi highlights that “it was reported in essentially the same words by old women from Korea, by adults in Thailand and India, by teenagers in Tokyo, by Navajo shepherds, by farmers in the Italian Alps, and by workers on the assembly line in Chicago” (p.4).

As such, flow experiences are shared by one and all. He then adds on that “everything we experience— joy or pain, interest or boredom—is represented in the mind as information. If we are able to control this information, we can decide what our lives will be like.” (p.6).

The origins of flow come from early civilizations. Each “culture develops with time protective devices – religions, philosophies, arts and comforts – that help shield us from the chaos” while helping us “believe that we are in control of what is happening and giving reasons for being satisfied” in our lives (pp. 6 – 7). In our time, such protective devices include materialism, a happening lifestyle, ambition, social norms, family, religion, traveling, culture and more.

He explains that culture is a shield against chaos. Whereby “each group of people became gradually aware of the enormity of its isolation in the cosmos and of the precariousness of its hold on survival, it developed myths and beliefs to transform the random, crushing forces of the universe into manageable, or at least understandable, patterns” (p.11). He gives examples like “the Eskimo, the hunter of the Amazon basin, the Chinese, the Navajo, the Australian Aborigine, the New Yorker — all have taken for granted that they live at the center of the universe” while perceiving “they have a special dispensation that puts them on the fast track to the future” (p.11). However, when disaster or calamity strikes, everything falls apart including these protective devices. He cites examples like “the Chinese were confident of their immutable superiority before the Mongol conquest, and the Aztecs before the arrival of the Spaniards” (p.11).

But as noted by Csikszentmihalyi, these shields eventually wear off and people lose sight and heart of what made these shields so important. He had this to say:

“As this realization slowly sets in, different people react to it differently. Some try to ignore it, and renew their efforts to acquire more of the things that were supposed to make life good—bigger cars and homes, more power on the job, a more glamorous life-style. They renew their efforts, determined still to achieve the satisfaction that up until then has eluded them. Sometimes this solution works, simply because one is so drawn into the competitive struggle that there is no time to realize that the goal has not come any nearer. But if a person does take the time out to reflect, the disillusionment returns: after each success it becomes clearer that money, power, status, and possessions do not, by themselves, necessarily add one iota to the quality of life” (p.13).

Religion, however, as noted by Csikszentmihalyi, seems to be a very strong protective device. The following were his comments:

“Traditionally, the problem of existence has been most directly confronted through religion, and an increasing number of the disillusioned are turning back to it, choosing either one of the standard creeds or a more esoteric Eastern variety. But religions are only temporarily successful attempts to cope with the lack of meaning in life; they are not permanent answers. At some moments in history, they have explained convincingly what was wrong with human existence and have given credible answers” (p.14).

He however criticizes the drawbacks of religion here:

“But today it is more difficult to accept their worldviews as definitive. The form in which religions have presented their truths—myths, revelations, holy texts—no longer compels belief in an era of scientific rationality, even though the substance of the truths may have remained unchanged” (p.14).

Consequently, societies have been plagued by social ills such as crime, mental illness, drug addiction etc. from their lack of ability to channel people’s frustrations and malaises. He then questions why despite humanity “having achieved previously undreamed-of-miracles of progress, we seem more helpless in facing life than our less privileged ancestors were?” and offers a decisive answer in that humanity has not improved the “content of the experience” (p. 15 – 16). Nevertheless, the author also says that “direct control of experience, the ability to derive moment-by-moment enjoyment from everything we do, can overcome the obstacles to fulfillment” (p.8). Thus, the ways in which we exert direct control is nevertheless vital even if some of the protective devices themselves have serious flaws.

Csikszentmihalyi explains, before ancient civilizations could channel “psychic energy” or mind energy into religion, philosophy, arts and more, people had to satisfy their physiological needs like hunger, thirst, shelter, security, sexual desire and more.

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to elaborate, once the more important stages are satisfied, people then progressed up the hierarchy to satisfy higher-order needs or wants. But once these initially important needs have been satisfied, the feeling of fulfillment soon dissipates and malaise sets in. This become a paradox where the more people have, the less satisfied or fulfilled they seem to be in general. These people then become even more frustrated and disillusioned.

