Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1991), Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi

Flow studies how we experience the feeling of enjoyment in order to live a happy, fulfilling life. This is achieved when we immerse ourselves in a state of sublimation that the author calls “flow,” a state of mind in which the individual is suited to challenges. There, we temporarily lose our sense of self and our sense of time, taking complete control. By using a system of goal setting and instant feedback, we can achieve a state of flow to create alignment with work, increase self-worth, and find meaning in life. Gently combining science and philosophy, Csikszentmihalyi has created an excellent work to help each individual better understand the "flow" in their being.

This book is suitable for

  • Those who want to find coherence at work;
  • Those who want to understand and improve their ability to concentrate;
  • Those who are interested in using their skills and talents effectively, using their passion.

"Father" of Flow Theory

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is currently a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in California and former chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He has been described as a global leader in research on positive psychology, creativity and motivation. Bill Clinton - the 42nd President of the United States has praised Csikszentmihalyi as his favorite author.

What does this book have for me? To discover the meaning of life, go  with the flow.

Why do some people enjoy a happy, creative life while others are mired in mediocrity?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave the answer through  Flow Theory.

Derived from psychological science , flow theory  shows that in a life where anxiety and distraction are increasing, we will pay too much attention to achievement, prejudice (for example, constantly comparing ourselves. close to people of the same age). As an emergency remedy, the book offers tricks to help us get into the essence of results so that we can fully capture our attention, moving us toward a state of flow. There, we no longer care about external results such as power or wealth or care about prejudices in the slightest.

Drawn from the results of many years of research, the book provides principles with illustrations of people who have applied that principle to transform life from boring, meaningless to happy and happy. happiness. Exploited from ancient knowledge, modern philosophy and psychology, the examples are carefully selected by the author so that readers can easily grasp, feel the most practical and closest.

Through this book you will:

  • Exposure to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's novel vision of happiness;
  • Know how to select and process information as it enters our consciousness;
  • Get great tips for being productive, living a fulfilling life.

For example, when you read this book, you will discover that many scientists have done the most groundbreaking works in their spare time, or that being mindful of your surroundings also helps you listen to music. in a more profound way.

You are dissatisfied with work or feel bored, not very happy at home. If so, this summary will somewhat pull you out of the rut to make the most of your time on the planet.

Chapter 1: The path to finding happiness

Happiness is not found through searching – “the more you aim, the more you will miss it”, is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says. It has to happen then, as a "side effect" of your dedication to a motive larger than the self.

In this chapter, the author discusses where happiness comes from. According to his discovery, it is not something that simply comes to pass, nor is it the result of luck or randomness. It is also not something that can be measured with money. In other words, happiness does not depend on external influences but on how we understand those influences.

Although many people believe that our happiness is determined by outside forces, there are precious times when we feel in complete control of our actions instead of being controlled. And when this state occurs, the feeling of happiness, contentment, and fulfillment it will have even more positive long-term effects on our lives. That phenomenon is described by Csikszentmihalyi as "optimal experience" or "flow". Contrary to popular belief, this state is not achieved when people are relaxed, passive, but when “our minds are stretched to the limit by a conscious effort to accomplish something challenging.” awake".

When you are in a flow state:

  • An hour seemed to pass in the blink of an eye;
  • Action and consciousness become one;
  • You feel completely in control;
  • You feel that what you are doing is important;
  • And this experience is worth doing, comes from the inner motivation.

Chapter 2: Anatomy of human consciousness

Looking back at the past - the ancient times of cultures, tempering emotions and thoughts was considered the norm, the rule. This is no longer relevant in this day and age where we are advised to accept our thoughts, ourselves, and express the emotions we desire. Those who tend to control their thoughts and emotions are often said to be "stiff", "emotionless". However, according to the author, those who know how to take advantage of trouble to gain control of consciousness are the people who live happily.

