Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Grokking Csíkszentmihályi's flow.

Just before Christmas I said
At the moment, what I love best about Ultimate is that it can occupy my whole being; a lot of the time that I am on the field I am not multi-tasking at all, I am not even directing my thinking. My self is wholly present in the moment, senses and understandings united; intuiting and acting in a dynamic and embodied way. To be so concentrated is utterly luxurious, mystical and animal, it is how I am when I am pushing a baby out, when I orgasm, and the more of the game I can do it for the better I play.
I didn't have a word for that state then but reading a draft of my friend Nikolien van Wijk's forthcoming book Getting Started With Schemas I read that Csíkszentmihályi's flow, a combination of intense concentration and deep enjoyment, is a symptom that a child is engaged upon their schemas.

Wikipedia says

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following as accompanying an experience of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities).
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging (Csíkszentmihályi, 1975. p.72).

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.

I think Csíkszentmihályi's flow is my favourite thing about my favourite things.

I love watching the disc fly; a predator's wordless understanding of physics and aerodynamics bringing me to exactly the right spot to snatch it out of the air.

I love to paint, to draw, to give a blank page a resemblance. My focus is wholly within the moment of the mark-making. The changing shape of the lines or texture of the paint, the speed at which I move my hands, my being is in these things.

I love to converse, to let the ideas wander, to listen and make connections, to be oblivious to what people might think of me and to concentrate wholly on what they think. Suddenly an hour's gone by, or maybe a night. I also love to write; in order to express myself with clarity, power, or a frivolous enjoyment of the pitter patter of little words passing, I let myself melt into my sentences.

Flow feels very good, and seeking it out is incredibly motivating.

Flow feels like a brain state. I wonder what we know about brain chemistry during learning, reading, problem solving, art, sport, drama, music, dance, trance, religious ecstasy, addiction, computer games, sex, eating, peeing, and breast-feeding.

Flow feels really really good but one can get flow by doing bad things. I remember flow as a child; calmly and unkindly goading my little sister, enjoying the challenge of staying only just inside her temper's limit so she didn't actually break into violence but talking rings around her 19 months and 23 days less sophisticated positions, and being willing to pay the price of her wrath when I wasn't competent enough to talk her back down again.

I'm sure downers are psychologically addictive by way of flow. Downers (e.g. alcohol, marijuana, lack of sleep) cut the number of neural connections made per second, this makes everything harder to do except narrowing of focus. Downers make it easier to focus (one isn't having so many thoughts at once) and change the balance of competence and challenge so that things usually done with ease become candidates for flow (ever see a stoned person butter a piece of bread).

I wonder whether uppers are also psychologically addictive by way of flow. Uppers (e.g. caffiene, nicotine, hot spices) make the brain make more neural connections per second, it's harder to focus but possible and then a torrent of thinking is pouring around the course set for it.

Certainly the high I've got from computer games is flow. That balance of competence and challenge, that single focus to the point of noticing that it's getting light again outside, that my hands are really cold and that in order to get to the toilet I have to walk bent over around my poor bladder, that's flow. Other people have even studied this idea already, but most of the papers I found about flow's role in cyber addiction by googling addiction and flow experience are not easily available for reading.

Even parts of the flow experience are quite hard to let go of once one is experiencing them. The focus of trying to grab a hair with tweezers, the un-self-consciousness of reading dull books and zoning out in front of the T.V. and of course, that favourite feeling of we parents: control.

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Blogger RUTH said...

I've been thinking lately that the reason I liked exams is flow. There is a special sense of clarity of mind I get in exams which I think is flow-related.

12:44 PM  

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