Thursday 23 September 2010

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi and Flow

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s books on creativity and flow make for fascinating reads, whether you’re an academic or not. They explain a lot about how creativity happens.
My first encounter with one of his books was most bizarre. I’d read an article in the NAWE magazine which mentioned his idea of “flow”. I was in Portsmouth University Library looking of another book – and then I suddenly saw it on the shelf. It wasn’t, I didn’t think, at that time, pertinent to my studies. I borrowed it anyway as the way I’d found it must mean something. I found it was in fact relevant to what I was studying. Some ideas from it were integrated into the critical commentary within my Critical and Creative Writing Ph D: Peace Child, Towards a Global Definition of the Young Adult Novel. When I had to reduce 80,000 words to 40,000 it disappeared again. On passing my Ph D and having to make minor amendments, I found myself revisiting Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas again. Was I in that moment as I saw the book on the shelf in a state of flow?
It’s uncanny and yet reassuring (oh is this another paradoxical trait) that I recognise myself when he describes paradoxical traits of the creative person: Physical energy / quietness, smartness / naivety, playfulness / discipline, responsibility / irresponsibility, imagination / reality, introvert / extrovert, humility / pride, rebellious / conservative, passion / objectivity, pain / enjoyment.
He defines “flow” as intense enjoyment and something we experience when fully absorbed in a task. This happens when: there are clear goals every step of the way, there is immediate feedback to one’s actions, there is a balance between challenges and skills, actions and awareness are merged, distractions are excluded form consciousness, there is no worry of failure, self-consciousness disappears, the sense of time is distorted and the activity becomes worth doing for its own sake. That is, I think, what happens to me when I am writing. I don’t really fear the failure until the rejection slip arrives.
His work is certainly interesting and certainly worth a look.

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