I’m reading The Evolving Self, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, at the moment, and it’s definitely helping my mental state. Flow did that also—both are excellent for reminding me not merely that great achievements are possible but that the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment are based on organizing the self, and that such organization is clearly within the grasp of just about everyone. This particular passage stood out to me today:
The normal condition of the mind is chaos. Only when involved in a goal-directed activity does it acquire order and positive moods. It is not surprising that one of the worst forms of punishment is to place a person in solitary confinement, where only those survive who can discipline their attention without depending on external props. The rest of us need either an involving activity or a ready-made package of stimuli, such as as book or a TV program, to keep the mind from unraveling.—190. Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi. The Evolving Self. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. ISBN: 9780060921927.
Even though I’ve read Flow and have been exposed to this idea before, I hadn’t really focused on that aspect of it, that the mind will tend towards entropy unless active effort is made to counteract that. Hopefully being more conscious of that will help me move towards flow more often.
A big part of Csikszentmihalyi’s conception of flow is that you’re in flow when your skills approximately meet your current challenge, and that’s not new to me either, but is resonating more today. Some clear implications of both of these things for me is that I should continue trying to structure my days, as I have been doing recently, that I should try to find challenge in whatever I do, that I should seek out challenging activities, and that I should keep uppermost in my mind that challenging myself and being active are going to result in much better moods and mental health than not doing so, despite the fact that not doing so is often so much more tempting.
None of this is new. In fact, I should really have learned these things by the time I was a teenager, but apparently that didn’t happen, and it’s not like it’s ever too late.
I’ve also recently read a couple of other things around the same subjects at the Creating Passionate Users site, namely How to be an Expert and Blow your own Mind, and they’ve really been pushing me in similar directions.
So, I’m going to try to increase my focus by both trying new things and trying to be really good at the things I do already (partly to make them more challenging), all while remembering that the pain and frustration and guilt (about “being an idiot” when I’m trying but failing at something) are an intrinsic part of the path to getting good at things, to finding flow, and to greater fulfillment.