On our bookshelf: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

“Of all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Good morning, readers! Have you heard about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience? It’s a book about happiness, optimal experience, connection, personal meaning, and life satisfaction. Here at FLOAT STL, we feel excited and committed to living these values in ourselves, our relationships, and our work life. Flow is a wonderful book and we recommend it! If you are at all curious to learn more, please read on.

Csikszentmihalyi, author, and researcher of Flow, lived in Europe during the second world war. During this time, he became aware of what seemed to be two opposing ways humans relate to their world. On the one hand, he witnessed those people who, when they experience trauma and loss, are able to tap into an internally derived sense of meaning, connection, and joy. On the other hand, he witnessed those people who, when they experience trauma and loss, feel consumed by feelings of helplessness and disconnection. While he does not seem to morally judge the second group (thank you very much), he became curious about the first group. He wondered, since it is clearly possible for people to resource inner harmony during intensely difficult times, is it also possible for any person (regardless of his/her life situation) to learn this skill?

He does answer this question. But, FIRST! Before we tell you the answer to his research question, let’s extrapolate this internal harmony, which, by the way, he eventually names: Flow. What does Flow feel like?

Flow is a psychological state of mind in which the person experiences complete presence. It’s a state where you are focused, concentrated, and where you feel a sense of effortless confidence and control over your task. It’s a state where time flies by, where your urges to distract and your inner-critic are simply absent, and where you are not concerned about external rewards because the feel-good-feeling of flow is intrinsically motivating. Basically, it feels amazing.

So, drumroll…

According to Csikszentmihalyi’s research: Yes! We can all follow certain steps to cultivate this skill! Or, in his own words, “we can all learn this act of living under our own control rather than being pulled by the strings of fortune and fate, and that’s what I call flow.”

So, flow feels amazing and we can learn to do it more often, which begs the question: How?

According to Csikszentmihalyi’s research, people experience flow when they engage in a task that includes these qualities:

  1. You have a clear goal.
  2. You can measure your progress because your task gives you feedback.
  3. Your task offers a balance between challenge and skill. It must be easy enough that it’s not too anxiety-producing and hard enough that it’s not boring.

And, when these qualities are met, you can begin to flow, which, again, looks like:

  1. Your awareness and action become one.
  2. Distractions are excluded from your consciousness
  3. Your fear of failure tapers away
  4. Your self-consciousness disappears
  5. Time is distorted
  6. Your experience becomes intrinsically rewarding.

This sounds appealing, right? We think so too.

For the most part, flow is researched in areas of doing and productivity. A takeaway from this book is that flow doesn’t discriminate between career, vocation, hobby, conversation, or chore. Just by making sure your activity or task involves steps 1, 2 and 3, you can learn to resource it during virtually any activity.

The more we read about flow, the more it becomes clear that flow happens outside of doing. It sounds a lot like what sometimes happens during a meditation or float. We suppose you can think about engaging in meditation, mindfulness, or floating as “having the goal of not-doing,” which is technically a “doing.” But, it’s not quite the same as that ongoing to-do list, etc. Right? Since we live in a culture of excessive busy-ness, the fact that we can resource flow in an area outside of busy doing-doing-doing is such a relief. One…big…giant…relief.

To you, readers who have floated before, doesn’t the description of flow sounds a lot like a good float? Yes! We think so too. We encourage you to approach your float tank with the knowing that it is an environment where you will eventually experience flow, and where your body can learn what flow feels like from the inside out. We’ve learned that the more you can experience this state, the more your body will remember it, and the more you can use your mind to tap into it when you find yourself in challenging life circumstances. As Csikszentmihalyi suggests in his book, resourcing inner harmony is a skill. The more you practice it, the more it can feel like a fun game.

We certainly hope you have fun with it!

If you haven’t ever heard of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s or his inspiring work, check him out:



And, here.

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