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Flow And Anti-Flow Essay, Research Paper


In this discussion we will analyze the theories of flow and anti-flow and their effects on the psyche of the human being in four parts. First, we will thoroughly define what flow and anti-flow are. Second, I have conducted two interviews to determine how flow and anti-flow effect the lives of two working professionals. The first interview with the human relations director at a local A.M. talk radio station, and the second, with a jazz guitar performance graduate from Arizona State University. Next, I will relay how flow and anti-flow have affected my life during a four day span, that I documented in a journal, my experiences and how I tried to increase the amount of flow in my life. Finally, I will discuss the ways in which I can better promote the knowledge I have acquired, about flow and anti-flow, towards my future.

To understand what flow and anti-flow are, we need to take a look at the writings of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His interest in the subject began while observing art students at the University of Chicago (93 Russell). He wondered why these students could find so much interest in a field that virtually had no chance of providing serious income or induction into the upper echelon of society. He realized that these students were spending time doing something that they really wanted to do. He understood that these activities brought these people an inner peace that allowed them to concentrate on nothing else except the task at hand. In doing so, they experienced something known as ?flow?. As he defines it, ?Flow is a word used to describe a state of being in which you become so involved in some activity or thing that nothing else seems to matter…..You do it for the sheer pleasure ?(93 Russell). When an individual is performing a task that produces flow, time seems to pass like a breath of air. Many musicians, artist, and inventors experience this feeling very frequently. Anti-flow is described as an event or series of events that an individual has to do. The activities of are usually full of stress, boredom, or anxiety. Take for instance a trip to the dentist office or a seminar on the pros and con?s of foot fungus. These are events that the individual does not look forward to, and cannot wait until their completion. Time seems to stop when engaged in an activity that produces anti-flow.

Next, he goes on to develop eight essential characteristics of flow. The first states, ?The activity is challenging and requires skill?(93 Russell). Boredom and anxiety create anti-flow. If the participant is not challenged, or too challenged, flow cannot occur during an activity. Whether an individual is reading (using the mind) or participating in an athletic event (using physical energy), it must challenge the mind or comprise of a challenging competition to keep the level of concentration high. The second characteristic is, ?Action and awareness merge?(94 Russell). In this, we see the level of concentration reach an absolute pinnacle. Nothing other than the challenge occupies the mind. The mind has no room to process anything else but the activity before it. If the mind were to wander, the level of concentration would drop, ending this frequently short-lived sensation. The third element is, ?Concentration on the task at hand? (95 Russell). With such a high level of concentration, the individual is able to temporarily forget the ills or worries of life. As I stated before, the mind is only focused on the activity at hand, allowing the high concentration levels to block out any interference that could hinder the level of the activity. Fourth, there is, ?The loss of self-consciousness? (95 Russell). In this the individual becomes one with the activity. While reaching the heights of concentration, self-awareness cannot serve as mental interference. In order to engage this characteristic, the individual must be so deep into the activity that there, ?is not enough energy left over to allow us to consider ourselves?(95 Russell). Next is the fifth characteristic, ?Clear goals and feedback?(95 Russell). In this meaning, ?It is possible to achieve such complete involvement in a flow experience partly because the goals of the activity are clear, and the feedback is immediate?(95 Russell). We know what to expect when we reach the climax of a goal. When you ski down a slope, you do so knowing that the wind will blow through your hair, and you should reach the bottom. The sixth characteristic is a ?Sense of control?(96 Russell). Although control maybe lost or an injury may occur, many describe flow as being in control of the situation or activity. The seventh characteristic described is, ?The transformation of time?(96 Russell). Here, time is almost non existent. For people that reach a state of flow, time races by in what only seems to be a few minutes. In these high levels of concentration, nothing else exists but the focus. The eighth, and final, characteristic is an, ?autotelic experience?(97 Russell). When someone puts all of their money and effort into building an excellent car engine, they do so because of the feeling they achieve when they are driving the car. The driving is the reward. Doing something not for a future reward, but for the act itself (97 Russell).


