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Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi · 13 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
THE BESTSELLING CLASSIC ON 'FLOW' – THE KEY TO UNLOCKING MEANING, CREATIVITY, PEAK PERFORMANCE, AND TRUE HAPPINESS Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous investigations of "optimal experience" have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. In this new edition of his groundbreaking classic work, Csikszentmihalyi ("the leading researcher into ‘flow states’" —Newsweek) demonstrates the ways this positive state can be controlled, not just left to chance. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness, unlock our potential, and greatly improve the quality of our lives. "Explores a happy state of mind called flow, the feeling of complete engagement in a creative or playful activity." — Time
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This isn't an attempt at complete answer to your question, and I'm not an expert, a teacher, or anything besides a human who has dabbled with meditation and read a lot about Buddhism (and derived more-or-less secular frameworks such as mindfulness), depression, anxiety, neuroscience, spirituality, etc. over the last 15-20 years.

I'm speaking to two of your points, I think:

1) "isn't our whole life a sequence of meditations? Because we always focus on something"

2) "aren’t we doing [sit peacefully and observe your thoughts] anyway on a regular basis without introducing a word for it?"

In my direct personal experience, sitting in awareness, noticing thoughts and sensations, etc. is simply a materially different experience from... the rest of my time when I'm not doing that. It's materially different from when I'm focusing on an activity like coding (perhaps in a deep state of focus or "flow" [0]) or just habitually/pathologically scrolling through HN.

Did you ever get fully engrossed in a coding session and "lose time"? And eventually you "came around" or "landed" and realized you were "back" and 2 hours had gone by in deep focus? Did you ever realize that you'd been ruminating about some stupid thing for ages? E.g. repeatedly going over a difficult interaction from earlier in the day, or thinking about a difficult interaction that's coming up tomorrow and imagining how it might go? Did you ever snap out of that?

That feeling of "huh... I'm back - here I am." - that's what I am recruiting when I deliberately practice mindfulness. And then I get distracted... and when I notice, I bring my attention back... repeat.

To the second point of yours I quoted, i.e. are we doing this "anyway" on a regular basis? Maybe you are. For me, regular moment-to-moment thinking is generally not the same as mindfulness. I'm thinking, but I'm basically lost in the thoughts. I'm not observing them, I'm just thinking them - or they're thinking me. (And not just thoughts - this all applies equally well to emotional, interoceptive, and sensory experience.) Mindfully observing my experience is materially different, although I do get flashes of it throughout the day without reaching for it deliberately. Whether that's something I had before I started sporadic practice and just didn't have words for, or something the practice has unlocked for me, I can't say, because I can't faithfully recall what my moment-to-moment experience was like that long ago.

Maybe you're experiencing mindfulness frequently throughout your daily life, so you don't notice anything different when you set out to practice it deliberately. Maybe when you practice it you are getting lost in thought and not noticing. We'll never know, given the subjectivity of the experience and our limited tools for communicating about it, but I enjoyed the attempt :)


I recommend that you read about flow then.

The original idea of flow(in the zone) comes from this book and author, but is obsolete now:

I recommend this book and audiobook about gammification to understand flow better.

Whatever breaks the game in your work, stops the flow. For example, instant feedback is very hard to get creating software unless you design for it(like using REPLs and reusing almost everything).

Other things that the book mentions break your game too(not having clear rules, being alone)...

Another important thing is thinking too much rationally. The logical mind is so slow getting results that you break the instant feedback.

Also working too much in low level has way slower feedback than working with higher level languages. I metaprogram lower level languages for this reason, I am orders of magnitude faster.

>The zone isn't about stress per se.

Sorry, I was not eloquent enough. when I talk about stress I am referring to stress in general: Mental, emotional, or physical stress.

That is, if you are doing something difficult mentally, you stress your brain.

For every stress you need time to recover.

You can do 10 hours without recovering if the stress is low. If the stress is high, you will only be able to do 4 hours.

It is very easy to understand, you can walk for 8 hours, but you can not run for 10 hours. A marathon is about 4 hours or less.

What I am telling you is that if you run for 4 hours hard mentally and do not recover, you will not be able to work another 4 hours of hard work, unless you rest.

Nothing will do, no technique will do unless you rest.

Of course you need to do right lots of other things too. But don't say it is impossible just because you can not do it.

Read Turns out it's actually mostly about finding meaning in life.
I started reading this today and I think it was a very good recommendation. Thank you!
I expect to see many negative comments here, but I'll add that one of the most profound books I've read is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( In it, he observes that it's also possible to create positive flow-like states even in tedious jobs; it's also helpful to try and re-conceptualize even mundane jobs as being part of and important to a greater whole.

I don't think he'd argue that doing such things is always possible, all the time, but I think he might argue that we should try to move in those directions, even when our lives and feelings sometimes feel like something out of Dilbert or Houellebecq's Whatever.

