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Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience Audio CD – Abridged, Audiobook, CD
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About the Author
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a professor of human development and education at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, Talented Teenagers, The Evolving Self and Flow, on which this audio experience has captured the attention of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and corporations the world over. His research is being used by educators, business executives and cultural institutions because his findings have much to offer anyone interested in improving his understanding of how people can perform optimally in every area of life.
Rather than a mere abridgment, this program is a spontaneous but well-organized talk by the author on the core ideas of his excellent book. Nicely aided by helpful introductions and classical music, the author's lucid thinking and flowing conversation make his points fly. Flow happens when you are fully present and engaged in what you are doing and timelessly committed to the activity. Applied to any type of art or work, it creates an efficiency and clarity of purpose that feel great and can also be applied to everyday activities like brushing teeth or walking to the mailbox. It can transform your waking life into something intentional and empowering. Everyone should enjoy this listening and learning opportunity. T.W. © AudioFile 2002, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
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We're told that "psychic entropy" (or lack of control over conciseness, or simply random thoughts), is the thing that prevents happiness. Flow, on the other hand, is "optimal experience", the reverse of psychic entropy. Actually, this scale from psychic entropy to flow *is* the measure of happiness. Then, the book gives some conditions for achieving flow -- basically finding tasks that are challenging enough, but not too much, together with unambiguous and fast feedback (I found that part somewhat vague). And there's a lot of examples of flow experiences. Everything can become flow, if challenges are sought and overcome. Every chapter fits into a solid book structure.
But it's not clear the structure makes sense. Yes, being engaged in activity at proper challenge level can be very rewarding. Is it an answer for everything? Is unhappiness indeed the same as psychic entropy? Maybe if one cannot concentrate on anything at all, yes, but hardly in all cases. Is suppressing distressing thoughts by finding a random engaging experience the best approach? No matter what that experience is? True, the book does mention that some flow experiences are not necessary good, but then goes on giving a lot of examples of flow, regardless of their value. If I'm constantly bothered by a bunch of unresolved problems, would it be wise to go and find some flow experience, to suppress the thoughts about these problems? Maybe find flow in washing dishes? Even if I manage to get very very engaged in that, will I feel a slightest bit better afterwards?
The book was originally published in 1990, and it shows. I found no mention of Daniel Kahneman' concept of experiencing self and remembering self, which means that no matter how pleasurable flow might be in the moment, it is only one part of the story (see "Thinking, Fast and Slow"). There's no mention of Daniel Gilbert, who claims that people mostly stay at their baseline happiness level, and so expending great effort to become happier is probably a mistake (see "Stumbling on Happiness"). Instead, we find some favorable mentions of Mr. Freud, for the first time in all the books I read.
Flow is probably an important part of good life experience, and this book is important in giving examples of flow. But equating flow with happiness is very controversial, and too much of the book is based on that equality.
The book focuses on ways that we can encourage flow in our lives, and also talks about the perils of overreliance on a particular flow activity - ie., the chess prodigy who is not competent in social gatherings, or the artist who only enjoys their life when painting but not outside of that activity. It is about trying to see the potential for flow in our daily lives, using it and harnessing it to achieve worthwhile goals, and encouraging flow in a multitude of mundane and transcendental activities. This book made a lot of sense to me - it explained the sense of control as being perhaps more important than conventional notions of 'happiness' and that satisfaction depends on feeling that one has some control over their circumstances and actions. This is true even in the most controlled of circumstances, i.e., individuals who were political prisoners was given as one example.
I think the lessons and principles in this book were very useful and inspiring - it doesn't give a specific, step-by-step plan for making your life flow, but it does provide a useful background and guideline on ways to give life more meaning.