In this section, I have interviewed two people to see how flow and anti-flow fit into their lives. The first was my girlfriend Ms. Laura Borrillo, the human resources director at KFNX 1100 AM talk radio. The second was my brother Mr. Jason Reynoso, a jazz guitar performance graduate from Arizona State University. I informed both Ms. Borrillo and Mr. Reynoso what the definitions of flow and anti-flow were. From there, I asked the both of them to give me examples of flow and anti-flow in their lives. Mr. Reynoso began describing his flow experiences as, ?a gift from god…To be able to enjoy my life, I?ve given myself to my music. Every time I perform or practice, it feels like I go to a place where I never leave…Time really does play tricks on you.? He is talking about the seventh characteristic of flow, the transformation of time. Next, Ms. Borrillo described her experience with flow as, ?Reading a brand new book into the wee hours of the morning, not realizing that it was two or three in the A.M.!…I also love to exercise. It seems that I always fall into a trance while I?m running or doing aerobics.? She too is describing a transformation of time, as well as the fourth characteristic, the loss of self-consciousness. When describing anti-flow Ms. Borrillo focused on work, while Mr. Reynoso seemed to feel it only away from work. Reynoso said, ? The most boring thing for me is sitting in line at a grocery store. No matter what time I go shopping, it always seems that every coupon waving customer is in line ahead of me…Another one is when I go to get my braces tightened. It seems like an eternity waiting in that office. It always feels like I?m the last name called?. His anti-flow stems from anxiety. Ms. Borrillo said, ? Every time I go to work, it seems that I?m done with all my paperwork and interviews by lunchtime. It?s totally unfulfilling?. Her anti-flow comes from boredom and not enough of a challenge. ?I need to do the work at a slower pace just to look like I had a full day of duties?. I went on to ask them if they felt their jobs were allowing them the leisure time needed to pursue better ways of generating flow. My brother said that his job was his flow, while Ms. Borrillo said that the weekends give her plenty of time to read books and exercise. I asked them how many times a day they felt flow in their lives. Ms. Borrillo responded, ?on the average, three or four times a day?. Mr. Reynoso added, ?Yea, I?d say that was about what my answer was going to be as well. Maybe more on days that we perform?. My next question asked them how anti-flow could be eradicated from their lives. Ms. Borrillo said, ?If I had a more fulfilling job or a better attitude about the one I have, then I could see a definite reduction in anti-flow?. Mr. Reynoso stated, ?If I could find the same peace that music gives me in other areas of life, then I could see a reduction in anti-flow?.


What I have learned about myself during the four days that I kept a journal is encouraging. It seems that I constantly let anti-flow situations get the best of me. As Driver suggested, ?leisure is motivated by the satisfaction it provides?(99 Russell). I should choose better forms of leisure to experience flow on a more frequent basis. Although I play many sports and many instruments, there are other forms of leisure that I need to explore to develop a wider range of flow in my life. I noticed a need for a change in my attitudes towards seemingly impossible situations. These situations range from not being in control to not being comfortable in certain locations. Maybe I could try to interact with people I don?t know in uncomfortable social situations to try and increase the amount of flow that isn?t there when I just talk to nobody. What I did find out about the flow that I do experience is good. When I play guitar or piano I feel the characteristics that Mihayli was talking about. The ?transformation of time? (97 Russell) he discussed, constantly fills me when I play any instrument. When I engage in a basketball game, I feel the ?sense of control? (45 mihayli) that he elaborated on. When I read before I go to bed I feel like I become part of the book, as described in Mihayli?s ?loss of self-consciousness? (95 Russell). I really tried to make more opportunities to experience flow during this four day journal, but only small steps lead to great leaps and that?ll take a little bit of time.


Over this four-day period, I learned that it will be possible to make my life a pasture of flow that I can live in. Indeed, it will take a little while to train myself how to better choose the leisure situations that will only promote flow, but with everything in life, trial and error become a practice to make life complete. In the future, people will recognize how I have improved myself through the proper use of my leisure time and the defeat of my boredom. With the promotion of flow into my sphere of life, I will understand what it is to experience leisure to the fullest potential.



1) M.Csikszentmihalyi.Beyond Boredom and Anxiety,SanFrancisco,CA:Jossey-Bass.Publishers,1988

2) Russell,R.(1996).pastimes.Dubuque,Iowa:Brown&Benchmark Publishers

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