However, Csikszentmihalyi intrigued by the exceptions, has this to say:

“These are people who, regardless of their material conditions, have been able to improve the quality of their lives, who are satisfied, and who have a way of making those around them also a bit more happy. Such individuals lead vigorous lives, are open to a variety of experiences, keep on learning until the day they die, and have strong ties and commitments to other people and to the environment in which they live. They enjoy whatever they do, even if tedious or difficult; they are hardly ever bored, and they can take in stride anything that comes their way. Perhaps their greatest strength is that they are in control of their lives.” (p.10).

He later explains on how consciousness can affect flow and why it is vital. He cites Eastern philosophies, examples like Taoism, Buddishm and Hinduism that have mastered to a degree what we call consciousness. He later explains some aspects of consciousness, even though he acknowledges that studies into consciousness have been very difficult and rudimentary at best due to its abstract nature. He also explains that chaos and psychic disorder or entropy are elements that degrade consciousness (p. 36). Anxiety, pain, rage, fear, sorrow and more are examples of psychic disorder. These can emerge from our everyday lives, whether actual external problems or internally in our minds.

However, the quote “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” is applicable here. In the same situations, different people can either feel apathy and de-motivated or feel very alive and thrive. Csikszentmihalyi cites the example of Julio and Rico (p. 36 – 39). Julio finds factory work boring, monotonous and unfulfilling, thus suffering from psychic entropy or anomie (p.95), the opposite of flow while Rico finds meaning and excitement in it, achieving optimal experience.

The situations or activities that have flow have many important elements that create flow. The elements include:

1) A Challenging Activity that Requires Skill
2) The Merging of Actions and Awareness
3) Clear Goals and Feedback
4) Concentration on The Task at Hand
5) The Paradox of Control
6) The Loss of Self-Consciousness
7) The Transformation of Time

The first four elements are clear to understand even without explanation from the author. The paradox of control refers to “possibilities, rather than the actuality, of control” as said by respondents (p. 60). The paradox is where, the more one wishes to exert control, the more one actually loses it. By concentrating on the enjoyment of say a chess game, performing a surgery, dancing, yoga and more, participants gain control by not wanting complete control. Rather, it is a sense of mastery of instinctively knowing where and what to do rather than controlling everything to be perfect, which is impossible. However, Csikszentmihalyi explains properly flow activities which can be dangerous, is designed to have its risks and dangers reduced, thus ensuring relative safety.

Meanwhile, the loss of self-consciousness refers to achieving a state of pure concentration that empowers people with serenity and focus. In this Zen-like state as one respondent explains, utter calmness is thoroughly felt like as though one is in the eye of a storm. Moreover, “the loss of the sense of a self separate from the world around it is sometimes accompanied by a feeling of union with the environment” (p. 63). Furthermore, “the absence of the self consciousness” does not imply that people in flow are unaware of what is happening to his or her body or mind, but rather “the optimal experience involves a very active role for the self” as seen here:

“A violinist must be extremely aware of every movement of her fingers, as well as of the sound entering her ears, and of the total form of the piece she is playing, both analytically, note by note, and holistically, in terms of its overall design. A good runner is usually aware of every relevant muscle in his body, of the rhythm of his breathing, as well as of the performance of his competitors within the overall strategy of the race. A chess player could not enjoy the game if he were unable to retrieve from his memory, at will, previous positions, past combinations” (p.64).

Clearly, for instance, if someone who does public speaking but concentrates on how people would perceive him or his competitors outwitting him, he will dwell in fear rather than flow, becoming self-conscious instead. A flow state is the opposite of this.

Finally, the transformation of time actually does not refer to criteria of flow but a condition of it. It means that time seems to flow differently for the recipient. For instance, “often hours seem to pass by in minutes: in general, most people report that time seems to pass much faster. But occasionally that reverse occurs. Ballet dancers describe how a difficult turn that takes less than a second in real time stretches out for what seems like minutes” (p.66). However, exceptions exist. For instance an open-heart surgeon who enjoys his vocation is “known for his ability to tell the exact time during an operation with only half a minute margin of error, without consulting a watch.” (p.66). Hence, time flows either very fast or very slow to the perception of participants in flow activities.

