Go with the flow: The science of optimal experience

One of the most amazing and most fulfilling experiences one can have is being in the “flow” or having an optimal experience. This concept was suggested and thoroughly investigated by a Hungarian psychologist M. Csikzentmihalyi. Being in the flow means that a person is fully immersed in an individual activity (e.g. creating music, writing, dancing, reading), or in a social activity, a board game, chess, or by participating in a stimulating conversation with our friends. Flow experience has been reported across various cultures, and it has been described in the same way, regardless of person’s age, gender, social status, etc. The most crucial characteristic of flow activities is reported experience of enjoyment while performing. In the same time, a person can act effortlessly, without worrying about everyday problems and frustrations. Sense of time is changed, it seems that the time simply flies while experiencing the flow. In addition, the flow experience is followed by a sense of control over performance and this eliminates worry that we might underperform or make a mistake.

Although, creative individuals and experts can enter optimal experiences much easier than other people might, there are certain characteristics of flow activities that can be managed in order to facilitate flow in everyday life.

1) In order to achieve an optimal experience it is necessary that the level of the task difficulty is neither too high or too low depending on the person’s skill level.

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If the task is too difficult, then we might become anxious and stressed out. On the other hand, if the task is too easy, one might get bored quite quickly. A flow activity demands a certain skill level which needs to be acquired in order to be successful in it.

2) Flow activities demand high attention resources, with no or just minimal attention left for other stimuli. This might be the reason why people experience that sense of self disappears, as well.

3) The task has to be structured with clear goals and feedback. Having a clear, positive feedback while working, provides us with a signal that we are on the right track which energizes further efforts.

Optimal experiences are autotelic (Greek, “auto” self, and “telos” meaning), in other words, they are self-rewarding and self-contained. This intrinsic motivation for the activity itself and the following enjoyment is provided by the sense of achievement and control over its development. In order to initialize a flow experience, one has to invest some effort, but once when the activity starts to provide a positive feedback it becomes self-rewarding.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what kind activity you prefer as long as you have mastered its rules, and you fully engage your attention in it. If you do this, your efforts will be immensely rewarded with providing you with: “… a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushes the person to higher levels of performance, and leads to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness. In short, it transforms the self by making it more complex. In this growth of self lies the key to flow activities.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

References:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-016253-5.

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Passion led us here

Life is constantly reminding us of its richness and complexity, independently of our current state of mind, whether we are bored or unhappy with our present situation. The moment we wake up, our stream of consciousness is back, together with our identity and memory. Although these memories may not be pleasant, every day provides us with new opportunities to change our stories and the way we look at life. We can approach life with awe, wonder and love, or with bitterness, broken spirit and hatred, or with numbness, somewhere in between. This choice is made over and over again and it can go in both ways, depending on many every day circumstances, but it is important to remember that we have a choice.

Love does not have to be tied to any particular person, possession, profession, success, it can be seen as a state of mind that we intentionally cultivate in our minds in order to live  our live through more profound experiences. When you spend some time in nature, it is much easier to evoke these warm feelings of contentedness with the Earth and other living creatures. Or when you are completely emerged into an activity you enjoy, reading an interesting book or watching an exciting movie…

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From the moment we were born to our very last moment, something remains the same in us. We never truly grow old in our mind, we might feel the weight of many memories, but the same consciousness that looked through your eyes when you were a little child arises from your eyes when you are 80 years old, as well. You can feel a bit more cranky as the years pass by, your body is changing, the world around you is changing, nevertheless, remember that you are the same observer despite the changes. Thus, love and passion can be reborn time and time again, there is no real limit nor boundary.

Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

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What do your interests say about you?

Have you thought about why you find certain things attractive and pleasing, while others neutral, unpleasant or even repugnant. Of course, your unique upbringing and genetic make up interaction is to be held responsible, but it is not always possible to trace back specific events and modeling behaviors of our parents or siblings in order to explain our passions. Sometimes we are drawn to something we do not understand and there is a somewhat mystique atmosphere around those topics. Or we are drawn to the themes that can help us grow and become something more and something closer to our ideals.

Our ideals are the driving forces and they are closely related to our interests. You may think you do not have any ideals, but most certainly if you would take a closer look at why you are doing everyday activities, you will find an ideal form of self that tends to give you direction. It can be: I want to be always capable to provide for my family, or I want to learn more, I want to be productive and feel respected, etc. Sometimes, we do not want to admit to ourselves that we have any ideals, because it seems that only really young people are naive enough to have and believe in ideals and the harshness of life soon teaches us the lesson of realism. However, I am sure that your dreams are not really dead but only silenced. It even does not have to be something big like I want to be a world known artist or scientist. Our passions from childhood are based on a simple sensations of feeling happy and successful in what we do, and the pure enjoyment in participating in an activity.

We may never really know why we have developed our interests in certain topics but if we reflect on them we may find the underlying motivation that goes far back into our childhood. The sense of curiosity waken up when we read that book about space exploration or about human body can be brought to us again and give us a new energy.

