Remembering Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian-American psychologist who developed the theory of psychological “flow,” passed away on Friday at 87. There would be no Flow State newsletter without Csikszentmihalyi. Our moniker “MC” is a nod to him. We wanted to honor the psychologist’s memory by sharing a few of his ideas that influence our work.

In 1990, Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced cheek-sent-me-high) published Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience based on his research at the University of Chicago. The book is best known for its novel description of what it feels like to be in a flow state. A person in flow is blissfully immersed in a goldilocks activity: something not too hard but not too easy. More technically, flow is the sensation that

one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted.

When we think about the happiest times of our lives, we often think about times we’ve been in a state of flow. Csikszentmihalyi’s achievement was to describe this flow sensation, trace its roots in the structure of consciousness, and outline the conditions that engender it.

People who’ve heard of Flow are generally familiar with the above. A few lesser-known insights, however, make the book invaluable.

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