Jesus, the guy gets one tattoo and now he’s breaking down classic psychology. Blow me.
I know. You’re right in thinking that. You’re a dick, but you’re right.
“Flow” is a book about optimal experience. The book encapsulates everything relevant and needed to achieve that optimal experience whereas the word itself is a shorter name for said experience. Flow, descriptively put, is the person in the zone. It’s the basketball player who can’t miss and the pitcher on fire. It is the writer lost in word. It is me at a bar delivering comic genius to a hard nine disregarding initial brushoffs leading to a first and/or second base close. It is all of that; where there is no distraction and senses are most heightened.
But that is just a basic premise of both the book and the word—an overview. I met that understanding two weeks ago in Barnes and Noble, solely by reading the back cover out loud in ear shot of a jail-baitish study group. There is a lot more to it. I tell you that to give you enough—a chub—of a foundation. Because I care.
Flow is about conscious decision making and the pursuit of growth. You grow as you set goals and you make foundational choices about the type of person you want to be. Each present moment is an opportunity to live in control of your mind, in pursuit of those goals, living in flow.
That’s how I describe it. I know it sounds good. I’m a tattoo guy now, so I get stuff like that.
Being in control of your mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy.
That is how—one way—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author; yes I hate him too for that last name) describes it. I think it is the best, and most beautiful way. It is also the way to transition into what I’m going to write about—the sentence that led to the genuine, RL (real life) epiphany I had.
(I put explanatory parenthesis after modern, youthful abbreviations, like RL, because my mother Nancy reads this stuff. She doesn’t trust that the back-up camera on her vehicle is in real time and her home wi-fi password is 9R7jk_I0l3hHyT*. She’s old. I want her to know what I’m talking about.)
So, one more time:
Being in control of your mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy.
Anything. Good and bad. Obviously that is something easier said than done, as anyone who has experienced real adversity can attest, but it is possible. It is also described in this book, via the sentence above, and a few thousand words in theme, in a way that has changed me.
Dissipative Structures. Let’s jump into that because that is it. That is the foundation and that is the ideal to embody. That is what changed me. I know it (dissipative structures) sounds a little heavy—I had to reach out to our buds Merriam and Webster too—and you might be making another tattoo jab right now, but the explanation is amazingly simple. And it is how we—all of us doubters and positive psychology haters—can grapple, and beat hardship. It is applicable and simplistically beautiful. It’s legit AF (as f*ck, Nancy).
By definition, a capacity to extract energy out of entropy (I don’t know either) and to recycle waste into structured order is a dissipative structure. “Flow” first makes an analogy to all plants. Stay with me on this.
The vegetable kingdom is a huge dissipative structure because it feeds on light, normally a useless by-product of the sun’s combustion. Plants have found a way to transform this wasted energy into the building blocks for which a ton of shit (personally abridged that part) is fashioned. And because without plants there would be no animals, all life on earth is ultimately made possible by dissipative structures that capture chaos and shape it into a more complex order. Tattoos are cool.
The second to last sentence from author Csikszentmihalyi (hard not to hate him still) is what is paramount: –made possible by structures that capture chaos and shape it into a more complex order. A structure, or a body, or a mass, that takes something harmful or deprecating and then through process creates value, is the aim. Again, that is something easy in theory, and plants don’t have to see their old lady on social media with Neck Tat Tim, but it is a foundation to understand. As people, when trying to embody this ideal of bad to good, we have consciousness to tangle with. In its essence, consciousness is what makes us unique—a free will and mind gives life zest. Unfortunately, though, for a lot of people, it is also what makes bad to good so hard.
Consciousness, without values of the self, like resilience and optimism and consideration, can really taint any type of flow experience or optimal living you covet. Like, really, big nasty taint all over it. That’s because an uncontrolled mind, or self, without foundational beliefs and tangible goals, will never let you live without distraction. You will never live in a peak state, focused on improvement and growth, for without an aim and without personal value, you are victim to distraction. Because I said so.
