Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: Inspirational Book Exercises

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Have you read Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and want to relate the concepts to your own life? How can these exercises help you understand the book better?

In the book Flow, Csikszentmihalyi offers advice on how to enter the flow state and feel more purpose in life. He discusses topics such as flow-inducing activities, finding flow at work, finding flow in your relationships, and more.

Keep reading for exercises inspired by Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow.

Flow Book Exercises

Although we live longer today and have more material wealth than ever, many people feel anxious rather than happy. In Flow, Csikszentmihalyi offers an antidote. People are happiest when they feel in control of their inner thoughts and feelings and experience a “flow state”: a sense of enjoyment, purpose, and meaning. 

Explore Psychic Entropy

Reflect on a recent time you felt upset through the lens of psychic entropy (a disordered state where you feel stuck).

  • Describe a time that upsetting information entered your consciousness. What was the information?
  • How did the information conflict with your goal(s)?
  • How did you decide to act in response to the information?
  • Knowing that feeling upset is a reaction to receiving information that’s incompatible with your goals, how would you act differently in a similar situation? 

Understand Your Relationship With Pleasure and Enjoyment

Examine your habits around pleasure and enjoyment. (Remember, pleasurable activities, such as watching television, can help order your consciousness, but they can’t bring new order and don’t require concentration the way enjoyable activities do.)

  • This chapter discusses how pleasure is a way to order to your consciousness when it has been disrupted. What is an activity you do regularly that gives you pleasure and orders your consciousness? Why do you do it?
  • Have you experienced any downsides to choosing this activity?
  • Can you think of a more enjoyable activity that would both reorder your consciousness in a new way and provide enjoyment?

Achieve Flow

Evaluate whether you have an autotelic personality.

Autotelic people habitually achieve flow by doing four things: observing their environment and acting on opportunities, setting goals, concentrating on activities, and enjoying a variety of activities. Based on this list, do you think you have an autotelic personality? Why or why not?

If you have an autotelic personality, what are two or three personal and/or familial conditions that have helped you become autotelic? If you’re not autotelic, what are two or three personal and/or environmental obstacles you’ve experienced?

What steps can you take to enhance the autotelic elements of your personality?

Choose the Right Activity  

Reflect on enjoyable, flow-producing activities mentioned in this chapter.

  • Consider flow-producing physical activities and activities that engage the senses. Which of these activities have you done and enjoyed?
  • Choose one activity from the previous question to think about in more detail. Which characteristics of that activity made it enjoyable?
  • Think of a physical activity or activity that engages the senses that you didn’t enjoy. Based on the list of how to order a flow activity—setting a goal, measuring your progress, concentrating on the activity, understanding the challenges involved, developing the skills needed to act on new opportunities, and not getting bored—identify one or two ways that the activity fell short for you.
  • Which flow-inducing activities would you like to do more often? What pleasurable activities can you modify to be more enjoyable or flow-inducing?

Find Possibilities for Flow at Work

Examine whether your work provides sufficient flow opportunities.

Do you enjoy your work? Explain your answer, using concepts from this chapter such as preferring leisure, the work being too challenging or too easy, or work conflicting with personal goals.

Regardless of your answer to the previous question, there are probably opportunities to make your work more enjoyable. Describe one or two ways that you could make your work more enjoyable and reflect on how this fits into the concept of flow.

Assess Your Relationships

Examine the quality of your relationships with family members.

  • Choose a family member or romantic partner whom you wished you had a better relationship with. Write two to three sentences describing the quality of your relationship.
  • Which of the concepts in this chapter help you understand this relationship’s shortcomings? (For example, you might realize that your mother struggles to show an interest in your goals, or that a romantic partner wasn’t willing to adjust their lifestyle to spend adequate time with you.)
  • Now that you understand this relationship better, describe one way you could approach it differently so that it’s more fulfilling for you and the other person. (For example, if you realize your relationship with your brother isn’t fulfilling because you don’t seem to share any common goals, perhaps you plan to regularly try new activities together that are outside both of your comfort zones. Or you could make plans to do something your brother enjoys together and then do something you enjoy.)

What’s Your Coping Style?

Reflect on your coping style.

  • Think of a recent time you experienced a major setback. How did you react at the time and in the days and weeks that followed?
  • What coping style does your behavior reflect: Negative, positive, or a mix? How does your behavior reflect this style?
  • In a similar future situation, is there anything you’d do differently to push yourself toward a more positive coping response? Why or why not?

Find Your Life Purpose

Reflect on your progress (or lack thereof) toward finding and pursuing your life’s purpose.

  • Is having a life purpose important to you? Why or why not?
  • Describe a life purpose that you think could add meaning to your life. If you already have one, describe what it is.
  • Describe a goal you could set to help you work toward your life’s purpose.
Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: Inspirational Book Exercises

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Here's what you'll find in our full Flow summary :

  • Why people feel the happiest when they're in the "flow state"
  • What activities and personality traits promote flow
  • Why you may have a paradoxical relationship with work and leisure

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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