Flow - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 Video Book Summary

Download all of the Mind Maps here.

Book Summary Notes

Introduction to Flow

“We have called this state the flow experience, because this is the term many of the people we interviewed had used in their descriptions of how it felt to be in top form: ‘It was like floating,’ ‘I was carried on by the flow.’ It is the opposite of psychic entropy... and those who attain it develop a stronger, more confident self, because more of their psychic energy has been invested successfully in goals they themselves had chosen to pursue.”


"A flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time."


  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  • A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
  • Immediate feedback
  • Feeling that you have the potential to succeed
  • Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible

Powerfully articulates the science behind how to control our consciousness to more consistently get ourselves into the optimal state of experience known as flow and as a result enjoy our lives more.

Packed with ideas!  Definitely worth reading the full book if you're interested in Positive Psychology.

Contents of Consciousness

“A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happening ‘outside,’ just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well."

"To develop this trait one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. Best not to expect shortcuts will do the trick"

*Best not to expect shortcuts will do the trick.. What a beautiful way of saying this is going to be difficult!  Strap in

Developing The Trait

The situations and circumstances of our lives don't determine our mental state of well being.. Our ability to control the contents of our consciousness does

The book really is all about this one point: how to control your consciousness and point it in the direction of flow.

Before we move on; ask yourself, Am I currently able to control my mental state?  What are the current contents of my consciousness?  How might I go about getting them under control?

Consciousness Rule Books

“The knowledge of how to control consciousness must be reformulated every time the cultural context changes. The wisdom of the mystics, of the Sufi, of the great yogis, or of the Zen masters might have been excellent in their own time—and might still be the best, if we lived in those times and in those cultures. But when transplanted to contemporary California those systems lose quite a bit of their original power."

"They contain elements that are specific to their original contexts, and when these accidental components are not distinguished from what is essential, the path to freedom gets overgrown by brambles of meaningless mumbo jumbo. Ritual form wins over substance, and the seeker is back where he started."

"Control over consciousness cannot be institutionalized. As soon as it becomes part of a set of social rules and norms, it ceases to be effective in the way it was originally intended to be.”

Rule Books

Human beings want a 'rule book' with all the perfect answers to our problems..  That's not going to happen!

Control over consciousness is a journey that can only be taken within oneself and not gained from external sources.

How many times have you tried a 'new hack' or 'meditation app' that promised to be salvation?

  • How did it work out for you?
  • Think.  What would be more valuable?

Time spent researching 'tips and trick' 'hacks or habits of the successful'

Time spent learning about yourself..  How you deal with outside circumstances..  Why you react that way..  What you could do in order to control that response!

Knowing + Doing

“It is not enough to know how to do it; one must do it, consistently, in the same way as athletes or musicians must keep practicing what they know in theory.”

*Favorite quote in the whole entire book

Action creates clarity

  • Do you ever really know anything if you can't 'do' it?
  • What good is a bunch of information if it's not acted upon?
  • Right now I'm taking in more info than I ever have..  And that's what you see!

But in the background.. I'm integrating!

Putting topics into my course on self coaching

Coaching myself through circumstances using the information I've learned from these great teachers

This isn't a perfect process

“To agree with the keys described here is one thing, to practice them is another. To read and study and have conversations about spiritual practices is good, but unless you incorporate them into your life, you won’t embody or integrate them—which means you aren’t receiving their benefits. Ask yourself, ‘How can I now move from theory into practice?’ If you merely collect spiritual information without practicing it, all you will develop is a case of spiritual indigestion and constipation.” - Michael Bernard Beckwith

Spiritual Indigestion and Constipation

Do you have spiritual indigestion or constipation? 

Consuming all sorts of information but not practicing?

Ask yourself;

  • What one thing do you know to be true that you aren't currently doing?
  • How can you take one small step to realizing that?

Attention of Psychic Energy

“The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer. And the person who can do this usually enjoys the normal course of everyday life.”

