Theory of FLOW

This is a theory presented by psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihaly in this book.

The Theory of Flow is best presented in graph relating the challenge of an activity to the skill you have/cultivate.

To present this theory, I am going to start with the graph below. Challenge on y-axis and skill on x-axis.

Point a in image below represent anyone who is just starting a new activity. Put it as an example, badminton. Say you have never played badminton before, and you go out there playing with your buddy who is similar as you, never had played before. You guys practically have zero skills and the challenge is zero. No competition whatsoever.

You start at a.

Say 20 years later you guys have both played the Olympics and you guys have the highest skills possible and facing the highest challenges, you got to point b.

Now there are these areas to the left (above) and the right (below) of a and b line.

You are in the area above the line if you don’t have a lot of skills but you’re facing big challenges. As an example, the second time you’re playing badminton suddenly your opponent is Lee Chong Wei (the number 1 player today according to BMF World Ranking), you’re in the zone which is obviously not good. Csikzentmihaly address this area as ANXIETY.

In simple words, ANXIETY is anything above the linear line that put you in a high state of challenge while your skill is low.

If you’re in the area below, you have the skills but you got not much challenge. Imagine you are Lee Choong Wei playing with a newbie, who only had only played badminton for a week. Csikzentmihaly address this area as BOREDOM.

Csikzentmihaly suggest that these two areas aren’t the optimal experiences in any aspects of life, be it at work, sports, leisure or relationships, you don’t want to stay in these regions.

You should stay on the a-b line.

The best thing that Csikzentmihaly propose is that you start the activity at point a, two players. The two play each other for a week (point c), time by time both gets better at the same time gets higher, keep going (point d), keep going (point e), until a year both are pretty good and about the same skills (point f).


This is a humongous dynamic momentum that pushes both towards betterment of the activity.

Csikzentmihaly address this as Flow Channel and this is one of the good way you should be approaching your activities in life.


Forever Young


May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

~ Bob Dylan


Knoweth Thyself part 2


When the heart had been purified by moral discipline, the clear rational heart abounds in, marvel, both of knowledge and power.

By means of it he masters arts and sciences, doing chores in the earth, make invention, made innovation.

His five senses are like five doors opening on the external world.

More beautiful than that, his heart has a window which opens on the unseen world.

This is how the heart (king) dictates how we act on earth.

Purify them always to act more positively.

Knoweth Thyself part 1

You are a human.

You consist of an outward shape (your body) and an inward entity (the heart, or soul).

The heart does not belong to the visible world, but to the invisible.

You come to this world as a traveler visiting a foreign country.

Soon you will be returning to your native land.

Close your eyes.

Forget everything around except your individuality.

Now you have come into a close idea of the reality of your heart.

An exact philosophical knowledge of the heart is not a necessary preliminary to walking in the path of religion.

It comes rather as the result of self-discipline and perseverance in that path.

Picture yourself, outward and inward, as a government ruling over a country.

Your body is the kingdom.

Your heart is the king.

Your senses is the army.

Your reason is the prime minister.

Your passion is the revenue-collector.

Your anger is the police officer.

In the mode of collecting revenuepassion is continually prone to plunder on its own account, while envy (anger) is always inclined to harshness and severity.

The revenue-collector and the police officer have to be kept in due subordination to the king, but not expelled, as they have their own proper function to fulfil.

But if passion and anger master reason, the ruin of the heart will take place subsequently.

A heart which allows its lower faculties to dominate the higher is as one who should hand over an angel to a power of a dog.

Thus, this is where moral discipline comes in, to purify the heart from the rust of passion and anger.

to be continued…

The Zorro Circle

According to legend, in the southwestern United States, there lived a masked hero roamed around fighting for the unfortunate and the helpless.

His name is Zorro.

Zorro is a hero whose masters in swordsmanship, slashing 10 villains on one go, swing grandly on the fancy chandelier in the rich’s party, stealing beautiful women’s hearts and don’t let me exaggerate more.

He has been portrayed in many literature, dramas and movies, with the most well-known played by Antonio Banderas.

Despite the awesomeness of Zorro had been glorified through Hollywood, lesser attention had been given to the way Zorro becomes the awesome Zorro, previously just a lad named Alejandro.

In the beginning of The Mask of Zorro, Alejandro had been portrayed as a young visionary man who wants to restore justice in the world by assailing villains.

Being young, with amateur skills and immature, he wants to do it immediately and spectacularly, with little patience.

Spirited, he took the challenge, but the tougher it gets, the farther he falls.

Over and over, he feels out of control and utterly powerless, resulting as a drunkard in despair.

