Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Flow

One of my favorite psychologists is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. For one thing, there’s that wonderfully unpronounceable and unspellable Hungarian name. More importantly, though, he pioneered research on the concept of flow.

Flow is the wonderful experience of becoming completely immersed in whatever you are doing. So much so that you temporarily lose your sense of self, and the rest of the world drops away. While you’re in flow, you essentially become what you are doing.

In order to achieve flow, you have to do something that you perceive to be challenging and that you believe you are skilled at. It might be achieved while playing a sport, repairing a car, painting a mural… or writing a story.

I don’t always achieve flow when I write. Some days I have to barehandedly wrest every goddamned word from bedrock and lay it bleeding on the page. Some days hitting my minimum word count goal–2000 words–is like wrestling alligators in a pit full of porcupines, and I’m certain that every word I do write sucks. But then there are the days when the words just, well, flow. The story enfolds gorgeously in my head, the pieces of the plot fall together, the characters shout their dialogue gladly, the metaphors leap right into my lap. On those days, I clack out paragraphs as fast as my poor typing skills permit. I write five, six thousand words. My record is over 7000 words in one evening.

I think reading a really good book can put us in the same mindset. When I was maybe 12, I sat on the little patio outside our house, deep in a book. I can’t remember what I was reading and I don’t know how long I sat there. But I do know that when I finished the book and rejoined the world, I realized that a spider had anchored her complex web between me and the edges of the chair. That’s how still and unaware I’d been.

What activities give you the flow experience?

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