I understood flow before reading the article by Csikszentmihalyi, but did not think of it as a shared experience in the way that is explained. It is something I have experienced naturally and within a project. Today I spent 6 hours working on a homepage mockup for my companies website. I stopped once to get coffee and use the bathroom. While working I was listening to music and was not really aware of the span of time that passed me by. This was definitely a flow moment. What I learned about flow through the article this past weekend was that it is apart from happiness. I assumed that they had to be interconnected and that flow was only a branch of happiness. Per Csikszentmihalyi, that’s not the case. It is a concept that is very specific and very broad at the same time. I have experienced flow when playing games, reading a book (quite often!), painting, working in a darkroom, driving, and most certainly while designing.
My understanding of flow in my life is when I am able to focus. What could potentially be flow in my daily life is often interrupted, whether by an outside source or by myself. I am most likely to experience flow when I am prompted into something. If I plan to spend the day out photographing a place or thing, I can easily find myself in the flow of the process. Even though the phenomenon is more abstract, I think it is best aided by objectivity of some sense.
I am someone who enjoys what I do, even if I do not always love my job of doing it. I find my flow much more often when I take on projects that give me more responsibility than when I am only producing. I think it is because I am having to be creative and lead and it keeps some part of my creative mind from getting bored. It is like the Buddhist advice regarding uniqueness. I also find it easier to attain the sense of flow if I have white noise of some kind. When I am working out, I am able to go for much longer and don’t focus on the time if I am also listening to music. The same happens when I am at my desk designing. The silence, though helpful in some ways, is not entirely helpful for me.
What I like about the Flow article most is its application of flow to solve stress. By keeping ourselves aligned with our realistic goals, we can work with a sense of direction and some of the “holy smokes I have too much to do” goes away, at least so we can knock some of the work out of the way. I have to get into this type of thought when I am overloaded with things to do and feel pressed for time. Two weekends ago when I had a lot of school work as well as freelance, I had to split my tasks into parts of the day. By looking at them as individual tasks to accomplish through flow, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the large amount of time total I would need to spend in that state. The start and stop for shorter projects kept me from feeling too panicked.
The obstacles of life are best met with creative and meaningful intent and the idea of finding flow to do so is appealing. It is no surprise that this was initially published in Psychology Today. It is really a “redesign” of our human experience, which is something I can appreciate in a world that does not cater to the luxury of flow very often unless we make it for ourselves.