Flow. Part 2

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More lessons learnt from reading the book about flow. Its an excellent book, and I really wish I read this book earlier in my life. Its definitely now a must read I would recommend to anyone.

Pleasure and Enjoyment

Pleasure is meeting the demands of our natural desires and needs. When we fulfil a bodily desire needed for sustenance and survival, we derive pleasure from it. Some examples of these are: Eating to fulfil hunger, Sleep to fulfil fatigue, Sex to fulfil procreation drive.

Pleasurable activities are driven by a “need-to” natural basis for survival. When there is a disturbance in the levels required for proper bodily and mental function, our mental energy is diverted to seek to perform activities to return them to normal levels. We start looking for places to eat, a place to rest, or a partner to share our lives with. In meeting these demands, and return the levels back their normal levels, do we feel pleasure.

The problem comes when we become addicted to pleasure, and start to seek too much of it. Too much of food, too much of sleep, too much of sex. When we blindly follow pleasurable activities without regulating them, we become victims, enslaved by our bodily desires.

Enjoyable activities on the other hand, are driven not by a need, but by a want that is driven largely by interest, passion, and curiosity. These activities don’t meet any bodily desires, and are not needed for survival. Some examples of such activities are: Playing a sport, learning a new language, or reading a book. We can survive perfectly well without enjoyable activities, but not pleasurable activities.

Enjoyable activities add a certain level of complexity to us as human beings. Once we perform or get reasonably good at enjoyable activities, we would have gained a new skill or new way of thinking. This addition of a new skillset requires us to engage in an activity that stretches your current limits. In sports, we gain muscle memory in the ways to shoot a basketball. In reading, we gain new knowledge that the author has conveyed (as has the book conveyed these information to me). The process of pushing the boundaries of your skills makes us more complex, and the success of gaining new skills and being able to perform at a higher level gives you enjoyment.

But this also means that as we gain new skills, overtime it becomes the current boundary, and we will need to push ourselves again to attain another breakthrough. This never ending cycle of breaking through to attain new skills, plateauing, and breaking through again, alludes to the narrative of “Life Long Learning”, and it is only through this constant learning process can we achieve Enjoyment.

Flow and Challenge

In enjoyable activities, we gain a skill before it becomes the new baseline to plateau at. If we don’t do something about it, we either get Bored, or Frustrated.

Boredom arises when our skillset has plateaued at a level higher than the challenge. You have gained all the necessary skillsets to tackle the challenge with ease, and nothing is pushing you anymore. To overcome boredom, you have to increase the challenge that forces you to gain new skills. You learnt the skill of how to make basketball freethrows, but if that’s all the challenge there is, it’ll get boring fast. To overcome this, you start by playing games, where you don’t always get to make freethrows, and have to learn other moves like making a layup.

Frustration arises when our skillset has plateaued at a level lower than the challenge. The task at hand is too challenging, such that you are consistently unable to perform, and unable to gain new skills because you keep failing. To overcome frustration, you have to lower the challenge, and incrementally gain skills needed to perform at a much higher level. If someone new to basketball was told to only make 3 point shots without getting the fundamentals of foot placement and how to hold the ball, they will miss the shots terribly, and will end up feeling frustrated. Instead, they should lower the challenge, and start with the fundamentals, and shoot closer to the rim first, before progressively increasing the range.

Flow comes in when the skillset lies somewhere equal to the challenge. We have not yet plateaued, and our skillsets are still growing. The challenge is neither too hard, nor too easy, and it is here that we are able to breakthrough the boundaries.

Actionable Steps

The two lessons above are summaries, and there is much more he has written about it. But here are the biggest takeaways:

  1. Differentiate Pleasurable and Enjoyable activities
  2. Regulate Pleasurable activities, and don’t seek them excessively
  3. Seek Enjoyable activities, which are those that pushes you to learn new skills
  4. In Enjoyable activities, determine if you are bored, frustrated, or engaged
  5. If you are bored, seek a bigger challenge to grow your skills
  6. If you are frustrated, seek a smaller challenge to grow your skills
  7. If you are engaged, congratulations! You are probably experiencing Flow


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