How does ‘flow’ compare to ‘mindfulness’?

The American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the discoverer of a mental state that he calles ‘Flow ‘. Csikszentmihalyi has researched this mental state for several decades and has published a great deal on the subject. In his books, Csikszentmihalyi writes extensively about Flow as the optimal psychological experience; e.g. as a violinist, when he has just finished playing in a concert in retrospect realises: “Wow, I was really in good shape there!” When somebody is performing a challenging task that is just within his reach of competence, he sometimes, not often, can get completely absorbed by what he is doing, forgetting himself or his surroundings becoming one with the action, as if the ‘Self’ dissapears and the consciousness of the person in the ‘Flow’ state is not disturbed by thoughts that are not relevant to the task at hand. When the Flow-state is over, usually after an hour or so, the person can see back and realise that he has been very productive and has overcome difficulties and made considerable progress. Once you have experienced Flow, it really makes your day and you feel very happy and on top of the world.

Statue of The Buddha

In Buddhism there is a comparible mental state, called Sati or mindfulness. Here’s a definition, taken from

“Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness. Another English term for Sati is ‘bare attention’. It is not thinking. It does not get involved with thought or concepts. It does not get hung up on ideas or opinions or memories. It just looks. Mindfulness registers experiences, but it does not compare them. It does not label them or categorize them. It just observes everything as if it was occurring for the first time. It is not analysis which is based on reflection and memory. It is, rather, the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought. It comes before thought in the perceptual process.”

According to experts, the Buddhist concept of Sati and the western scientific notion of Flow are one and the same thing. What is great though, is that the ancient Buddhist tradition delivers us dozens of techniques and hundreds of exercises to improve our concentration and to help us achieving Sati more often and longer. I am convinced that trained meditators can get into the Flow state more easily and can use this ability in their work or study. So start meditating! Here’s an article by George Boeree to start you off Buddhism.

Happy meditating 🙂

P.S. I found a great article about Flow on this Buddhist site.

Great book about taking things Slow

In Praise of Slow is an elegy to the art of joyfull slow living and claims that there is a growing ‘Slow’ movement. In this age of great speed, distraction and mulitasking, it is refreshing to see that a growing number of people value the quality of a slow, but attentive life. The book’s author, Carl Honoré, delivers many examples where slow is better and as contradictory as this may appear, very often slow is faster. Chapters are devoted to different areas of life, such as cooking, city planning, psychology, medicine, (tantric) sex, work, leisure and children. Carl showes that the industrialisation and urbanisation in the west has caused the economy to run round the clock and that we do not seem to have enough time for all the things that claim our attention. Our market-driven world urges us to total efficiency, even to the point where we try to ‘organise’ the time with our spouse and children. The remedy against this rat-race is simple: Do everything slower! If you start with taking the right amount of time for everything, you can appreciate things and enjoy the richness of the moment more. If you go out to eat for instance, you can have a splendid evening if you savor every course with full attention while you take time to get to know your company better and enjoy the conversation. When you are allways in a hurry, you enjoy the now less.

Slower can mean faster

Slow can also produce faster results, however contradictory this may seem. When for instance you are writing a report and relax and take as much time as you need, you will find that because of the ‘no hurry, no worry’ attitude, creativity is boosted. You will find it easier to devote your full attention to your task. Anxiety and fear are reduced, because there is no time pressure. When fear is less, expression and creativity is more, and so is the quality of your output. An atmosphere arises in which you can be more productive. Often, people can create far better results in these conditions. But remarkably, they also can produce more in less time, because, during an afternoon of relaxed and focused work, knowledge workers can cover a lot more ground than distracted, fearfull and hasty people working the same amount of time.

Picture of a tortoise

I think the key-words for the success of the Slow movement are focus and attention. The tortoise knows more about the road than the hare. If you do not live with a constant time pressure (and this means taking up less commitments and appointments) and take a more laid-back and relaxed attitude to daily existence, not only the risk of getting exhausted is diminished, but you notice more of the colorfull details of ‘ordinary’ things and events and can understand and appreciate them more at a deeper level. A hurried life is a shallow life.

Carl Honoré has done a great job in showing us the advantages of the ‘slow’ approach, worth reading.

Creating islands of silence

In her commentary on, Anne Fisher points out that the best thinking is done when the mind is at rest or working on some relaxed task, like gardening.

Finding a silent place during the work day is a luxury, especially for those who cannot afford a house in a quiet neighbourhood, people with young children, or workers in industry or transport. Of course there are technical solutions, like isolation headphones, but you can find relaxation and rest by every 30 minutes or so taking a short break and open a window or go to a balcony and just take a deep breath and watch the clouds go by for a few moments. What’s important is your ability to focus your attention to the moment to enjoy it the most. That way, you only need a few of these breaks to get you through the morning or the afternoon with as little stress and worries as possible. What is also a great way to reduce stress, is writing down every task you have committed to do, so you do not have the think about them all the time. Walking meditation is a good way to find tranquillity while moving to a meeting, or strolling down a corridor to another room.

In this interview with Daniel Redwood, Stephan Rechtschaffen, the author of the book Timeshifting , argues that we need to have time to relax during the workday, so that we can regain our balance. He also recommends mindfullness practice and shifting gears (higher and lower) whenever the situation requires it.

For office workers using computers with RSI preventing software, I would recommend in stead of getting angry about the interruptions, take the oppurtunity to sit back and relax, or walk-meditate to get a fresh cup of tea!

Are you a software consumer or community player?

It is generally acknowledged that Open Source software (OSS) benefits greatly from the feedback it gets from it’s users. It takes a community mindset to file a bug report once you as a user stumble upon a fault in the software. How do you react when you discover a bug in an Open Source package? On a number of occasions, I have witnessed a response from users, that varies from “I told you so” to “I am a bit disappointed in that so called Open Source stuff”. I think you might call this the consumer mindset. During the years, we have become accustomed to have a critical eye for tools like Microsoft Office, especially after reading a report about the wealth of people like Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer. Often, we thought: “why is this software so buggy, while these guys make so much money?” For a number of users, this irritated, critical consumer mindset has stayed and while they have switched over to a Open Source package, they are comparing the people that created this package to large companies like Microsoft. But in the philosophy of the Open Source movement, everybody can contribute; rich or poor, developer or user, irrespect of the country you live in or your occupation.

3 Signs of the consumer mindset

  1. I have bought this package, so I have to use it
  2. The people who have made the package I use, only want to make more money
  3. What is the address of their helpdesk? I demand help

3 Signs of the community mindset

  1. The package is free and so are the alternatives. I only use this package because I like it
  2. The developers and their community are normal guys like you and me
  3. I join the community, and exchange ideas and suggestions to improve the package