Flow — Summary

This book will explain to you how to attain a perfect satisfying work experience or help you improve other activities and your overall happiness.

This book is a good follow-up from the book DRIVE. If you missed that summary, you might want to check it out first.

Humans seek happiness in a variety of ways. There are those who seek fulfillment in wealth, fame or power. Then there are those who follow religions. But none of these necessarily succeed at making us happy. Studies have shown that wealth doesn’t correlate strongly with life satisfaction.

Why we chose instant gratification instead of enjoyment

Most people in their spare time decide to watch TV all time, instead of seeking enjoyment. What is the difference? Pleasure provides restorative order. It comes programmed in our genes. For example, if we feel hungry it is because our blood sugar is low. So our body responds by producing an urge to eat.

Enjoyment, in contrast, involves more our deliberate choices. Using skills and concentration to transcend the basic needs of our organism. Some examples are reading an interesting book, preparing a new meal and practicing our cooking skills by doing so, performing physical exercises, etc.

In this way, enjoyment not only provides us with a good time, but it also helps us accomplish ambitious goals that we set for ourselves. We also gain more control over our attention than we do by just going with the flow of the TV and satisfying our basic pleasure.

The path of least resistance and distraction is not always the best.

Being “in the zone.”

Being in the zone means immersing oneself so deep in an activity that one loses track of time and gets released from the normal self-consciousness, anxieties, and worries.

This state can be achieved from a task that balances skills and challenges and provides immediate feedback.

Surgeons, for example, may experience satisfaction after the removal of a diseased organ or by the lack of blood in an incision. When there is no immediate feedback, pleasure may come from other things. A practitioner of internal medicine, for example, doesn’t have immediate feedback, so he or she needs to set other goals for enjoyment such as identifying the correct illness and administering the correct medicine.

People who perform extreme sports such as race car drivers or rock climbers, often experience a strong in the zone state. The high danger they are exposed enables them to quell their fears and concentrate 100% on the task at hand.

Facing challenges is rewarding

One owner denied a tourist a statue after the tourist was about to pay a steep price. Why? Because the reason for his high price was not to exploit the tourist, rather he loved bargaining and the battle of wits it involves. It sharpened his mental dexterity and his selling skills.

Whenever we engage in something that’s neither too easy nor too difficult, we tend to expand our personal limits. If we have an opponent, which is far more skilled than we are we might get discouraged. But an opponent which is just above our skill level challenges us in a way where we want to improve and get to the next level.

Constant improvement also requires that we remain unaffected by external motivators such as promises of reward or punishment. Otherwise, our intrinsic passion might get extinct as it happened with children in a nursery experiment described in Drive.

Sometimes personal motivation can help to overcome extreme external situations. As it happened to Eva Zeisel, she was imprisoned by Stalin’s police. To maintain her sanity she played chess against herself in her mind did gymnastics and memorized her own poetry.

Mindfulness helps us attain a heightened state of awareness

We often go through life thinking compulsively about the past, the future, or our problems. But we can gently train our mind to become more present, more mindful and it doesn’t need to involve traditional meditation while sitting down. For example, we can simply pay attention to our walking.

By paying attention to the variety of sights and sounds around us, even routine actions such as walking can be transformative. Even while listening to music and paying attention we can unlock a whole new level of sensory experience.

A flow state is accomplished by focusing on external things rather than one one’s flaws and problems. Bertrand Russel, for instance, focused on the external world by immersing himself in many fields of knowledge.

Mindful states are achieved in a variety of situations. Contemplation can indeed be very enjoyed a lot, many scientists, for example, achieved success because they enjoyed the act of improving their scientific skills.

Isaac Newton spent two years living int a farmhouse, and it was there that he formed his theory of gravity. Gregor Mendel’s gardening led him to the birth of genetics and Einstein formulated his theories while he worked in a Swiss patent office.

Intrinsic playfulness can cease work to being “work.”

For many people, their daily work routines are boring and overall dissatisfying. Work, however, can be fulfilling, used to focus our attention and reduce anxieties.

Consider the elderly residents of a hamlet in the Italian Alps, every day they got up at 5 a.m. to milk cows, carry bales of hay, tend the orchard and cook for their families. When asked what they’d change if they were wealthy, they responded that they wouldn’t change a thing. For them, there was no difference between work and free time.

More than free time, for many people work, can be liberating. Some People are more often in the flow state when they are working than when they weren’t.

Getting into the flow state at work can be achieved by upgrading intrinsic values. For example, surpassing personal performance levels or learning as much as possible about the job instead of just clocking in and out of your work. Soon a once boring job can become interesting.

Resolve

To obtain resolve, you have to clarify and unify your goals. We create the meaning in our lives. Your end goal should immerse you fully in increasingly complex challenges and not be getting lead off target by external circumstances, the opinion of others for example.

Once you have established a clear goal, you have to act on it. It doesn’t help having goals without strong intentions to achieve them.

Take Malcolm X. for example, He grew up in poverty, dealt with drugs and went to jail. There he discovered reading and reflection and ultimately built his resolve: to become a civil rights activist and improve the lives of others.

Once you have a strong resolve as Malcolm, there is nothing that can stop you.

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Karl Niebuhr

Karl Niebuhr

I'm Karl! I like to read, learn and share knowledge
Karl Niebuhr

Also published on Medium.

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