REVIEW | Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal ExperienceFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games in 2002, I worked with a web company out of Los Angeles to produce Apolo Anton Ohno’s first website.

At the USOC we weren’t really in the business of building websites for athletes, but we were making an exception for Apolo, one of the most popular athletes in America, who went on to become the most decorated U.S. winter athlete ever.

(It should forever be note that in June of 2002, I suggested that we should maybe build one more athlete website. At that time, he hadn’t as yet won any Olympic medals, but I thought he was going to be big. Historic even. But the answer came back, no, we’re not going to build a website for Michael Phelps.)

Oh well, one less thing to do.

Apolo was an interesting kid. I was impressed with his commitment and his unwavering focus. In learning more about him, I noted that he listed two books that he felt were impactful: “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” which I read in 2002; and “Flow,” which I read in January.

“Flow” is a very influential book in the world of psychology. The author, Mihaly Csikszentmihlyi, poses the question, ‘What makes life worth living?’ With this inquiry as the starting point, the author reveals years of pioneering research that adds to our understanding of happiness, creativity, and human fulfillment by describing the common elements of ultimate experience or “flow,” a state of heightened focus and immersion in art, athletics, work and life.

His 30 years of research reveals dozens of examples of flow from all walks of life. There’s also 60 pages of notes. I can’t say that I completely enjoyed the academic writing style. It took me a while to slog through many portions of the book. There is lots of repetition. The writing didn’t go over my head scholastically, I just wouldn’t call it a smoothly written book. Plus, you’re not going to find the ’10 steps to flow.’ It’s not a self-help book. But through the examples a pattern appears.

The bottom line is this … you want to exist in flow-based experiences. And for me it was inspirational. It helped me review how I spend my time and how I would like to spend my time. Everyone would love extra hours. For me those extra hours already are there for the taking, but simply dropping a few activities from my play list.

After reading the book, I started watching a Netflix documentary called, “Chef’s Table,” which is beautifully shot, and profiles six amazing chefs, examining their creative process and philosophy. In each episode, the celebrated chefs talk about how they had to hone their skills and challenge themselves to take their craft to the next level … and I would say out loud, “That’s flow!”

When you can see it, you want to feel it. And I thought about when I’ve felt flow …

The rainy day I ran the marathon. I floated in flow. I was lost in it that day. I’ve experienced that feeling on most ‘race days’ or ‘ride days.’ They are usually very challenging, but they are also joyful.

Painting my kids’ rooms. Not necessarily that challenging, but God, enjoy that process, step-by-step, each day I know exactly what I’m going to accomplish. I want to do a great job. I think of my dad, who was a painter, and wonder, ‘Could I be a painter?’

Recently, I wrote a bunch of book reviews recently. I did research. I know that I’m not an English Lit professor or a book critic, but nevertheless there’s pressure to not sound stupid and to put my spin on it. I got lost in that process, literally losing track of time. It was great.

I know that these examples might seem pedestrian, but optimal experience is different for each person and the book shows that flow can be obtain in all kinds of situations. When do you feel joy? When do you get lost in a challenge? Wouldn’t you like to feel that feeling more often? What adjustments do you need to make? Perceptions, attitudes, new experiences. This book got me thinking.

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