What does he work for then?

IF he really gave a damn about people he should e.g. make sure working conditions improve at their plants.

This is some pretty odd advice. Basically it amounts to "stop doing things that you enjoy". Drop music, news, and video games? Not listening to music will not make you a better programmer. I agree about sugar in moderation and getting good rest (though the specific times seem debatable).

#2 is a serious misunderstanding of flow[0] and is against research arguing that flow states facilitate learning[1].

Flow is not easy-peasy non-frustration time, it is getting "fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity." To deny yourself that is blocking yourself from the most productive and rewarding of human experiences.

One of the fundamental ideas of flow is that when the task is challenging enough to break one out of the state, additional skills are learned to return to the flow state.[2]

In my opinion, to achieve your maximum potential as a programmer, you should be striving to hit a flow state as much as possible.






High Output Management

The Master Switch

Thinking Fast and Slow

Upvote for The Master Switch. It's one of the few books that manages to brilliantly cover a large territory within a small number of pages (<300).
Some of my best ideas have come to me after hours of twaddling away with no particular goal in mind in SimCity.

We as devs tend to seek optimal solutions as if they were a simple numeric quantity, where more/higher=better. We know this is not how things are, but the mental model is seductive in in its simplicity.

What I have learned over the years is that it is the constant change between different forms of attention and focus that drive me to be my best. Which means time, real time, away from what I do for work. And when I return to work after doing so, I appreciate it all the more.

You might be interested in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book, Flow, if you have not yet read it. Although it has nothing to do with game playing per se, it helped clarify many aspects of my thinking when it came to why I felt I was 'wasting' time while gaming, and why I was wrong in that assessment.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

It really has opened my eyes about how to deal with having a negative attitude and understanding the driving forces behind being in the "flow"

I would suggest Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [1]

I have not read the book yet but it is on my reading list. I'm currently going through "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" [2] by the same author and it is illuminating to see the author examine a simple process such as enjoying a walk and reveal the intricate interplay of our consciousness, attention and self.



If you really want to know what it takes to live a happy life, read the book Flow [1] by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It's the best book I've ever read on happiness and reading it has positively changed my life like nothing else.


I love this book and it likewise had a great effect on my life. That said, it's mostly affected me in career choices. It doesn't have much to say about relationships.
Actually, it has a lot to say about relationships. If you are unhappy about yourself, you'll have a tough time being happy with someone else. Therefore, it is very important to work on yourself first, on your own issues, to improve your own confidence and self-respect. Only then can you expect to be happy around other people.
May 01, 2011 · hucker on Enjoying the moment
This reads like taken right out of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a book that has had tremendous effects on my day to day life. Actually trying to enjoy the stuff we do everyday, however menial it may be, makes us happy. This simple yet extremely effective idea has changed my entire view of the world to be honest. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
Thanks hucker, that book has gone straight into my list. Very keen to read it, as even though I wrote the post and am convinced of the concept, I feel I've only touched the surface with this kind of thinking.
I feel like I'm being dragged through this tedious system which will later prepare me for work at a company coding Blub, it's driving me nuts.

To some extent, this is true and will continue to be true. But, as others have no doubt pointed out and will continue to point out, you'll learn more from school than just coding Blub (or lisp, or haskell, or whatever); you'll be learning how to learn, how to get along with others, how to live on your own, and so forth.

The big advantage you'll have at UW is that you'll be hanging around a lot of very smart people, especially in the CS department (I assume you're from Washington; I actually went to Newport HS in Bellevue). The connections you make, whether from demonstrating your skill or just from hanging out, will probably serve you for the rest of your life. If you impress your professors, you'll find research/internship opportunities you wouldn't elsewhere. And don't underestimate the larger social aspect: you'll never be around so many people in your own stage of life again. So go to the occasional party, hook up here and there, and learn how to be a person too, which is more important than you might imagine.

You should at least start college, although it'll be easy to get lost at UW. Still, this advice: seems good to me; if this is you, don't go. But the weight should be on going; if you really hate it, you can quit. But try to find challenging classes while not underestimating the social potential. And don't get side-tracked by run-of-the-mill jobs; the only way you should drop out is for a game-changing startup opportunity.

You're probably reading variations on a lot of the advice above because it's pretty good advice. It won't apply to everyone, but it will apply to most—especially people as driven as you. A few more observations: read my post about why laptops in class are often a distraction: and, as soon as you can, get a copy of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience : as soon as you can. There's another thing you'll find in college: books that are essential but that you don't currently know to read because you don't have people around you who are sufficiently knowledgeable to recommend them.

Anyway, if you have other, specific questions for me, send an e-mail to the link at , which is my blog, especially if you by chance are going to Newport.

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