Think about a few instances of recent pain. Think about those real, pit of the stomach type feelings, and reflect on them. If you’re back in those moments, and you’re being honest, how often are you scrambling to occupy your mind with cheap distraction like Instagram, Netflix, and Grind—I mean Bumble, just to avert your mind? We do this because without goals and without positive value, we have nothing to turn that bad into. Bad shit will do what it’s supposed—poop on you—and it will linger. It will linger and distract. Flow, as I speak like a broken record, exists when one is fixated on perpetual growth and self-action is commensurate with personal goals, both quantitative and qualitative. Bad stuff, to sound super smart, can always be fuel, if the self is strong enough and goals are in place.
The integrity of the self depends on the ability to take neutral or destructive events and turn them into positive ones. Basically, those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves and emerge stronger from the ordeal.
That, a condensed summation from Sir Csikszentmihalyi (still a dick), is the ideology that resonated. So, how do we do that? How do we use events, good and bad, to get into flow?
Beliefs, Goals, Growth
Beliefs: beliefs and standards are exactly what define you and the type of person you want to be. They also allow you to become the type of person you want to be. Before any type of growth, or improvement, both elements needed to shape events and to live in flow, you must know who and what you are.
I’ve had an affirmation board affixed to my bathroom mirror for the last year. It was a little aggressive in the cheesy, annoyingly positive tones, and it wasn’t really in line with this subject matter now. I also had a large stick figure I drew performing oral on a corner of the board. So, I made a new one.
- I am committed to growth, daily, where optimization of mind and body in pursuit of happiness and confidence are my goal. Every moment and interaction is an opportunity to improve, in mind and body. If I feel regret, or lack of motivation, I will always replace it with education and fitness. The improvement of myself will always be done with the intention of maximizing my contribution to others and living in compassion. Get Nancy and Bob back together.
These, jumbled together, serve as a baseline and broad belief system. They are long, and wordy, and you might want to sac tap me, but they are in accord with flow. When your belief, and personal identity is defined by a commitment to perpetual growth, in all facets of life, and the consideration of others is connected to the pursuit, then the perspective of bad to good becomes organic. Soon, much quicker than you think, adversity and tribulation will register as fuel, not burden.
Goals: Beliefs precipitate goals because goals can become arbitrary, dead things, if not propelled by personal standard. Once symbiotic, though, beliefs and goals enable flow activity (thought about making a menstruation joke there, but didn’t, because that’s not in line with my beliefs and standards). In every instance, when goals and beliefs are in place, all events, especially the hopeless and painful, can heighten flow activity. Say your goal is to hit a certain sales quota by a certain time. If you just lost a large deal or a substantial proposal was rejected, practically speaking you have moved no closer to your goal. That sucks. It sucks if you process it the wrong way, devoid of belief. If you are strong of mind, and know who you are and where you are going, it is an opportunity to analyze and find new opportunities to move forward, grounded in what you learned from the defeat. Finding those new ways and new methods become flow activity, because there are mediums in which you are growing and working toward your goal. That sounds like a dissipative structure to me right there! (insert hand job motion here)
I’ve created goals in all areas of my life, both quantitative and qualitative in measure. This enables progress in perpetuity, using all interaction and relations along the way.
- Quadruple my sales quota by fiscal year end (see above reasoning).
- View every personal interaction as an opportunity to strengthen a relationship and bring value. That’s more a measure of quality and accountability, but it allows for every interaction to be a flow activity—since I’m always trying to improve. Value is subjective, too. I could be asking good questions and allowing a new acquaintance to discuss themselves and their beliefs. Or I could make a commitment to golf course etiquette and respect that a $75 green fee is a lot and I should not put a cart in reverse in a back swing. Both ends of the spectrum, both value in efforts of growth.
- Six pack. Go to the gym and get stronger when bad shit happens. Girls don’t play dudes with body fat below 11 percent. That’s a dissipative fact.
