"Goodbye Mihaly": Six Quotes that Mean the World to Me.
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Dedicated to the Father of Flow. May you rest in peace.
The concept of Flow got me through a really tough time.
About two years, I found myself "stuck" in a in a job that felt pretty meaningless. It wasn't very challenging either.
On a good note, the Monday-Friday work week would go by uneventfully. On a bad note, each day was a complete drag to get through. There was a consistent nagging feeling that I was stagnating and achieving nothing with my life then.
Foolishly, I brought those feelings into my weekend too. The anxiety of another pointless week ahead overrode the "rest and relaxation" vibe that the weekend was supposed to bring.
Sundays were the absolute worst, especially with the Monday looming overhead.
I knew something wasn't quite right with the way I was living. Still, it took me a while to realise what that was.
Enter the State of Flow.
Flow is a state of mind discovered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who passed away just last week and is the premise of what this article is about.
He was a Hungarian born Psychology Professor who moved to the United States when he was in his 20's. Early on in his research, Mihaly found that people describe their best experiences in life as those when they are in a state he would eventually came to call Flow.
It was through his work that I was slowly able to fix my own life, and create a better quality of experience for myself.
Here are six of my favourite quotes with him, that elucidate the nature of Flow and how it leads to greater order in our consciousness and lives.
1) Getting out of the rut.
This first quote by Mihaly describes exactly what I was going through two years ago:
“Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. "
To some extent, we all have this awareness of what our purpose is at every single juncture of our lives.
Yet, for whatever reason, we don't do it.
We convince ourselves that we lack the energy and motivation to push through. It might also be fears or anxieties of failure that are locking us in.
There are all sorts of things that we can attribute blame to when we feel miserable too.
For me, I blamed my job for making me so tired and disgruntled everyday. I blamed the people I worked with for not making my job a more enjoyable place. I blamed myself for not doing something about it.
Yet, blame doesn't change anything - it certainly doesn't get you closer to your purpose.
It just leaves you there, continuing to be stuck.
2) Reflecting on our best moments.
“The best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times... The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."
I was misled by the common notion that the best enjoyments in life lay in the lull periods. I presupposed that these were to be the weekends, or all other times we are free of our work's shackles, such as the holidays and trips overseas.
Yet why did my weekends feel so wasted?
Why were Sundays so terrible?
Why was it when I looked deep into my present life, it was filled with emptiness and a lack of achievement?
I began to anticipate a future where I didn't have to work and could "do what I wanted to do".
I think there are many other people out there who unknowingly feel this way. We hear it more often nowadays, with young Singaporeans striving for "financial independence or FIRE" and long to spend our lives however we wish.
Yet, what did this mentality end up making me do? Simple. I continued to grind in my job with the expectation that if I earned enough money, such a future would eventually come.
Praying and hoping that happiness would come along with it eventually.
3) Stop depending on external sources of happiness.
"What I "discovered" was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them.
Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person."
Looking back and asking myself - if I had continued down this path, how long more would I have to wait for that to happen?
I started to realise that I was trading my present happiness in anticipation of some far-off future hope. That somehow, someday happiness would "happen" all on its own.
Yet the truth is, life doesn't happen that way. As much as we would like it to be, the universe isn't some loving force that propels everyone to their best ever self.
Continuing to drag myself to work each day was not the solution. Nor was the solution to just continue to live a sub-par life in hope that something would magically change for the better.
Positive change doesn't just happen on it's own.
We have to make the change ourselves.
4) Why Flow matters.
"Flow is the process of achieving happiness through control over one's inner life. The optimal state of inner experience is order in consciousness.
This happens when we focus our attention (psychic energy) on realistic goals and when our skills match the challenges we face."
Through reading his work, I found a term for what I was experiencing through Mihaly's work - it's called Psychic Entropy.
At its core, I was experiencing a discrepancy between what I hoped to achieve with my life, versus what I was actually doing it.
My "inner experience" was in a state of chaos and incongruence.
Something deep in me knew I was meant to be doing more. The chaos my mind was experiencing had buried it away.
Yet, a deep look into myself strangely revealed the answer rather quickly. What I thought my goal was all along and what I had been doing with my time was a far cry from this revelation. It surely wasn't about earning enough money so I could enjoy more passive times.
It was about actively pursuing my dreams of helping others through my work. It was what made me become a Psychologist in the first place.
Now I just needed to summon the energy to do it.
The substance of a goal began to form.
5) The solution.
"The solution is to gradually become free of societal rewards and learn how to substitute for them rewards that are under one’s own powers."
On the flip side of Psychic Entropy is, of course, the concept of Flow.
Mihaly describes being in a Flow state as one where people feel "so involved in an activity that nothing seems to matters."
You ego falls away. Time flies. Every thought and action flows from one to another, like an experienced pianist playing a masterpiece.
Following that, you emerge feeling accomplished and happier, having used your skills to the utmost.
I started to put my energy into working towards my goal of helping people. The first step was, well, redesigning my job at that time and building in personally meaningful challenge.
And then I also started this blog.
Sure, it wasn't easy at first.
The fears, anxieties, and excuses came knocking at my door step. Yet, I took that as a further challenge.
And challenges are exactly what makes being in Flow absolutely blissful.
It really is about knowing that you've spent your time meaningfully, in an effort to achieve something worthwhile. Doing it for no one other than for yourself and in making full use of your skills.
I pushed on.
6) Finding Flow in Purpose.
"To be successful you have to enjoy doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself."
Nearly a year later, I sit here writing this article feeling pretty darn satisfied with my existence.
The things that get me in Flow now goes beyond writing on this blog. Now, I also spend my time volunteering every week, revisiting my earlier goals of becoming a therapist and eventually counselling psychologist (I dropped out a clinical psychology course ten years ago), and also started a non-profit organisation in Singapore.
The challenge keeps rising and there seems like there's no end.
But, do I ever want it to end?
It is entirely worthy of my continued effort. I'm happy to continue giving my time and life to it. Even if it's for the rest of my life.
I've rediscovered what my purpose in life is. It isn't about about life being easy, passive, and free from challenges.
It's about embracing challenges that are personally meaningful. To keep working on them and continue to write my own very story about my existence.
I even look forward to each new day and each new week now. I have found happiness in the present, and the future looks pretty bright too.
Life feels great and purposeful.
In closing, even though I've only known you through your books - thank you Mihaly and may you rest in Peace.
This little post is dedicated to you. May your work live on and I'll keep on living each day in Flow.
If you'd like to learn more about Flow, do check out my article exploring it at a deeper level. I also created a layman's three-part guide to help you get in Flow. Let me know if you ever needed some guidance, I'll be here :)