Almost 20 years ago, a Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, published his ground-breaking work, ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.’ I’ve been a fan of Csikszentmihalyi, (“chick-send-me-high-ee”) ever since that time.
According to “flow” theory: people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. This is a feeling about 85% of the population reports having had at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which concerns, like time, food, and ego-self, are typically ignored.
Other characteristics of the flow experience are:
1. Complete involvement, concentration in whatever one is involved in.
2. A sense of ectasy- that idea of detachment, being outside everyday reality
3. Great inner clarity- a clear sense of what needs to be done and how things are progressing.
4. A certainty/ inner knowing that the activity can be accomplished, neither bored nor anxious
5. A sense of serenity- no self consciousness, a feeling of oneness with life
6. Timelessness—focus on the now, time distortion, no awareness of the passage of time
7. Intrinsic motivation—whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward.
The idea is important to me for two primary reasons: (1) I recognized immediately, upon reading the book, that “flow” was the reason I was basically a happy person, when so many people around me, especially those with more money, a more exciting career, a better love life, or whatever, were not. (2) Once I became a professional hypnotist, with a specialty in anxiety, I focused on the theory as a means to help anxious clients. I decided, since I already knew what flow was supposed to look like, having experienced it myself for years, I could teach others how to do it.
Referring to the list of points above, I can say, with absolute authority, that every single point listed can be accomplished using hypnosis. Whether a client comes to reduce anxiety, stop smoking, lose weight, improve a skill, what makes hypnosis work, in my opinion, is that, in the trance state, the critical faculty is by-passed. The focus shifts away from self-consciousness and towards a type of “extra-consciousness” in which anything that is suggested becomes not only possible, but highly likely.
When a skilled hypnotist uses an ego-strengthener, the client is told: “Everything that I tell you, every suggestion I give you, is becoming deeply implanted in your subconscious mind and beginning to work for you perfectly.” Any suggestions that follow the ego-strengthener will IN FACT become deeply implanted.
In the next segment on this series about the FLOW experience from a hypnotist’s point of view, we’ll look at some techniques for achieving FLOW on a more consistent basis. In the mean time, here are some more links to Csikszentmihalyi’s books, interviews and other related links.
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s Books
Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Finding Flow : The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
The Evolving Self : A Psychology for the Third Millennium
Optimal Experience : Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness
The Art of Seeing : An Interpretation of the Aesthetic Encounter
Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play
Writing in Flow : Keys to Enhanced Creativity
Other Related Links
Reaching Flow to Optimize Work and Play
Go with the Flow – Wired Magazine 1996