Psychology Research Idea: Add obsession to the criticisms of flow

by phil on Wednesday Dec 3, 2008 5:57 AM
positive psychology

While I'm all for the burst of research that has been going on in positive psychology, in particular Csíkszentmihályi's Flow, I think it's also important to include the criticisms of these theories. I forget where, but somewhere I was reading counterpoints to the concept of flow.

There's this scary-looking video of children playing video games from the New York Time's piece Immersion:

These children are all in flow, but some of them seem to be in flow while committing simulated violence. A good segment of the population would think that this is a bad thing. (As an aside, I play shooters all the time).

Anyway, I want to add that obsession might have some relationship to flow. Someone mentioned that when we obsess over something, it's usually to avoid thinking about something else. In fact, I'm obsessing about my blog right now to stop thinking about other things. Obsession sort of simulates flow, and therefore gives you all of the salutary benefits of flow. In the case of thought-avoidance, by obsessing and achieving flow you are able to lose self-consciousness.

I've also been thinking about the utility of mantras. Athletes (or anybody who is driven for that matter), repeat mantras silently at times to push themselves over the top. For example, if it's near the end of a match and the game is close, I'm sure Federer says something to himself to help him close the deal, "come on Federer, you can do this, this guy is nothing. come on, you got this." Simulating flow then probably helps him actually get into flow, and thus helps him achieve optimal experience to clinch the match. Of course this is a flow that's extrinsically motivated (by the desire to win), and therefore a little inauthentic. Pumping yourself up like this too much will exhaust you. But then again, once you win the match, you have time to recoup. Plus, maybe you did get better in those closers.

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