“Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.” – Victor Frankl, Australian Psychologist
As society struggles with increasing unhappiness and disengagement, one solution is to increase our moments of flow into our daily lives.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
Flow is essential to his theory of the optimal life experience.
The Issue of Socialization
To understand the need for flow, Csikszentmihalyi explains how we have become “socialized.” In a modern context, this socialization is frequently not a positive thing. We have become wholly dependent upon social controls to predictably direct our actions and emotions through rewards and punishments.
Once thoroughly socialized, we only desire rewards that others around us have agreed we should long for. We structure ourselves to live the “good life” that we have been promised in return for a lifetime of hard work. Under the fear of punishment, we act accordingly to what is needed to survive in the world.
Socialization results in our control and discipline being externalized outside ourselves. We have relinquished control over our lives.
Owning the Inner Experience
“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” – Marcus Aurelius
To achieve flow, and, more significantly, happiness, we must regain direct control of our inner experience.
We need to become independent of our social environment and the exclusivity of the aforementioned rewards and punishments. We also need to understand that inner conflict is the result of too many desires and competing claims on attention. We need to quiet the noise.
In order to retake control of our inner-selves, we must first understand our consciousness. The function of our consciousness is to represent what is happening inside and outside of our bodies so that we can evaluate and act.
When dealing with our consciousness, there is an important point to make. Remember the old question, if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? According to our consciousness, the answer is no. Our entirely reality is subjective. Events do not exist unless we are aware of them.
If we can control our consciousness, we can:
focus our attention at will,
become oblivious to distraction,
and concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal (and not longer).
Attention shapes the self, and is in turn shaped by it. If we can do this, we have made significant strides towards enjoying everyday life.
Now, almost paradoxically, Csikszentmihalyi cites a Cicero quote: “To be completely free one must become a slave to a set of laws.”
It sounds a lot like socialization, right?
However, under deeper inspection only by accepting limitations can we liberate ourselves. This is not a reference to societal controls as much as acknowledging those things beyond your control and focusing your attention on what you can control. Those acknowledgments are a source of liberated energy and attention.
An example of application would be committing to a monogamous marriage. By committing, you free yourself from racking your mind with all the doubts and curiosities of what could be. You have acknowledged the “laws.” Your attention is now available to focus on improving your relationship within that system or shifting that attention towards more worthwhile applications.
Where Flow Comes into Play
Csikszentmihalyi tells us the way to achieve inner discipline and life satisfaction is through flow. When performing activities in a state of flow, the clearly structured demands of the activity impose inner order while excluding interference and disorder in our consciousness.
Interestingly, one cited example of an attempt to create order in our consciousness is through religion. It is one of the oldest and most ambitious attempts, unsurprisingly, they are often a profound source of enjoyment.
To continue with this topic, read the next entry that explains what flow looks like in everyday life and how we can create these experiences.
However, take a few moments and reflect.
- Where do you draw your cues coming from that direct your daily life?
- What was something that you did today just for yourself?
- What are some of those drags on your attention that really don’t matter?
- Is there anywhere you can commit and eliminate doubts?
As always, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts! Connect with me via Twitter or email!
As previously mentioned, this is part of my #100Days100Deliverables going with #The100DayProject.
Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes (but planned following day, too)