Csikszentmihalyi: Understanding Enjoyment

We we go with round 4 of our condensation of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal book “Flow”. Just 6 more after this!

What to remember from round 3: (1) The best way to build interpretative capacity is to focus on the self. In doing so, we want to see ourselves in a new light. Especially what causes psychic entropy (2) the best tool to start overcoming psychic entropy is giving ourselves positive feedback for the things that we do.

What is in round 4? Working to better handle our interpretative challenge is not just an endless series of seeing and doing. We can and should be able to enjoy the experience. We will start looking at what produces that enjoyment in round 4.

I hope that you have had some optimal experiences since the last round! I also hope that you are giving yourself more positive feedback. That positive feedback provides the critical support that we need to focus on and get to the next step in our individual story. But here is the question we now face. Is life just an endless series of meeting challenges? When do we get to have fun?

No doubt about it. We need fun. But what do I mean by “fun”? Is it just “pleasure”? We start by noting that there is a big difference between happiness and pleasure. Experiencing pleasure may or may not make us happy. In fact, most of us know from experience that just seeking pleasure can make us very unhappy. But there is a link. We need certain things in life like sleep, food, companionship and so on. And we get tremendous pleasure from receiving them. Having that pleasure is important in balancing out the hardships that we also experience from life. So we need a vacation after an extended period of heard work. More precisely, we need the balance between hardship and pleasure and so instinctively we crave the pleasure. Want to learn more about that balance? Let me know and I will send a follow up note with some thoughts from Jim Loehr.

But here is a key point — maintaining that balance does not in itself give us more happiness. To experience that, we need to squeeze something more out of the pleasure we take. We call that added meaning enjoyment. What is that? Enjoyment is when we experience the meaning of something. When we see that meaning, it contributes to our personal growth. We move beyond just maintaining a balance between hardship and pleasure. We build our capacity for happiness through enjoyment.

Here is the amazing thing — we can learn how to do this better. We can learn how to get more enjoyment from what we do. How? To learn how to get more enjoyment, we need to know what aspects of our experiences to focus on. And Professor Csikszentmihalyi offers us 8 major focus points.

1. FINISHINGWe need a chance to finish what we are doing. So, we need to focus on whether we can and do complete what we set out to do in order to find enjoyment. Unfinished work is not happy work.

2.  CONCENTRATINGWe need to be able to concentrate on what we are doing. So, we need to focus on the things that help us concentrate and minimize those things that distract us in order to find enjoyment.

3 SEEINGWe need clear goals. We don’t need to achieve these, but we need to have them if we are to enjoy what we are doing in trying to achieve those goals.

4. FEEDBACK – We need feedback on our progress in achieving our goals. We have already discussed this and we see its importance here as well as a critical aspect of building enjoyment.

5. MENTAL SPACEWe need to be taken away from everyday worries and frustrations and gain focus. This means creating a special mental space that is separate from our routines where we build meaning.

6. EXERCISE CONTROL We need to be able to control what we are doing Note the difference between BEING in control and EXERCISING control. Exercising control does not mean being safe. To the contrary, one gives up safety to exercise control. When we exercise control, we find enjoyment.

7. SUCCESS STORIES The sense of self disappears during the activity and emerges stronger after it is over. Success stories have this effect and the more success stories we experience, the stronger we get. We enjoy losing the burden of our self-awareness.

8. DIFFERENT SENSE OF TIMETime passes in a different way.  Hours seem like minutes and minute can stretch out to seem like hours. The concentration we feel in flow has its own sense of time.

Finally — and this is really important —- creating opportunities to experience the above is radically different than doing things in order to achieve a goal (like getting rich). In other words, playing the game is a goal in itself. As Steve Jobs said, “The journey is the reward”.  Having the opportunity to make that journey is a privilege whether we achieve our goals or not. And what starts that journey? A single question, “what is winning?” Want to learn more about that? Let me know and I will send a follow up.

This is a powerful idea — that we play the game regardless of the universal truth or certainty of the goals. And there is a danger here – people also get enjoyment from activities that are socially harmful (like crime) as well as socially beneficial. We should not be surprised.

That’s it! We now know what happens when we have enjoyable experiences. But can we produce them? That is next! Hang on!

Enjoy!

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