Saturday, 26 November 2011

Just go with it

Have you ever found yourself so engrossed in an activity that you haven’t realized how much time has passed? You are so completely immersed in what you are experiencing – be it a conversation, creating artwork, a complicated business transaction, or reading a really good book – that you experience the energized focus of flow.

Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the founder of flow theory and has written a number of books on the subject. His 1998 book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life is an interesting exploration of his theory applied to work, leisure and relationships.

Csikszentmihalyi argues that “we haven’t learned how to spend our free time in a meaningful way” and that we need to use our leisure time effectively. Flow is present when we engage in a hobby or sport (active leisure) but not when we watch TV (passive leisure). Passive leisure is problematic when it takes up all of our free time. He writs “to make the best use of free time, one needs to devote as much ingenuity and attention to it as one would to one’s job.”

While Csikszentmihalyi’s book is interesting, I did not experience flow while reading it. I picked it up and put it down over many weeks. I had expected the book to provide practical advice to readers about how to “reclaim ownership of our lives”, but I found that it was more an explanation of flow than of how to increase the flow in our lives. Ultimately, the message I got was watch less TV and take up a meaningful hobby.

For those interested in learning more, Csikszentmihalyi gave a talk at TED which is available online.