Diagram 2 – A graph visualizing flow theory (Erin, 2008; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 83)

Thus, this simple graph explains that the activity’s challenge and participant’s skill of must be approximately proportional or else suffer from anxiety due to being over-challenged or boredom from the activity being too easy.

Next, what are optimal experiences? Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s elucidation:

“The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else. These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.6)

It is also a unique state of mind. Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s explanation:

“We have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 3).

He continues, stating optimal experience is something we strive to achieve. It can be best summarized through this quote:

“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” (p. 3).

An example is the case of Pam Davis, the lawyer who is so passionate about her law studies till the point where she sometimes forgot to eat lunch or even the time (p. 40). Even in the case of the West-Coast rock climber where he says even though the pain is sometimes immense but he feels more alive than ever when he does rock climbing (p.40).

Of note, Csikszentmihalyi explains that regardless of one’s external circumstances such as being in a concentration camp, poverty, poor health, having survived a near-death experience or more, anyone can encounter optimal experiences to achieve flow. In fact, as he observed, these people “often recall that in the midst of their ordeal they experienced extraordinarily, rich epiphanies in response to such simple events as hearing the song of a bird in the forest, completing a hard task, or sharing a crust of bread with a friend” (p.3).

Flow and optimal experience then lead to autotelic experiences where “auto” meaning self, while “telic” meaning objective in Ancient Greece (p.67). An autotelic experience is a “self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward” (p.67); Simply put, “when the experience is autotelic, the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake” and “when it is not, the attention is focused on its consequences.” (p.67). For example, “teaching children in order to turn them into good citizens is not autotelic, whereas teaching them because one enjoys interacting with children is” (p.67). Autotelic experiences are transformational whereby “alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom, helplessness turns into a feeling of control, psychic energy works to reinforce the sense of self, instead of being lost in the service of external goals.” (p.69).

Nevertheless, Csikszentmihalyi warns about the addictive power of flow, whereby not every power is entirely positive and depends on how it is wield, for good or bad. “Love may lead to cruelty, science can create destruction, technology unchecked produces pollution.”(p.69). He equates optimal experience to energy similar to fire or atomic energy; fire can warm or burn, while atomic energy can generate electricity or destroy the world. For example, “the Marquis de Sade perfected the infliction of pain into a form of pleasure, and in fact, cruelty is a universal source of enjoyment for people who have developed more sophisticated skills” (p. 69). He also cites the infamous Adolf Eichmann and says this about him:

“A Nazi who calmly shipped tens of thousands to the gas chambers, was a man for whom the rules of bureaucracy were sacred. He probably experienced flow as he shuffled the intricate schedules of trains, making certain that the scarce rolling stock was available where needed, and that the bodies were transported at the least expense. He never seemed to question whether what he was asked to do was right or wrong. As long as he followed orders, his consciousness was in harmony” (p. 231)

Rows of bodies of dead inmates fill the yard of Lager Nordhausen, a Gestapo concentration camp – 12 April 1945 (, 2015)

Thus, even if a life-theme is virtuous in general but confined or imposed in a society such as what occurred in Nazi Germany, a normal activity that gives rise to flow can be dangerous. In fact, Csikszentmihalyi warns that due to its addictive nature, flow can sometimes render us unaware of the outside world or to even to halt our reflection on what is right or wrong. Therefore, it is up to us to consciously direct flow in our lives.

Thus, the gist of the book basically explains on a simple principle that can be applicable anywhere by anyone at anytime if only one can find enjoyment in life that promises growth, personal development, fulfillment and perhaps accomplishing the impossible quest of finding true happiness.