Don Diego

Until he met Don Diego, an elder sword master, who took Alejandro into his hidden cave, the course of destiny changed.

In the cave, Don Diego starts Alejandro’s training by drawing a circle in the dirt.

“This circle will be your world. Your whole life. Until I tell you otherwise, there is nothing outside of it,” says Don Diego.

When Alejandro had mastered this small circle, time by time Don Diego allows him to expand the circle little by little until he captured the skills of the glorified awesomely Zorro that we know.

Zorro’s successes wouldn’t be possible if he had not first learned to master that small circle.

Before that moment, Alejandro had no command over his emotions, no sense of his own skill, no real faith in his ability to accomplish goals, and worst of all, no feeling of control over his own fate.

Only after he masters that first circle does he starts to become Zorro, the legend.


The Jerk and The Thinker

The Jerk

Evolutionary speaking, the oldest part of the brain responsible for our jerk-like emotional system (the Jerk), based in the limbic (emotional) region, where the amygdala reigns supreme.

This jerk-like emotional system was crucial for our survival thousands of years ago where we have no time to think logically while being attacked by a vicious hungry tiger, we just simply jump into action.

When this happens, the amygdala sounded the alarm in our brain.

The reaction results in filling our body with adrenaline and stress hormones which sparked an immediate reflex.

This reflex then commands our action, to fight or to flight?

The Limbic Brain

The Thinker

Fortunately, in the current modern world, the dangers of the wilderness were no longer a big issue.

Life’s problems usually were more complicated and most of the time responding to the Jerk system do more harm than good, especially in decision making.

Throughout history, due to harm caused by the Jerk, over evolution we have also developed a rational system in the brain (the Thinker).

The system resides mostly in the prefrontal cortex.

How the Thinker works is simple; think, then react.

Prefrontal Cortex

Emotional Hijacking

Most challenges we’re facing today require us to be the Thinker but when things were getting out of control, the Jerk tends to take over.

This event happens unconsciously and it is BIOLOGICAL.

Cortisol is the toxic chemical associated with stress. When we’re under pressure, it will start to build.

When cortisol has reached the critical point, even the smallest conflict can trigger the amygdala response, then the process (as demonstrated in The Jerk) occur.

The Jerk overpowers the Thinker‘s defenses, respond with ‘fight or flight’ instead of ‘think, then react’.

Scientists have termed the situation as ’emotional hijacking’.

Dueling for Supremacy

Psychologist cum neuroscientist, Richard Davidson had conducted a study to find out why some people were resilient while others were easily debilitated in stressful conditions.

Davidson place both groups in situations like solving difficult math problems in a short amount of time and simultaneously tracked their brain function using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

Referring to the fMRI, it is shown that the rational and reflexive part dueling for supremacy.

Comparing the patterns, the prefrontal cortex won over the limbic system in resilient individuals and vice-versa.

This means that a person with resilient character is more of the Thinker rather than the Jerk.

Why Resilience is Important in Our Time?

Each second, 5 babies are born into this world, two new blogs created, 2.8 million emails sent, 34 trees are cut down in the rainforest and around 2 people will die.

In current fast-paced modern environment, the challenges we’re facing are huge.

Adversities like broken economic system, job loses, resource scarcity, rising prices… the levels of anxiety are growing too.

Sometimes, gradual changes come in putting forward things in a very predictable way. Sometimes, like now, changes can be sudden and disoriented.

The ‘waves’ of change ahead.

“How do I cope?”

“How do I develop my resilience to thrive in these difficult times?”

“The waves are getting bigger, but what should I do?”

“How can I be the catalyst for change?

These questions are common questions one might ask on a personal level, but how can adapting a resilient character helping us in resolving these queries? How can we be psychologically prepared?

Let’s look back at the definition of psychological resilience.

Scientist/psychologist thinks that resilience has at least three different properties.

For example, resilient system could be able to withstand a shock, without losing its basic function.

Another property of resilience is the system might be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

And the third property, resilient system is able to transform to a different way of life when the current is no longer feasible.

Resilience is a character that can’t be passed through genes, it is a character than can be learned.

That’s the great news!

The Resiliency of David Beckham

Merriam-Webster defined resilience as; 1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress 2. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Material physics defined resilience as the ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically, and release that energy upon unloading.

The area under the linear portion of a stress-strain curve is the resilience of the material.

In psychology, resilience can be defined as an individual’s ability to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects. A third, more controversial form of resilience is sometimes referred to as ‘post-traumatic growth‘ or ‘steerling effects‘ where in the experience adversity leads to better functioning (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease). Resilience is most commonly understood as a process, and not a trait of an individual.

