CT meditates: a comedy (18). Flow!

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From Amazon.com

Have you read Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? Mihaly’s last name prompts me to remember Wheel of Fortune: “May I buy a vowel?”

Nevertheless, this classic book introduced the world to the concept of flow:

…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.

I’m sure we have all felt this at one time or another. And the amazing thing about this: it does not occur during passive activity like watching TV or reading, but only when the task is challenging, requiring skill and concentration. There are clear goals, you get immediate feedback. Only then can you experience a deep, effortless involvement, a sense of control. Your sense of self vanishes, time seems to stop.

The components of flow thus include: challenge, enthusiasm, skill.

This occurs for me in a challenging meeting at work, where we snatch win-win victory from the jaws of defeat (Hamilton reference, anyone?), or when working with a patient on a difficult task, and achieving a breakthrough in their health.

Or, embarrassingly, when I play a video game. Yes, I admit it. I used to be an addict to Farmville, and similar games, and countless iPhone games (Clash of Clans, anyone?), and of course the classic Starcraft II. I mean, who DOESN’T play Starcraft, really?

I’ll also mention the book Reality is Broken – why games make us better, by Jane McGonigal (or watch her great TED talks: careful, her 3 talks will suck you right in). But she also connects to Flow and argues that the Clear Goals in games make Flow more common that in real life, where the rules and goals are much more ambiguous.

Remember, if you’re coming on the 3-minute daily journey with me:  eyes closed, with just the simple goal of spending 3 minutes in a comfortable pose, and focusing on breath. Then to watch the inevitable stream of thoughts floating by, observing each one as a puffy cloud, letting it just drift by without diving into it, and returning to breath.

CMIO’s take? Do you play games? (no, I do not mean consternating mind-games with your colleagues and family) Why not? How recently have you experienced Flow? Do you design your day to achieve Flow (challenge, enthusiasm, skill) as often as possible?

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, University of Colorado Health; Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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