Finally, the rest of the book then explains details or expands on the idea of flow such as what activities have been known to facilitate flow such as yoga, martial arts, sports, music, food tasting, painting, reading novels, leisure activates, even sex etc. usually coming from Eastern cultures like India and China, (pp. 94 – 108); how it is structured to stimulate flow; the thought of flow applying to thinkers, philosophers, science and more (p. 117 – 141); work as flow including everyday work life for people (pp. 143 – 163); observations on how flow affects people in solitude, family life, social circles and the wider community or vice-versa (pp. 164 – 194); how people transform tragedy to opportunity, rejuvenation or renewal including those suffering deficiencies like blindness, paralysis, loss of limbs etc. or people who have suffered terrible loss, most notably the survivors or prisoners during WWII (pp. 192 – 213); the making of meaning through flow or how people derive meaning from flow activities (pp. 214 – 239); lastly, his annotations, explanations and research on the various topics (pp. 240 – 280)

3) Reflection

At the time, part of the assignment was to write a reflective entry of our thoughts on the book review of our choice while relating it to business. As of today, my opinion still stands. One of the best books for anyone to read, no matter who you are.

a) Personal Reflection

In my opinion, this is one of the best books I have EVER read in my lifetime. In fact, this book has taken the top spot in my mind (it was previously held by “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, which by coincidence, I did read the previous year before).

This book is phenomenal and so rich that I know that my book review can hardly do justice to the magnificence and beauty of the idea. It is truly brilliant. It reminds me greatly of self-actualization and fulfillment, concepts that I strive towards. I can dare say that I was in flow when I was typing out the book review. However, I’d like to also apologize for the very lengthy reflection and in hindsight, this book is difficult to relate especially on international business issues. However, this is one of the few times that I am not doing it for the sake of an assignment but from sheer enjoyment from reading the book to expressing my own delightful introspection towards my own discovery. Nevertheless, I have no regrets at my own book choice.

There were a few points in my life where once I realized it, I felt a sense of clarity, revelation or even ten light bulbs going off. This was one of them. I can greatly associate this book with my life. Some people call “flow” as the runner’s high or being in the zone especially in sports, games, doing something they love etc. I also greatly agree and even have consciously acknowledged some points posed by the author such as on the idea of happiness.

For example, my own personal experience informs me that it is futile to chase for happiness. It is not the destination but the journey that truly matters. However, the destination is important but not as important as the journey.

In my opinion, happiness though very much desired, is not a natural prolonged state of mind. The idea of homeostasis springs to mind whereby, the human body maintains its own natural physiological conditions, like the body’s temperate or water levels which have fixed levels. This is probably why happiness cannot be achieved perpetually from a physiological standpoint. It’s like taking our favourite ice-cream everyday till we become sick of it. Our dopamine receptors become overwhelmed with dopamine stimuli till they become numb. Thus, we require either more stimuli or more vibrant stimuli to achieve the same level of satisfaction.

Another idea called the paradox of hedonism strikes me whereby constantly seeking for pleasure may give less happiness long-term, when the act of consciously grasping at it disrupts the experience.

There was one moment in my life that I can remember, shortly after I had a bad spell in life, and I clawed my own way up. It seemed like the peak of everything that I set out to accomplish and then more. It brought so much meaning to my life and I was forever proud of it. But, sadly, I found it harder and harder to ever return to that moment. I have forgotten that it is indeed the journey and meaning that matters. This book is my own “rediscovery”.

It may surprise others, but in my heart of hearts, I honestly could not care less about grades. I love learning no matter where. I learn to learn. Although I acknowledge learning can happen in educational institutions but somehow, it never “clicked” with me. I know and understand that the education system has serious failings but to most people, it is just a means to an end. An education is a means to get a job, a better standard of living and rudimentary knowledge enough for what they need. Even a job doesn’t sound fulfilling to me or to others. When was the last time we heard someone vehemently being passionate about it till the point, it didn’t even seem like an obligation but a pleasure instead?

On the surface, jobs and grades seem good, but deep down, what meaning and fulfillment can most people truly derive from them in all honesty?

As for me, whether or not I’m heading in the right direction, I am sincerely undetermined. However, I quote Tolkien’s quote:

“Not all who wander are lost.”
~ J.R..R. Tolkien

I’d like to think I wander and explore in awe and wonder.

I also quote this certain quote in the book to get my point across:

“If a person feels coerced to read a certain book, to follow a given course because that is supposed to be the way to do it, learning will go against the grain. But if the decision is to take that same route because of an inner feeling of rightness, the learning will be relatively effortless and enjoyable” (p. 139).

