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The Concept of "Flow"


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  • Evernote Staff

I dunno about joy or "rapture", but it seems to me the point of much of our discussion around GTD and productivity points to achieving (or maybe regaining) an old psychological concept of "flow".

From wikipedia:

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task[2] although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions.

Article gets a little deeper, but it's a fairly interesting concept.

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  • 2 weeks later...


It's not that old a concept, really. While Csíkszentmihályi first discovered the basic properties of shared optimal experience a while ago, the Flow meme didn't really make it out there until his first popular book on the topic in 1990. It's a superb read.

I do think there's a relation between the experience of Flow and the utility of GTD, along with a few other concepts. I touch on it a bit in a recent blog post. But while personal growth in any capacity can provide a sense of flow, and GTD can provide very useful tools for personal growth, they aren't really the same. I think, rather, that GTD helps clears the decks, and loss of self consciousness is one of the requirements of Flow.

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  • Level 5*

Sure, athletes talk about this, ("the game slows down, so you have time to react to every little thing), musicians too ("the music plays the band"), and it's definitely something that can occur with programming, where every insight you have pans out, where every tool you reach for fits the situation perfectly, every bit of understanding of the problem clicks into place the background of the world fades and you are just present in the moment, code effortlessly pouring out of your fingers. It's a nice change from normality, where you bang your head on unexpected corners, interruptions happen in waves and inconvenient decisions out of your control are made...

I'm certain that this is an old phenomenon, whether it's a recent meme or not. Think that Einstein wasn't in some kind of flow during his annus mirabilis of 1905?

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