Growth: To compress the flow theory, relating to the channeling of events and energy, growth would be the word to use. Stagnation, the opposite of growth, is how things die. It is how you lose control of your mind—in pursuit of nothing—and it is how your consciousness can run wild. If you chose to grovel, which we do, and I’ve done a lot, that is when your mind will succumb to what is negative. You will lose control, making no progress toward any type of goal, and you will probably reactivate Tinder, Bumble, and Ashley Madison. On the contrary, when growth is a cognizant life staple, the bad will spurn action. It is fuel to improvement. All means to improvement, even if the origination is in pain, are flow activities.
If you know me, and you’ve actually read this far, first, thank you. It means a lot you sat on all 1900 words prior. In saying that, you also know the current life events that have precipitated this personal excitement and tangible perspective. I’m not going to go into it, too much, and writing about it more is awkward for me than it is you reading it, I promise. It’s just part of the growth.
I felt equal parts hurt, disrespected, inferior, and a little crushed in the heart, if I’m gonna tuck my sac back and actually say what I want. When things happened, I felt this way for a few days. I mention distraction several times previous because that’s what I did—what I felt I needed. I had a nice little pity party with me myself and I (actually got to the episode where Joey moves out of Chandlers by day 3) and I just kind of kicked it in limbo. When I wasn’t distracted, my mind wasn’t my own, and past images and dialogue pervaded really every part of my day. It sucked. I was defeated AF (as f*ck, mom, if you’re still awake). And then, as the profound and transformative events in our lives tend to occur, it stopped. Well, the negative feelings didn’t stop, but how I used them did. I read this book. I came upon this information and I met the perspective.
For the last few years of my life I have been working to become a better, more selfless person—which is hard, because I’m selfish—and I’ve strived to bring happiness to those around me. For three days, and for most negative response pattern of my adult life, I’ve been ignorant to that—to the gift. I had no problem living in my beliefs and standards when things were right and times were good. But when it got bad, or I met adversity, like you’re probably anticipating me saying, my mind took form of a turd. But again, in epiphany form, you realize the gift—the bad. In simple terms, outside of relationships and romance, when you fail, you have the opportunity to see why. You have the opportunity to grow and to improve. As things become worse, and much more painful, the opportunity actually correlatively grows. You can awaken your heart and see yourself that much more. Pain is an avenue to insight. It’s a chance to recall personal standards and it will force you to find new ways to your goal, ways in which you might not have seen before. It is also something we never want (pain), so when we experience it, we learn how to improve. We grow. All I talked about was wanting to be a stronger, better person. Now, right in front of me, result of hardship, was that chance.
In a cheap sense, this was a chance to funnel the energy of insecurity into health and fitness. That’s easy. It’s also still growth, and probably the best kind of fuel. Skip a rep in the gym when you are aware your old lady is nestled into something else—you won’t.
Then there is the chance for the growth of awareness, and fulfillment. Pain brings to light the goals and progress you’ve been neglecting. By realizing the void the setback has created, getting really visceral with it, you see exactly the beliefs and goals you’ve been forced from pursuing. Appreciate the pain, and then realize it is completely a catalyst for recommitment.
And then, finally, and in most sincere form, comes perspective growth. A compassionate heart is the foundation for which all love is founded. There is no better way than through pain to open yourself and your heart; to realize that growing in love is always available.
Pain, of course, illuminates that conscious growth of compassion in the ultimate way… The improvement of myself will always be done with the intention of maximizing my contribution to others and living in compassion (a personal belief noted earlier, if you forgot, or are gagging on this material). Through the bad, I’m called to chase the good. If whatever happened with me and the lady, and whatever she did and had to do, was what led her to the happiness she has now, I’m on board. I felt pain because of the level in which I cared, and the good I saw in her. Without pain, I don’t know if I would have realized it. Without pain, I wouldn’t be able to happy for her the way I am now and I would not have realized the capacity I have to care. And through pain, as I am joyously aware, I’m living in a shit ton of growth.
Awaken your heart and see yourself that much more… Illuminates the conscious growth of compassion… Dude, I hope your tattoo gets infected.