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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.

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.

Looking for Patterns – The Tetris Effect

On How I Met Your Mother, we saw many words of encouragement on Barney’s office wall. Even on facebook many pages were created giving daily motivation thoughts with the intention to make public spirited. Even in the last post I posted some pictures of words on my bedroom wall.

These are just merely to find patterns in our thoughts and as hard as we could we try to ingest the best great thoughts as possible.

Since the essence of positive psychology is about WHAT WORKS, are these practices works? As promised in this post, I’ll touch on the book that changed my view, The Happiness Advantage, written by Harvard Psychologist, Shawn Achor.

The third principle presented by the book called THE TETRIS EFFECT.

The principle got its name from the tetris game, a deceptively simple game where players rotate and move four kinds of shape that fall from above to the bottom. When unbroken horizontal line of block formed, that line will disappear. Players need to arrange as many unbroken horizontal lines as possible and lose the game when the blocks reach the ceiling of the screen.

The game is SIMPLE, sounds BORING, but surprisingly ADDICTIVE!

“In a study at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, researchers paid 27 people to play Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row. For days after the study, some participants literally couldn’t stop dreaming about shapes falling from the sky. Others couldn’t stop seeing these shapes everywhere, even in their waking hours. Quite simply, they couldn’t stop seeing their world as being made up of sequences of Tetris blocks.” The Happiness Advantage, page 88

While simple game can create patterns in the human mind, hacking them with good things continuously might work creating a better life. That had been explained well in the book. I will write more but won’t reveal everything just yet. If you can’t wait, go get THEM!

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