Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a famous Hungarian psychologist whose work primarily focuses on the study of happiness and creativity. Csikszentmihalyi’s life-long goal has been to understand happiness and answer the question “What makes a life worth living?”.
One of Mihaly’s most important breakthroughs was the identification of a psychological concept called flow. Flow is a mental state where a person is completely focussed on the activity that they are performing. They are energised and immersed in what they are doing, helping them to perform the task exceptionally well.
Flow can be used by disabled people to help them focus on a specific task and complete it to a high standard. It is a very satisfying way to accomplish goals and can improve a person’s overall happiness!
This article will take a closer look at the formative years of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, before discussing how flow works.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Formative Years
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s desire to understand human happiness stems from his experiences as a child. Csikszentmihalyi was living in Europe during WWII, which exposed him to a great deal of pain and suffering.
He noticed that most adults struggled to deal with the tragedies that the war had inflicted on their families and community. Most people were miserable and in a constant state of fear or unhappiness because they had lost so much. This experience made him curious about the drivers of human happiness and what made life worth living.
Csikszentmihalyi immersed himself in religion, art, and philosophy to find the answers to his questions. A few years later, Csikszentmihalyi was staying at a ski resort in Switzerland and attended a lecture being given by the famous psychologist Carl Jung. That presentation inspired him to pursue psychology, with the goal of understanding the drivers of human happiness.
What is Flow?
Csikszentmihalyi attended the University of Chicago in the United States, receiving his B.A. in 1960 and his PhD in 1965. He published many papers on a variety of topics including, relationships, behaviour, adolescent development, and the contributing factors to happiness.
In 1990, he published his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In this book, Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of “flow”, an optimal state of performance where an individual is completely focussed on a task. He used the term “flow” because people in this state produced work effortlessly — it “flowed” out of them.
Csikszentmihalyi suggested that a person’s happiness levels could be increased by regularly entering into a state of flow. He also suggested that entering a state of flow helped to improve a person’s creativity and productivity. In the book, Csikszentmihalyi defines the characteristics of flow as:
- Complete concentration on the task
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding, has an end itself
- There is a balance between challenge and skills
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
- There is a feeling of control over the task
Researchers have discovered that people entering into a flow state show decreased activity in their prefrontal cortex. This is the section of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions including self-reflective consciousness and memory. Essentially, people in a state of flow are not obsessing about moments in their past or anticipated events in the future, they are concentrating on the present and the task they are performing.
While in this state, individuals are more creative, motivated, engaged, and happy! There is no voice in your head suggesting you should be performing the job better or doing something else.
Disabled people can use flow to gain more satisfaction and happiness from their lives. It can be used to help a disabled person:
- Enjoy hobbies more thoroughly
- Improve job performance
- Gain a feeling of autonomy and proficiency
- Improve their mood
- Gain a sense of satisfaction
The prerequisites for achieving flow include:
- Well defined goals
A person must understand exactly what the task entails.
- Feedback that is immediate
When performing the task, the outcome should be immediately apparent.
- A balance between skills and the task
Flow can be achieved only if a person has the skills required to complete the task or if the task is slightly challenging. If the skill requirement is far too high, they will only become frustrated.
- Removal of distractions
Distractions like loud music, people talking, phone ringing, or electronic devices can prevent a person from entering a state of flow.
- Choose tasks that are enjoyable and important
If a person is gaining some satisfaction from the task they are performing, they are much more likely to enter a state of flow.
Disabled people can greatly benefit from using flow. Not only will they achieve more and be more production — they will be happier and more satisfied with their efforts!