Monday, February 3, 2014


During his climb of the Devil's Thumb, Krakauer makes the following statement regarding his experience high upon the mountain, "By and by, your attention becomes so intensely focused that you no longer notice the raw knuckles, the cramping thighs, the strain of nonstop concentration.  A trance-like state settles over your efforts, the climb becomes a clear-eyed dream.  Hours slide by like minutes.  The accrued guilt and clutter of day-to-day existence - the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the festering familial scores, the inescapable prison of your genes - all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering sense of purpose, and by the seriousness of the task at hand" (p. 7).

What Krakauer is describing in this passage is what psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi describes as a state of flow.  A state of flow is where the challenge of the task perfectly matches the skill of the individual absorbed in the pursuit.  During flow one is lost in a sense of timelessness and total absorption to the task at hand.  If the activity is too difficult for an individual's skills, anxiety ensues.  If too little challenge is presented for the person's skill, boredom results.  It is what an athlete is referring to when they say they are 'in the zone.'  Interestingly, because one is in flow, s/he is so completely absorbed in the activity that s/he loses all sense of self.  Because of this phenomenon, one does not realize they were in flow until after the activity has ended.  It is only after they are no longer in a state of flow that they can reflect on and express how fulfilling the experience was.  Flow can be achieved in any pursuit that one is passionate about and skilled in.  One can find flow in extreme activities, sports, writing papers, studying, work, even having a conversation with a good friend. 

Not surprisingly, being in flow, finding activities for which you can become fully absorbed, is a key to finding fulfillment in life.  More information on flow available in Csikszentmihalyi's 2008 TED talk:

What other examples of flow have you noticed in the reading?  In what activities do you find flow?

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