Imagine walking on the Gulf coast,
gardening on a spring day, hiking your favorite trail. When did you last lose
track of time in your favorite activity? Is it easier to recall the last time
you felt immobilized by indecision, boredom, or anxiety?
At a time when psychiatric
medications are mass marketed to consumers, there is a creative and accessible
alternative for reaching sound mental health. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyis 1990
bestseller, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience has been turned
into an audio CD [abridged]. The author is the speaker on this 2-hour CD, which
presents a generous overview of thirty years of empirical research on happiness
and peak performance. Csikszentmihalyi is an internationally known psychologist
who argues that even the most mundane actions can make your life like a poem.
Csikszentmihalyi explains that all tasks can be done with efficiency and
elegance, whether running an Olympic relay or brushing ones teeth. It is this
kind of focused energy that characterizes a flow experience.
Csikszentmihalyi, a researcher
committed to spreading the message that controlling ones inner life can be our
greatest asset, outlines a method for recapturing ones sense of purpose. His
reader-friendly presentation explains what produces flow, and convinces the reader
that implementing his concepts has transformative powers. If there is a
weakness, it is that the theory, methodology and results become lost in the
success stories of assembly line workers, surgeons, athletes, and paralyzed
individuals. This may be the fate of any research that is presented by audio.
On occasion, Flow sounds
like just another self-help book read this book and your foundation will be
firmer, your vision more clear, and your satisfaction deeper. Classical music
has been incorporated, almost as a palate cleanser, to enhance successive
lecture points. However, throughout most of the CD, the authors style is
casual and engaging. Points flow smoothly, although a quick flip through his
text indicates that Csikszentmihalyi is not reading from the book itself. Only
his final presentation on the four habits of the autotelic personality [a
person who engages in an activity for its own benefit] seems unnecessarily
Csikszentmihalyi makes the case
that one of the critical components of flow is a complex self: a self that can
weather change and maintain its serenity. The following characteristics are
essential to the development of a complex personality:
Clarity [of intention]
Centering [oneness of effort]
Commitment [care for what one is doing]
Challenges that increase with ones level of mastery
Thus, the objective of flow
experience is to concentrate ones attention on each present moment rather than
to continually struggle with the past or worry about tomorrow. The author recognizes,
of course, that there are daily and potentially catastrophic stressors in life.
Thus, the text includes a discussion of how flow experiences can reduce stress.
In the last minute or two,
Csikszentmihalyi makes it clear that this is not just a personal book, but also
one with radical social ramifications. He persuasively argues that flow will
produce great happiness, and that such happiness creates an opportunity for
cultures to strengthen and evolve. This CD renewed my commitment to the principles
I discovered in the book. Not only is the audio version a quick refresher for
people familiar with flow, but also it is a practical version of Flow
for people who spend a lot of time driving, who dont like to read or who might
be intimidated by research-based texts, or who are simply too busy to read the
© 2003 J. E. Morris
E. Morris currently works as a program coordinator and primary counselor at
Chrysalis House, Inc., a long-term residential treatment program for women
recovering from substance abuse, in Lexington, KY.