Csikszentmihalyi: Flow from Relationships

This is round 9 of our adventure to find happiness. Only 1 more after this!

What to remember from round 8:  In round 8 we focused on getting flow out of work. The key for workers is to follow the path of Yu. To focus on building skills towards genius. For employers, gamify the key work metrics that you need from your staff.

What is in round 9?  As humans, we are a social species. But how much flow do we get from relationships?`Can we improve? These are the subjects of round 9.

We just considered how to convert a barren work environment into a place where we can grow and enjoy our experiences. This is great. But it is not all that we can accomplish using flow. Psychologists report that relationships often make people unhappy. This is strange, as all humans need relationships. We are a social species. So what is going on?

We can understand this better when we confront several serious fears that we all share. First is the fear of being alone. Of all of the fears one can experience, being left out of the flow of experiences from a group is one of the worst. Indeed, “shunning” or “ostracizing” is an ancient form of severe punishment. Solitary confinement for an extended period can drive a person mad. This fear stresses us into doing things with people — and perhaps more than we might want to do otherwise. Oddly, at the same time, and all too often, we know of many abusive and/or dis-functional relationships. It is another factor that stresses how well we enjoy our connections. So before we go further we need to acknowledge that we are touching on an extreme vulnerability in the human condition. We need relationships and they can be dangerous. We need to tread carefully when we think of relationships as a value.

The main problem with being alone has to do with “psychic entropy”. We talked about this earlier in the series. Psychic entropy is something that we produce naturally. It is a sort of chaos that we can feel building up when we are not fully occupied. And we feel it most when we are alone. And so people do lots of things to try to keep psychic entropy from building up — like  watching TV. We know full well that most TV shows are mediocre. But TV is a great psychic entropy management tool. And there are many others. Things we do just to keep busy. And even things that can hurt us like drinking, smoking, drugs and so on.

We would not need to rely so much on these things and we might be able to manage solitude better  if we could find ways to keep psychic entropy under control . And if we can do that, we liberate ourselves from a major fear. Can we do it? Professor Csikszentmihalyi says “yes”. We can by making a decision to impose our own individual order and structure on the space and time we have around us. When we commit to this over time, instead of passively escaping in front of the TV, we keep the mind in order and we build capacity to focus. We create rituals out of tasks. And BTW, this is something we do best when we are alone. That makes being alone useful and healthy rather than something to be feared. Want to think further about structuring your time and imposing order around you? Just ask for a follow up.

This is healthy for us as individuals. It also has a great added value in how we relate to others. It helps us build better relationships. When we have exerted this control over our own space, we are free to think more creatively about our relationships. There is a fantastic “Yu” here – learning to focus on the skills that take us to genius in relationships. There are two skill sets. The first is the set of “instrumental” skills (learning how to do things better). The second is the set of “expressive”skills  (how to reveal better who we are).  Each skill set helps us to better connect in relationships. The express skill set, though, allows us to connect at a deeper and deeper level. How good are your instrumental skills? And your expressive skills? As for a follow to learn more!

Enjoy!

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