By reviving those early visions of ourselves and modifying them to our current selves, the passion is born. Passion for life and change. Passion has a magnetic force and it is idealistic in its purest form, but it is realistic, as well, because it motivates the true action and creation. After all, our interests are being reshaped and remodeled in accordance with who we have become during the years. Take a closer look into your motivating forces inside and feel their magnetic push towards exploration.

You can see your profession and everyday activities as your calling as well, and seen this way, your personality and interests would expand beyond your mind. You are being called by and pulled towards the life itself.

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#calling, #interests, #magnetic, #passion

How to increase your productivity – to multitask or not to multitask

Tasks are piling up and your desk is a mess. You need to finish many projects that you just started but it seems that you just can’t make your mind settled and focused on work. Is your brain at its best when focused only on one task at a time or is it efficient like your computer with its multiple tabs open simultaneously? The problem of media multitasking while working, driving, talking with others, has become not only a personal issue but an economical one as well; multitasking may affect our work productivity in addition to our quality of life.

Some studies have shown (Aral, Brynjolfsson & Van Alstyne, 2007) that multitasking is only useful to an optimal level . This means that low- and high-multitaskers were less productive than medium multitaskers.

This can be explained with the well known Yerkes–Dodson law and an inverted U-shaped curve which indicate that for optimal performance we need a medium level or arousal (Adler & Benbunan-Fich,  2012). Multitasking provides an increased levels of arousal that might be beneficial to a certain point, and after that point its effects become detrimental to your productivity.

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The attention is shattered and spread on to too many sides and your brain is spending much more time and effort to finish each individual task in comparison if each task was done individually with your full attention.

The inverted-U shape curve is only true for quantity  or productivity as the number of tasks finished, but when accuracy is measured, multitasking has only the negative impact (Adler & Benbunan-Fich,  2012).  This means that when it comes to your work quality, it is much better to focus on one or only few tasks than to increase the number of switches between different tasks. After all, the optimal level of arousal and multiple tasks may differ between individuals and for some two tasks simultaneously already may be overwhelming. On the opposite side, it seams that 2.5 % of the population can be categorized as “supertaskers”, due to their extraordinary ability not to be disturbed by a dual task while driving (Strayer & Watson, 2012). When it comes to gender stereotypes, women do not appear to function better than men when forced to multitask and they prefer single-tasking over multitasking (Buser & Peter, 2011).

Our brains do not like multitasking and constant interruptions. Information fatigue, decreased work quality and increased processing time while multitasking time are only some of the downsides of  the modern world.

In conclusion, even if you see yourself as a supertasker, bare in mind that many activities need in-depth processing and our full attention, starting from our interactions with others to our jobs and hobbies. Focusing attention to one direction only can provide a well known “workflow” and an increased enjoyment in what you do. In other words:  “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves,” A. Einstein.

References:

Adler, R. F., & Benbunan-Fich, R. (2012). Juggling on a high wire: Multitasking effects on performance. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies70(2), 156-168.

Aral, S., Brynjolfsson, E., & Van Alstyne, M. (2007). Information, technology and information worker productivity: Task level evidence.

Buser, T., & Peter, N. (2011). Multitasking: productivity effects and gender differences (No. 11-044/3). Tinbergen Institute Discussion Paper.

Strayer, D. L., & Watson, J. M. (2012). Supertaskers and the multitasking brain. Scientific American Mind23(1), 22-29.

#multitasking, #productivity

Making your life worthy is the mind’s business

Where does the real worth lie? At the end of the day, when all of the daily struggles have subsided into the background, our minds try to make some sense of it. They will create sense and meaning of our experiences independently of our conscious decisions to do so, because this is what the mind does.

If we try to push it all back from our consciousness by entertaining ourselves through consuming media programs, socializing or taking a nap, when we fall asleep the content we tried to push away comes back through the rich imagery of our subconscious minds and symbols in dreams as an attempt to assimilate this experience into the wholeness of our personality. This process is similar to digesting food. We swallow the food and our digestive system, through the complex mechanism of digestion, takes the nutrients from the food into our blood flow and makes sure that the rest of it goes out of our organism.

Symbols that appear in our dreams are the mind’s way to organize various aspects of daily experiences and personality. Some people have better recollection of their dreams than others, but we all dream. Although, scientists are not completely sure what is their purpose, there is a consensus that dreams help in memory consolidation and emotion processing. “A dream is a small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens up to that primeval cosmic night that was the soul, long before there was the conscious ego.” (C. G. Jung). Art, crafts and day dreaming have similar roles and can help in integrating our experiences and emotion regulation.

Our minds and personalities are much richer than we are aware of. If we take into consideration how worthy each and every experience is, we can make the process of this “psychological digestion” much easier and more interesting. We can find joy in exploring our inner world by accepting the both positive and negative side of our life and honoring every moment with self-reflection, non-judgment and love. This can be done if take just 10 minutes at the end of each day to think back, create a drawing or write a passage in your journal about the passed day. Mind will still work on it during the night and through dreaming, but with less weight and edge.

Our own life worth lies in our hands, and we can choose what we make of it. Dignify each moment with gratitude and by paying attention to it, and your subconscious mind will find its way to the conscious one with more ease.

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