As my last words, I see so many opportunities in the world using flow. Whether it’s in businesses, education, sports and so on, flow theory is a major force to be reckoned with.

b) Relation to Business

I think the topic most relatable to business that flow theory is applicable to is work as flow (chapter 7) and in motivation by creating meaning (chapter 10). However, I acknowledge that businesses have probably incorporated this idea into its organizational structure and culture a long time ago.

For work as flow, most of the time, activities at work do not stimulate flow. Rather, work can be chaotic at times. Even if some work activities are conditioned to stimulate flow, some people have already surpassed the level of skill or have gotten used to the challenge for that activity. Thus, businesses must not only create work tasks that are efficient and effective but must cater to creating stimulating work flow environments for people.

However, it’s acknowledged that not everyone can truly work as each person is different in nature. Perhaps businesses can reassign people who best enjoy what they do must, could they then maximize their employee’s natural talent, efforts and potential. Even Dr. Goh (a lecturer at my university) said that organizational culture is one neglected company asset. Utilizing flow theory to cultivate organizational culture and employee talent is crucial to a company’s success in the long-term, at least in my opinion. However, to incorporate flow activities that are not integral into work tasks can serve to distract employees from the more important tasks at hand, so it is not advisable.

Meanwhile, creating meaning for work to motivate employees can be tough. As I understand from Csikszentmihalyi, meaning for flow usually comes intrinsically from each individual person. Thus, it is possible that should businesses or managers attempt to give meaning to certain jobs or work tasks, it can fail miserably. It is like parents or teachers nagging kids to study hard at school to get good grades, rather but creating resentment instead. Nevertheless, having the ability to inspire employees towards contributing for a better cause can have a noticeable effect. For example, companies like Unilever and Coca-Cola, do make a difference in societies by giving back to them through CSR or public events, or through their products like in Unilever’s many subsidiary companies. I suspect they truly inspire their employees and this creates meaning for them to do what they do best, thus creating flow activities. For instance, Coca-Cola has amazing advertisements that only indirectly advertise their products, it sends the message that the company stands above profits, but to bring people together for a better world through happiness.

As a conclusion, I leave here one of the most meaningful quotes I shall ever remember, straight from the author himself to end my reflection.

Peak Climbing in Nepal (Trip Himalaya Treks and Expedition, 2015)

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p. 3)

Note 1:

Thus far, flow has found applications by psychologists researching “happiness, life satisfaction, and intrinsic motivation; by sociologists who discern its opposite nature in relation to “anomie and alienation; by anthropologists studying “the phenomena of collective effervescence and rituals”, even extending them to the evolution of humanity and religious experiences.

Even more remarkable is that, within a decade of publishing the initial journal articles on flow, many practical applications have been done. For instance, flow “has inspired the creation of experimental school curricula, the training of business executives, the design of leisure products and services” while contributing to “clinical psychotherapy, the rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents, the organization of activities in old people’s homes, the design of museum exhibits, and occupational theory with the handicapped” (p.5). Clearly, flow theory is a force to be reckoned with.

Note 2:

I swear I read about “Wu Wei” somewhere in the book but it wasn’t there yet it is so relevant to the topic. I added it in anywhere. Having Chinese origins from Taoism, it means non-action or non-doing but actually refers to doing something but it actually feels like doing nothing. That can explain the flow state very well.



Cherry, K. (2015) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Biography [online] About Education. Available at: [Accessed 12 September 2015]

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. United States of America : HarperCollins Publishers.

Murphy, E. (2008) The Psychology of Immersive Learning Simulations (Part 4) : Flow Theory [online] Wharton, University of Pennsylvania. Available at: [Accessed 13 September 2015]

TED (2004) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 September 2015]

The Pursuit of Happiness (2015) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 September 2015]

Trip Himalaya Treks and Expedition (2015) Nepal Peak Climbing [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 September 2015] (2015) Rows of bodies of dead inmates fill the yard of Lager Nordhausen, a Gestapo concentration camp [online] Available at:,_a_Gestapo_concentration_camp.jpg [Accessed 13 September 2015]


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