In this chapter, the author offers research on the working process of consciousness because once we understand the internal machinery, we can control them and decide how life will be.

Csikszentmihalyi explains that at some point in evolution, humans developed consciousness – the ability to resist instinctive instructions and set out for action. Unlike animals, we develop a "gap" between stimulus and response. Thanks to that space, we can listen to our senses to have appropriate responses such as the ability to lie, write poetry or come up with scientific hypotheses. And the most important thing, despite external fluctuations, you can make yourself happy or miserable just by changing your perception.

In an average lifetime, a person processes about 185 million units of information, such as sounds, visual stimuli, or nuances of emotions and thoughts. Thus, the amount of information we allow to enter our consciousness determines the quality of our lives. So, how does information enter the mind? They are channeled through “psychic energy,” or, more simply, drawing attention to that information. What distinguishes cognitive masters is their ability to focus whenever they want – forgetting external distractions, focusing until they reach their goal.

Chapter 3: Enjoyment – ​​Quality of Life

Ever since wealth, power or status became a powerful symbol of happiness. When we see someone rich, famous, or well-groomed, we automatically assume they're living a fulfilling life. However, looking at the headlines in the articles, we realize that these are not synonymous with happiness. In fact, they are the ones who suffer. Why is that? Because a person who wants to improve the quality of life not only improves the quality of the environment but, more importantly, the quality of the experience. According to the author, we need to seek  enjoyment, not  pleasure . It  is enjoyment  that will make happiness sprout.

One of the interesting points of the book is the distinction between  pleasure  and  enjoyment.

Pleasure  satisfies simple restorative requirements, quite similar to the act of eating or sleeping.

On the contrary,  enjoyment  not only satisfies needs and wants, but also motivates oneself, using skill and concentration to overcome the limits of instinct; thanks to that, we can accomplish great goals, while at the same time gaining control of ourselves..

However, most are choosing instant gratification to compensate for a hard day's work, that is, prioritizing  simple pleasure , not too strenuous, easy to bring about a sense of pleasure over pleasure.  rewarding enjoyment  but harder to achieve, and that makes them miss out on novelty, great opportunities for growth.

For example, after a tiring day at work, many people choose to watch TV or movies. In this state, they are passive, easily distracted. On weekends, they indulge in alcohol, or even drugs – actions that promise relaxation. But the result is often the same: they self-harm, lose control. The stereotypical episodes of TV shows or the artificial paradise of alcohol and drugs – none of which improves skills, increases focus on goals. The mind often doesn't do what we want to achieve our goals, but we should also not choose the path of least resistance, easiest to distract.

“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they require an initial effort that we are reluctant to make. But once my skills start giving feedback, those are the rewards that are truly precious.”

(Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person's skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.)

Chapter 4: Finding the flow

In the previous section, we learned about how people describe the state of "flow". But how do those experiences happen? In this chapter, Csikszentmihalyi examines flow-producing behaviors and explains why we are more interested in one subject than another. When we look at actions that often produce flow, such as sports, art, hobbies, etc., we gradually understand what makes people happy.

One morning in Naples, Italy, an American tourist went to an antique shop and asked to buy a sculpture. The owner of the store offered an outrageous price, but when he saw that the customer was about to pay, he said the item was not for sale.


The owner bids such a high price not because he wants to make a profit from the guest, but because he enjoys the wits of haggling. It helps train his mind to become sharper, improve his selling skills.

Whenever we take on such a task, one that is neither too easy nor too difficult, we tend to stretch our limits to achieve more.

When you play tennis, for example, you simply enjoy trying to hit the ball over the net at first. But once the skill is gradually improved, the job gradually becomes boring and you start challenging yourself more like hitting the ball to the opponent.

If you choose an opponent who plays skillfully and is ten thousand times more skilled than you, it will be "getting eggs and fighting stones". You will soon find the difference in knowing and fearing because this challenge is so difficult, you will even give up the opportunity to practice new skills. However, if you choose an opponent only slightly above your level, the playing skill really improves, as the author of the book himself puts it: “ Interest comes at the border between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are balanced against the person's ability to perform.”

