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2 January, 2008

In my ongoing search for meaning, I find that Csíkszentmihályi has some fascinating things to say, based upon his concept of flow.

“When a person’s entire being is stretched in the full functioning of body and mind, whatever one does becomes worth doing for its own sake; living becomes its own justification. In the harmonious focusing of physical and psychic energy, life finally comes into its own. It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life. When we are in flow, we are not happy, because to experience happiness we must focus on our inner states, and that would take away attention from the task at hand. Because almost any activity can produce flow provided the relevant elements are present, it is possible to improve the quality of life by making sure that clear goals, immediate feedback, skills balanced to action opportunities, and the remaining conditions of flow are as much as possible a constant part of everyday life.


“If one fails to develop goals that give meaning to one’s existence, if one does not use the mind to its fullest, then good feelings fulfill just a fraction of the potential we possess. A person who achieves contentment by withdrawing from the world to “cultivate his own garden,” like Voltaire’s Candide, cannot be said to lead an excellent life.

Maybe this is where I’ve been going wrong, since:

“Without a consistent set of goals, it is difficult to develop a coherent self. It is through the patterned investment of psychic energy provided by goals that one creates order in experience. Negative emotions like sadness, fear, anxiety, or boredom produce “psychic entropy” in the mind, that is, a state in which we cannot use attention effectively to deal with external tasks, because we need it to restore an inner subjective order.

Positive emotions like happiness, strength, or alertness are states of “psychic negentropy” because we don’t need attention to ruminate and feel sorry for ourselves, and psychic energy can flow freely into whatever thought or task we choose to invest it in.

When we choose to invest attention in a given task, we say that we have formed an intention, or set a goal for ourselves. How long and how intensely we stick by our goals is a function of motivation.

Therefore intentions, goals, and motivations arc also manifestations of psychic negentropy. They focus psychic energy, establish priorities, and thus create order in consciousness. Without them mental processes become random, and feelings tend to deteriorate rapidly. Intentions focus psychic energy in the short run, whereas goals tend to be more long-term, and eventually it is the goals that we pursue that will shape and determine the kind of self that we are to become. This order, which manifests itself in predictable actions, emotions, and choices, in time becomes recognizable as a more or less unique “self.”

…The best solution might be to understand the roots of one’s motivation, and while recognizing the biases involved in one’s desires, in all humbleness to choose goals that will provide order in one’s consciousness without causing too much disorder in the social or material environment. To try for less than this is to forfeit the chance of developing your potential, and to try for much more is to set yourself up for defeat. If challenges are too high one gets frustrated, then worried, and eventually anxious. If challenges are too low relative to one’s skills one gets relaxed, then bored. If both challenges and skills are perceived to be low, one gets to feel apathetic. But when high challenges are matched with high skills, then the deep involvement that sets flow apart from ordinary life is likely to occur. There is no space in consciousness for distracting thoughts, irrelevant feelings. Self-consciousness disappears, yet one feels stronger than usual. The sense of time is distorted: hours seem to pass by in minutes.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 January, 2008 12:09 pm
    Do you know of Kano? His unique description of us gets a mention in my “portrait” post. Like Maslow, Kano looks at us in terms of needs.

  2. 6 January, 2008 10:02 pm

    Thanks, Epiphanist.
    I hadn’t come across Kano before.


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