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Top 15 Quotes From Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Top 15 Quotes From Flow By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

  1. 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. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.

  2. Control over consciousness is not simply a cognitive skill. At least as much as intelligence, it requires the commitment of emotions and will. It is not enough to know how to do it; one must do it, consistently, in the same way as athletes or musicians who must keep practicing what they know in theory. And this is never easy. Progress is relatively fast in fields that apply knowledge to the material world, such as physics or genetics. But it is painfully slow when knowledge is to be applied to modify our own habits and desires.

  3. The shape and content of life depend on how attention has been used. Entirely different realities will emerge depending on how it is invested. The names we use to describe personality traits – such as extrovert, high achiever, or paranoid – refer to the specific patterns people have used to structure their attention. At the same party, the extrovert will seek out and enjoy interactions with others, the high achiever will look for useful business contacts, and the paranoid will be on guard for signs of danger he must avoid. Attention can be invested in innumerable ways, ways that can make life either rich or miserable.

  4. Because attention determines what will or will not appear in consciousness, and because it is also required to make any other mental events – such as remembering, thinking, feeling, and making decisions – happen there, it is useful to think of it as psychic energy. Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy. Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we please; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.

  5. If attention, or psychic energy, is directed by the self, and if the self is the sum of the contents of consciousness and the structure of its goals, and if the contents of consciousness and the goals are the result of different ways of investing attention, then we have a system that is going round and round, with no clear causes or effects. At one point we are saying that the self directs attention, at another, that attention determines the self. In fact, both these statements are true: consciousness is not strictly a linear system, but one in which circular causality obtains. Attention shapes the self, and is in turn shaped by it.

  6. Although the flow experience appears to be effortless, it is far from being so. It often requires strenuous physical exertion, or highly disciplined mental activity. It does not happen without the application of skilled performance. Any lapse in concentration will erase it. And yet while it lasts consciousness works smoothly, action follows action seamlessly. In normal life, we keep interrupting what we do with doubts and questions. ‘Why am I doing this? Should I perhaps be doing something else?’ Repeatedly we question the necessity of our actions, and evaluate critically the reasons for carrying them out. But in flow there is no need to reflect, because the action carries us forward as if by magic.

  7. Often children – and adults – need external incentives to take the first steps in an activity that requires a difficult restructuring of attention. Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person’s skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.

  8. Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos, designed to reduce the impact of randomness on experience. They are adaptive responses, just as feathers are for birds and fur is for mammals. Cultures prescribe norms, evolve goals, build beliefs that help us tackle the challenges of existence. In so doing they must rule out many alternative goals and beliefs, and thereby limit possibilities; but this channeling of attention to a limited set of goals and means is what allows effortless action within self-created boundaries.

  9. What we found was that when people were pursuing leisure activities that were expensive in terms of the outside resources required – activities that demanded expensive equipment, or electricity, or other forms of energy measured in BTU’s, such as power boating, driving, or watching television – they were significantly less happy than when involved in inexpensive leisure. People were happiest when they were just talking to one another, when they gardened, knitted, or were involved in a hobby; all of these activities require few material resources, but they demand a relatively high investment of psychic energy. Leisure that uses up external resources, however, often requires less attention, and as a consequence it generally provides less memorable rewards.

  10. We don’t usually notice how little control we have over the mind, because habits channel psychic energy so well that thoughts seem to follow each other by themselves without a hitch. After sleeping we regain consciousness in the morning when the alarm rings, and then walk to the bathroom and brush our teeth. The social roles culture prescribes then take care of shaping our minds for us, and we generally place ourselves on automatic pilot till the end of the day, when it is time again to lose consciousness in sleep. But when we are left alone, with no demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing. Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment: it will focus on some real or imaginary pain, on recent grudges or long-term frustrations.

  11. The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere. Collectively we are wasting each year the equivalent of millions of years of human consciousness. The energy that could be used to focus on complex goals, to provide for enjoyable growth, is squandered on patterns of stimulation that only mimic reality. Mass leisure, mass culture, and even high culture when only attended to passively and for extrinsic reasons – such as the wish to flaunt one’s status – are parasites of the mind. They absorb psychic energy without providing substantive strength in return. They leave us more exhausted, more disheartened than we were before.

  12. The way to grow while enjoying life is to create a higher form of order out of the entropy that is an inevitable condition of living. This means taking each new challenge not as something to be repressed or avoided, but as an opportunity for learning and for improving skills. When physical vigor fails with age, for example, it means that one will be ready to turn one’s energies from the mastery of the external world to a deeper exploration of inner reality. It means that one can finally read Proust, take up chess, grow orchids, help one’s neighbors, and think about God – if these are the things that one has decided are worth pursuing. But it is difficult to accomplish any of them unless one has earlier acquired the habit of using solitude to good advantage.

  13. Purpose gives direction to one’s efforts, but does not necessarily make life easier. Goals can lead into all sorts of trouble, at which point one gets tempted to give them up and find some less demanding script by which to order one’s actions. The price one pays for changing goals whenever opposition threatens is that while one may achieve a more pleasant and comfortable life, it is likely that it will end up empty and void of meaning.

  14. The outside event appears in consciousness purely as information, without necessarily having a positive or negative value attached to it. It is the self that interprets that raw information in the context of its own interests, and determines whether it is harmful or not.

  15. At its best, literature contains ordered information about behavior, models of purpose, and examples of lives successfully patterned around meaningful goals. Many people confronted with the randomness of existence have drawn hope from the knowledge that others before them had faced similar problems, and had been able to prevail. And this is just literature; what about music, art, philosophy, and religion?

No Market Movement is Inherently Good or Bad – It’s Just Information:

For trading to be a smooth and enjoyable experience, it requires changing our natural patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior.

We’re so used to relating everything back to ourselves that we fail to realize that the market is impersonal. It doesn’t care about you, me, or any other individual trader. All it does is reflect the collective actions of the entire market. It’s an ever-evolving system.

So in order to protect ourselves from this chaos and uncertainty, we need structure in the form of rules, plans, and systems. Without this structure in place, trading becomes an extremely stressful and draining activity – both emotionally and financially.

How to For the Stock Market - 5 Steps to Consistent Profits

If we channel our efforts into a specific strategy or system with clear rules, then our actions become effortless. The mental barriers produced by having limitless options no longer exists. The distractions are gone and we’re left with an explicit set of instructions.

Ultimately, what consistently profitable trading comes down to is having a system with a positive expected value and the ability to follow that system. But without the appropriate mental awareness and control, most traders struggle to follow their systems.

Fear of missing out, being wrong, and losing money are common battles that traders need to contend with. Overcoming these hurdles by developing a completely new mindset focused on probabilities, execution, and long-term thinking is crucial to success.

Even though most people don’t realize it, good trading is NOT gambling. It’s a peak performance activity that requires many skills.

Learn More in the Trading Success Framework Course

Written by Matt Thomas (@MattThomasTP)

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Matt Thomas

Founder of, Creator of the Trading Success Framework Course & Trading Paradigm Skool Community, and Intraday Futures Trader Using Auction Market Theory & Profiling (Volume & Market Profile).

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