Cultivation also requires skills to be balanced with personal goals, passions and not influenced by circumstances such as the promise of rewards if you do well or threats and punishments if you don't. .

Read about the life of potter Eva Zeisel, who was once imprisoned by Stalin's forces. In order to maintain her sanity, she constantly played chess in her mind, memorized her poems, and exercised. She maintains it so that she can hone her skills, imagination, and mastery even in the worst of circumstances.

“To overcome the fear and stress of contemporary life, an individual must be so independent of the social environment that he no longer responds to rewards or punishments. To gain that mastery, we must learn to create our own rewards. We must develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

Chapter 5: Flow in the body

One cannot depend solely on art or games to improve one's life. On the other hand, our body always has an infinite potential. If that possibility is ignored, the body's functions will gradually wear out. For example, if you don't practice, your body moves clumsily, awkwardly, your eyes become less flexible, you only notice boring things, your ears only hear noises and your mouth only feels. get the mediocre taste.

Therefore, in order to improve the quality of life, to really master what happens in the mind, each individual needs to practice sensory and physical skills.

For most people, walking is simply going from A to B. But if you pay more attention to the environment – ​​paying attention to people, signposts, intersections, architecture, landmarks… – then even The most frequent actions such as walking can also change. Practicing being more mindful of your surroundings helps you learn more than your automatic reactions.

Indeed, the colorful world is filled with inspiration. The sky contains many forms. Paying attention to those miracles makes us feel connected to everything, with a new and rich perspective.

Besides, it must be mentioned the "magic" charm of music. Nowadays, with just one simple operation, we can access countless songs and genres of music. But rarely do we get completely lost in those sharp, delicate sounds. And again, if you pay attention to the music you listen to, this opens up a whole new level:  perceptiveness , feeling your body's responses to each beat, every sound;  association , when equivalent images flash to mind;  the analysis , analysis of each structure of the piece and comparison with other versions, other musicians...

But in order for mindfulness to become reflective, we need to strengthen our self-mastery, and one of the ways to practice is to utilize an ancient Eastern practice: Yoga. Through the centuries, yoga has always been seen as a positive way to free oneself from the ego, to draw attention to a specific goal. The steps that yoga deals with include: nonviolence, conformity, purity, discipline, and recognition of a higher power.

Indeed, you can achieve unprecedented control over your mind – just by using the body in which you reside.

Chapter 6: The Flow of Thought

The ultimate experience is not only about the senses. According to the author, some of the most uplifting experiences we experience are produced in the mind, when certain information requires  thinking rather than  using our senses.

Among the mental activities, reading is the most common flow-inducing behavior. There is also solving crosswords, playing sudoku, writing, solving math…

Contrary to what we assume, the normal state of mind is a mess. For most people, when they try to focus, their thoughts are flying somewhere, making it impossible for them to maintain that attention for long. But when you do an action with the flow, the thoughts focus easily. Mind as forming order.

Chapter 7: Working with the flow

Is the work required to be always arduous and heavy? No, not at all. According to Csikszentmihalyi, work, like any other action, can become a source of flow when it fits the criteria he addresses throughout the book: goal setting, feedback, doing master and challenge. Many highly skilled jobs are well suited for a flow experience. But why are there still only a few people who actually have that experience while working? The author concludes that in the process of working, many people are not fully committed. They do not value experiences and motivation based solely on stereotypes that work has to be like this, for this purpose. To create a flow, remove those prejudices, and really immerse yourself in the work in front of you.

Take the example of elderly people in a village in the Italian Alps. For them, there is no difference between daily work and free time. Every day they get up at 5 a.m., go to collect cow's milk, carry hay bales for miles, tend the orchards, cook meals for the family. And when asked if becoming rich what they would like to change, they replied that nothing has changed, everything is as usual. They find themselves in a state of flow when they work rather than when they rest, thereby increasing their confidence in their imagination and ability to focus.