As story portrays an example better than fancy compositions of words (per above), lets look at a story, The Resilience of David Beckham.

During FIFA World Cup 1998, England was sent off in the second round by Argentina, losing on penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw. David Beckham received a red card in the game, makes him the center of the blame, the villain, by England’s supporter. It was reported that an effigy of him was hung outside of a London pub, the Daily Mirror printing a dartboard with his picture at the center of the bullseye and he’s receiving death threats after the World Cup.

The abuse that Beckham was receiving from English supporters peaked during England’s 3-2 defeat by Portugal in Euro 2000, a match where Beckham set up two goals, when a group of England supporters taunted him throughout the match. Beckham responded by raising his middle finger and, while the gesture attracted some criticism, many of the newspapers that had previously encouraged his vilification asked their readers to stop abusing him.

For a person, having the whole nation against you can be something scary, leading to stress that may break the soul into pieces, ones may doom towards depression, falling out. Although you’re a professional footballer who receive big paycheck, social stress can’t be cured by only money.

However, by 2000, Beckham was promoted to team captain, helping England to qualify the 2002 World Cup finals, including an impressive 5-1 victory over Germany. The final step in Beckham’s conversion from villain to hero happened in England’s 2-2 draw against Greece. England needed to win or draw the match in order to qualify for the World Cup, but were losing 2-1 with little time remaining. During the whole game Beckham fall many times, running in and out, trying to ensure England’s victory. Approaching the final whistle, an opportunity comes, where England were awarded a free-kick and Beckham ensured England’s qualification with a curling strike.

That goal shook the country. That feeling was better than an orgasm. He has managed to turn the page and be a national hero. That is the third controversial form of resilience (as stated above), experience adversity leads to better functioning.

Positive Tetris Effect

Say adapting something simple in your life. Something simple but good. Something that is fundamentally enlightened your soul, but still simple. The things that are fundamentally simple, but specific. And you do them on a daily basis. (Did my words make these simple things complicated? Oh well, now I got your attention.)

Now grab a journal. Take a few minutes. Write something about the things you are grateful for, over the last 24 hours.

After you’re done with gratification, write something about physical workout that keep you moving and active.

Then write something about meditation you do today. Prayers included.

Finally write something about kindness you do today.

Still wondering? Here’s an example from my log today:

“Gratitude: I’m grateful for having friends that were indeed cheerful and we have some good laughs when hang together. I’m grateful to live in Putrajaya where every weekend there must be something going on. Yesterday we had this ‘walk the talk’ event to show support for World Hunger Relief.

Exercise: I run my usual track and completed the Power Yoga sequence that I’ve been pursuing for quite some days. Awesome!

Meditation: I took some meditation break after prayers 3 times today. Plus, the Power Yoga helps me finding my powerful center.

Act of Kindness: I helped my mom getting her groceries. Makes it easier for her.”

Journal log about good things on a daily basis can help in directing our mind scanning for the good things and the good opportunity ahead. Not ignoring the bad things, but to make the bad things seem obsolete. After all, you create your own future, aren’t you?

Negative Tetris Effect

Positive Psychology emphasis on the positive side but did not ignore the negativity. Although we can utilize The Tetris Effect for our benefits but misused can be damaging, unaware.

Here’s an excerpt from The Happiness Advantage page 90:

“Over the past year, as I have been working with the global tax accounting firm KPMG to help their tax auditors and managers become happier, I began to realize that many of the employees were suffering from an unfortunate problem. Many of them had to spend 8 to 14 hours a day scanning tax forms for errors, and as they did, their brains were becoming wired to look for mistakes. This made them very good at their jobs, but they were getting so expert at seeing errors and potential pitfalls that this habit started to spill over into other areas of their lives.

Like the Tetris players who suddenly saw those blocks everywhere, these accountants experienced each day as a tax audit, always scanning the world for the worst. As you can imagine, this was no picnic, and what’s more, it was undermining their relationships at work and at home. In performance reviews, they noticed only the faults of their team members, never the strengths. When they went home to their families, they noticed only the C’s on their kids’ report cards, never the A’s. When they ate at restaurants, they could only notice that the potatoes were underdone—never that the steak was cooked perfectly. One tax auditor confided that he had been very depressed over the past quarter. As we discussed why, he mentioned in passing that one day during a break at work he had made an Excel spreadsheet listing all the mistakes his wife had made over the past six weeks. Imagine the reaction of his wife (or soon to be ex wife) when he brought that list of faults home in an attempt to make things better.”

Got the idea? Tomorrow I’m posting my view on Positive Tetris Effect.

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