flow | The Psychology Of Optimal Experience | Book Review

Mihaly Csikszentmihali’s (MEE-hy CHEEK- sent-mə-HY-ee) classical work offers a deeper dive for us to explore our individual goal setting, Energize2Lead profiles, and ultimately sense of purpose (Leader’s Compass). flow is not a casual read, offering numerous philosophical & psychological references and occasional sociopolitical commentary. Mihaly’s deeper explorations into such are beyond the scope of this review, and left to the individual reader for personal examination.

Flow Conditions and Goal Setting

Chapter four sets up the definition and conditions of flow, which may remind us of our (Leadership Excellence Course) High Jump analogy.

For example, as our skills grow (A1 -> A2,), we become bored, similar to performing the high jump the same way with very limited performance improvement. An increased challenge (A1 -> A3) first leads to anxiety, then return to the flow condition (A3 -> A4), but at an elevated flow level, commensurate with a “breakthrough” in high jump performance when technique is changed. After each flow experience, we are operating at a higher performance level with more complexity involved.

Happiness and the Autotelic Experience

On page 16, Csikszentmihali states:

“We grow up believing that what counts most
 in our lives is that which will occur in the future.”

setting up Chapter 3, Enjoyment and the Quality of Life, by far the most powerful portion of the book. More expansive than Dan Pink’s observations of motivational elements (autonomy, mastery and purpose), Mihaly’s studies indicate, regardless of culture, social class, age, gender, or stage of modernization (page 48), enjoyment consists of:

1.            A Challenging Activity That Requires Skills
2.            The Merging of Action and Awareness
3.            Clear Goals
4.            Feedback
5.            Concentration on the Task at Hand
6.            The Paradox of Control
7.            The Loss of Self-Consciousness
8.            The Transformation of Time

Altogether, these flow conditions lead to the Autotelic Experience, or a richly rewarding life in the present, perhaps similar to Maslow’s Self-Actualization.

E2L and Leader’s Compass

On page 208, Mihaly summarizes the autotelic self, which may be perceived as a person who has been living within their Leader’s Compass, and who knows themself well. Csikszentmihali uses the term psychic energy (page 6 and onward), which is very similar to self-understanding of our expectations and instinctive E2L dimensional needs.

Or, put another way, once we know ourselves and document our Personal Leadership Philosophy, we are prepared for a lifetime of flow experiences.

JE | November 2014