The Nature of "Flow" and its Teaching Implications

I'm currently reading Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure by Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi (thank you heartily to one of the previous BookMooch owners for the wonderful highlighting job). He writes:

"...flow in consciousness emerges when one perceives a well-calibrated balance between the challenges that an activity poses and the skills with which one can immediately respond. These conditions correspond to an experience of optimum balace in which just enough information is present to occupy attention fully without overloading it...over time as a young person learns to master this balanced tension, there will emerge an enduring personal project or life theme as well as a distinctive styleof engagement with the world.

Thus...(these) individuals should enjoy clear advantages in realizing the development of their talents to the fullest extent. On the day-to-day level, where others see only difficulty, their deep sense of interest aids them in recognizing new challenges, with new opportunities pitched just far enough ahead of current skills to mobilize butnot overwhelm psychic resources. In the long run, the emerging sense of a life theme ats as an organizing agent in consciousness, authorizing the devotion of extensive time to projects that reflect deep personal interests."

Now, it seems to me that it's a rare child that will have the natural balance to perch at that growing tip (to use a botanical analogy). Csikszentimihalyi (thank God for cut and paste) in fact describes this ability as a personality trait. So clearly the ideal role of the teacher is to guide a child to this point (ok, not my idea--I think some guy named Vygotsky came up with this) frequently enough that they can internalize the awareness and enjoyment of being there.

So my question is, how the heck do you do that? I imagine it takes quite an amount of sensitivity, a whole lot of mistakes, a few successes, and a good amount of self-knowledge.

What a job.

Thank God for box wine.


Manoj Padki said...

You left out an extremely important ingredient: showing your kids how *you* create Flow in your own life. And why. And how wonderful and exhilarating the feeling is. In other words, as the basic writing maxim goes: Show, don't tell.

- manoj

LB said...

I don't know, Manoj. I'm going with the box of wine idea, myself.

Kidding, of course.

I also think, Show, don't just tell, not "don't tell". Sometimes things need to be made explicit, even for the wunderkind.

Here's a lovely graphic to go with your post. It seems so damn obvious, but getting yourself there is hard enough. I don't think there is an easy way to help a child get there but through constant rediscovery and fine tuning of your own abilities to help them discover theirs.