Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Enjoying Reading as a Flow State
This semester in my College Success courses one assignment I gave students related to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory. Flow is the experience in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. I had the students consider their outside of class activities they enjoy and think through various elements that make up flow. They were to write a reflection of whether they actually experience flow in their favorite activities.
The elements of flow that I had them reflect over came from Dr. Csikszmentmihalyi’s book, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention. The elements are as follows:
1. There are clear goals – In flow the individual knows what needs to be done. The musician knows what note to play next. The rock climber knows what move to take next up the mountain.
2. Immediate feedback to ones actions – In a flow experience we know how well we are doing. The musician knows if he is playing the right note. The rock climber knows if the next move is a correct one.
3. There is a balance between challenge and skill – A person in flow feels their abilities are well matched to the opportunities for action. If the challenge is too high to the skill level frustration sets in. If the challenge is too low boredom sets in. There is a continual growth in skill.
4. Action and awareness are merged – In flow our concentration is focused on the activity being done. One-pointedness of mind is required by the close match between challenge and skills, and it is made possible by the clarity of goals and constant availability of feedback.
5. Distractions are excluded from consciousness – In flow there is an awareness of what is relevant for the here and now. Flow is the result of intense concentration on the present, which relieves from fear.
6. There is no worry of failure – In flow the participant is too involved to worry about failure. There is a confident sense of control.
7. Self-consciousness disappears – There is a lack of sense of the self instead there is a oneness with the activity. The pianist is one with their piano. The skater is one with the ice A paradox occurs in that the self expands through this act of selflessness and oneness in their flow activity.
8. Sense of time is distorted – In flow hours may feel like minutes so there is a sense of time distortion.
9. The activity becomes autotelic -- The flow activity becomes more enjoyable for its sake. The activity is an end in itself. (pages 111-113)
I was amazed at their responses as none of them had ever heard of flow. A few had coaches who taught them about being “in the zone” which is a similar concept. Through a myriad of favorite activities such as various sports, writing poetry, drawing, video games, dancing and many others, most of them could see the elements of flow in their lives as they did their favorite activities.
With the coming National Library Week still on my mind, my favorite flow activity came to mind. That flow activity is reading. I was glad to see a number of my current students listed reading as one of their flow activities. I should have given those students extra points for enjoying reading. How does flow relate to the habit and enjoyment of reading? Allow me to walk through my personal thoughts on how I see flow in my reading. With each book I read there is the goal to understand the story or glean helpful information for my personal or professional growth. The feedback I receive in reading is that relaxed enjoyment of the story that grows my creativity or the information I glean to improve myself. Depending on the book the level of challenge to my skill of reading varies. In reading for me the challenge relates more to the more academic texts I study. Increased ability to concentrate I have seen in my reading. When I read on a plane or in my home office being in the flow of reading, I focus in on the story or the information I am reading. Time seems like it flies by when I read so I often need to keep track of time if I only have a set time to read between appointments. Reading is definitely autotelic for me in that I enjoy reading whether it is for my Ph.D. assignments or leisure reading.
In living a Living More Than OK life, engaging in flow activities adds to the overall fulfillment of our daily lives. Flow activities in our free time helps in overcoming burnout or the angst of boredom. Of course I highly recommend that all people add the flow activity of reading into a portion of their free time. Reading builds up the creativity and the critical thinking aspects of our minds. As I stated near the beginning there are a wide variety of flow activities. Active is the key part. What are you active in? Just living ok keeps us stuck in the mundane mode of okness and passivity. It leads to flat lining in our life journey. Take some time to think through ways you can add to your life through flow activities you may enjoy.
Reflection: When you read do you feel any of the elements of being in flow? What are some of your favorite free time activities? Do you see the elements of flow in your activities?