The book also deals with the story of a welder at a train factory. He is known by many for his inquisitive spirit. He memorized each important job in the production line and enjoyed doing them. He also turned down any promotion opportunities because the welder wanted to take on more manual tasks and enjoy turning them into challenges.

Therefore, to achieve a state of flow, you should look for new challenges at work, aiming to learn as much as possible, not just sitting around waiting for time to pass or following the wrong goals.

Chapter 8: Enjoying people

Busy traffic, busy offices really affect each individual's private space. Time alone helps us focus but also leads to boredom. That's when we need support from people we know and trust, in other words: family, friends and neighbours.

An ideal family offers sincere suggestions, unconditional acceptance, and long-term goals. For example, parents who prefer challenging, challenging jobs such as carpentry or cooking rather than watching TV or drinking will motivate their children to pursue a positive role model.

Besides, it is indispensable for good friends. In comparison, being alone, with friends, contributes to emotional nourishment: increased happiness energy, increased connection, self-esteem, strength and motivation.

Finally, we also need neighbors and communities to find opportunities to discover new things, opportunities for growth. If you close your heart, alienate the community, you yourself are refusing help and support in the future, confining yourself in a conservative, lonely cage.

Therefore, invest properly in relationships. You will be surprised with the results you get.

Chapter 9: Playing with challenges

Even reading this chapter, you may still think that happiness comes easier when we become rich, beautiful, healthy, or the like. But if things don't go the way you want, if fate wants to test you a little, what will happen?

Sometimes we unfortunately encounter risks, failures. But don't give up because you feel helpless. Use these three tips:

First, let go  of your ego  and  believe in your ability to handle  a situation when a situation arises. For example, when you are working on an important work on your computer and it suddenly freezes for no reason, or when you are in a hurry and your car suddenly breaks down, affecting the whole schedule for that day. . “Why is this happening to me?”, we all probably say to ourselves, feeling desperate for what happened against our original intentions. So, we need to learn how to rethink the problem. If the car breaks down, think it operates on a regular basis and damage is inevitable, need to call a mechanic to fix it or create an alternative goal like canceling a meeting and finding something useful to do at home. .

The second trick is  to be mindful of your surroundings . Charles Lindbergh was the first person to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. For most, it's a risky and scary job, but for Lindbergh, instead of focusing on fear, he focused on the intricate parts of the cockpit—the levers, the buttons. clicks, parameters, or even each solder on the fly. Through mindfulness, Lindbergh overcomes fear to make the historic flight.

Third,  explore novel solutions instead of giving up in the face of difficulty . For example, Mr. A has only one promotion opportunity but is competed by others who have a special relationship with the boss. Here, he has two basic choices: find a way to change the boss's mind about who is more suitable (direct approach); or change jobs, move to another company that offers more development opportunities; Or start your own business, spend time on your own projects…

Chapter 10: The meaning of life

This is the final chapter, describing how people synthesize the pieces of experience into a meaningful picture.

To find a reason to live, we need a goal to aim for. The result is not so important, the main thing is that you experience, be challenged. When you have set a goal, act with all determination and strong will. And finally, there needs to be a balance between goals and will. A prime example is Malcolm X. He grew up in poverty, drug addiction and was sent to prison. Here, reading and thinking led him to a new goal: to become a social activist who fights for citizens' rights and improves their quality of life.

Imagine a world where we live where there is no specific goal, no will. Can we fight deadly diseases, create masterpieces, or walk on the moon?

In short, the main message of the book is:
Happiness is a product of life when we constantly expand our limits to discover ourselves. Going beyond mediocrity, doing what you're passionate about is the path to happiness, finding greater meaning, and elevating your level of virtuosity and self-worth.