Psychic Energy

Attention is what Mihalyi calls Psychic Energy

Those of us who know how to control that energy tend to enjoy life more

There is a limited amount of stimuli we can attend to in any given moment/minute/hour/day and lifetime

With all of that being stated..  

  • How are you choosing to invest those precious units of psychic energy?  
  • What you pay attention too grows..

Boredom + Anxiety

“In all the activities people in our study reported engaging in, enjoyment comes at a very specific point: whenever the opportunities for action perceived by the individual are equal to his or her capabilities."

"Playing tennis, for instance, is not enjoyable if the two opponents are mismatched. The less skilled player will feel anxious, and the better player will feel bored."

"The same is true for every other activity... Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.”

“The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else. These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable of their lives. A person who has achieved control over psychic energy and has invested it in consciously chosen goals cannot help but grow into a more complex being. By stretching skills, by reaching toward higher challenges, such a person becomes an increasingly extraordinary individual.”


Happens when your skills are far above your challenge

How can you make your current activity more challenging in an attempt to reach flow?


Happens when your current skills are far below your current challenge

How can you make your current activity a little less challenging in order to achieve a flow state?


Need to create activities where our skills match our challenges 

Notice the importance of setting realistic goals that again; match our skills with our challenge

  • Doing this is what Mihaly means by concentrating your psychic energy and putting your consciousness in order


Doing a repetitive task?  Think about how you could complete it flawlessly..

Doing something out of your comfort zone?  Think about how you could make the goal a little smaller..

Bored?  Think about how can you add more challenge to your current task..

Work + Leisure

“Thus we have a paradoxical situation: On the job people feel skillful and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative, and satisfied. In their free time people feel that there is generally not much to do and their skills are not being used, and therefore they tend to feel more sad, weak, dull, and dissatisfied. Yet they would like to work less and spend more time in leisure.”

 “Because work is so universal, yet so varied, it makes a tremendous difference to one’s overall contentment whether what one does for a living is enjoyable or not. Thomas Carlyle was not far wrong when he wrote, ‘Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessings.’ Sigmund Freud amplified somewhat on this simple advice. When asked his recipe for happiness, he gave a very short but sensible answer: ‘Work and love.’”


End up getting a bad rap.. So many people look at work as the part of the day where they have to delay gratification!

But work really does lend itself well to creating flow states!  Sometimes it just takes a little bit of work..

How can you best set up your work day in order to lead to more flow opportunities? 


Leisure is the holy grail in our society..  But don't you ever feel bored once you've achieved it?  

Often we have to constantly occupy ourselves during our leisure time..  Sometimes with negative habits!  Simply because we are missing that flow state..

How can you use your leisure time to practice controlling your consciousness?

Transforming Adversity

“When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces. When every aspiration is frustrated, a person must seek a meaningful goal around which to organize the self.”

 “Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”


Mihaly talks about prisoners of war who are subjected to solitary confinement..  

The prisoners created elaborate goals in their heads in order to get through the traumatic experience.

  • Memorizing things
  • Playing golf

This helped them reassert their control over their consciousness!

External Circumstances

The more stressful the circumstance the more we need to put our attention towards goals we can move forward!

What circumstances are currently outside your control?

How could you create goals that will help you align your psychic energy to overcome them?

  • Time to get in shape to run a 10k?
  • Write a book, article or business plan?
  • Take up a craftsman hobby?
  • Find ways to achieve flow!

One Less Rascal

“But no social change can come about until the consciousness of individuals is changed first. When a young man asked Carlyle how he should go about reforming the world, Carlyle answered, ‘Reform yourself. That way there will be one less rascal in the world.’ The advice is still valid. Those who try to make life better for everyone without having learned to control their own lives first usually end up making things worse all around.”

Start With Yourself

"Be the change you want to see in the world" -Ghandi

How can you start right now?

What one small action can you take towards getting into flow more often?

Back to blog