Last week sucked.
I woke up at 2:00 am Tuesday morning with a severe pain in my stomach. Then it got worse. Then I went to the bathroom a couple of times. Then I vomited a few times. Then I went to urgent care around 5:30 pm. The nurse missed my IV line in my arm because I was dehydrated and she couldn't find it, so she had to jab me again in the hand. They sent me home a few hours later with anti-nausea pills. The problem with swallowing pills when you have nausea is that they come back up just as fast.
I tried to go to sleep Tuesday night, but my stomach pain hadn't gotten any better and they never did give me anything for the pain. Urgent care wouldn't open again until 8:00 am Wednesday morning, so when my family went to sleep Tuesday night, I just stayed up and rocked back and forth next to the toilet for seven hours until at 3:00 am I realized there was not a chance of me continuing to do that for five more hours.
I woke up my mom and then my wife, who drove me thirty minutes to a further urgent care that was open 24/7. This was when I started to cry because I was so tired. I hadn't eaten or slept since Monday. The nurse only had to stick me once, but he made it count by missing and simply routing around in my arm until he found the vein. They give me more IV fluids and this time they finally gave me pain killers and some x-rays. They sent me home six hours later with some pain pills and suppositories for the anti-nausea.
Thursday was mostly me sticking suppositories up myself and trying to not vomit. It didn't work and I went back to urgent care. They gave me an ultrasound, CT scan, and dilaudid. Dilaudid is the most magical drug on earth when you're in pain. It makes everything stop hurting almost instantly. It also made my head feel like there was a magnet sucking it back down onto the table. It became really heavy. They gave me two more prescriptions for pain and anti-nausea and sent me home.
I didn't sleep Thursday night. I vomited again a couple of times before 6:00 am on Friday morning. The pain started getting worse again. Urgent care told me to go to the emergency room and be admitted instead. More IV's and more dilaudid. I stayed in the hospital from about 9:00 am Friday morning until about 1:00 pm Sunday afternoon. I finally ate again Sunday and got off pain killers and anti-nausea.
That week sucked.
What I Noticed
Even though I was in a great deal of pain throughout the week, the pain never bothered me the most. What I missed were a few things that I now realize to be essential for my own happiness and contentment. I feel like if I could have been in pain and still had these essentials, I wouldn't have experienced the same deep feeling of distress that I did.
These essentials were:
So there is my recap of the last week. I missed a lot of work and a lot of other good things. I'm really happy there aren't any more needles or drugs in me. In a weird way, I feel like I have a lot of energy. Not really physical energy. I am still really fatigued and not quite feeling sharp at all. Nevertheless, I do feel like I have a different sort of energy that is just bubbling out. I know the things I want to get done and the things that mean the most to me at this time. From here, I will just continue to regain my strength and direct my renewed energy at those things that are most important. The things I find essential to being content.
In my most recent book on reading a over 100 books in a year, I discussed some ideas that helped me accomplish that task. Since publishing that short work, I've been thinking even more about inspiration, motivation, and their interdependence on each other.
I can honestly say that I don't believe in the traditional stance that psychology has taken by dividing motivation into two forms: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. On the same note, I don't subscribe to the language acquisition theories of integrative and instrumental motivation.
What this comes down to is an ever broadening application of complexity theory and understanding of adaptive systems. I believe it is impossible to separate the mind and body, the body and world, and now a person's internal motivation from the people, things, and world around them.
As a short example of what I mean, here is something similar to how I've described my motivation in the past whenever intrinsic/extrinsic motivation has been brought up.
"Hey Kyle, how bout you? You intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?"
"Uh, intrinsically? Well, both I guess, depends on how you mean it."
"Well do extrinsic factors motivate you?"
"Sure, I've got plenty of role models I look up to that I try to emulate and surpass. My dad has always been a major benchmark for me when setting goals. He was big and strong, so I want to be bigger and stronger. He read a lot of books, so I want to read more books. My twin got great grades in school, so I wanted to be smarter."
"So you just want to beat everything other people do around you?"
"Kind of, not really. I really hate not being as good at something as someone else. But, I also just want to be the best possible version of myself. Really, I don't care that much if I beat anyone, just that I figure out my own limitations. I always want to be better. Does it count as intrinsic still if I use others as milestones?"
And there's the rub. How do you separate the inspiration from "other" from the motivation of "self". I don't believe you can. They seem to be completely interconnected in my view. Others inspire me and show me what is possible and through those social interactions I begin to feel intrinsic "self" motivation. I think, "I could do that." Then I go off and see if I can.
However, it doesn't end there. Once I am inspired/motivated to pursue a goal, I constantly wind up going back to others for renewed vigor and energy. For example, I am highly motivated to read and exercise regularly, but there are times when I feel like I've done everything I can. When this happens, I hit the internet and find examples of others who have done more. This sense of competition simultaneously with both myself and others keeps me going in many cases.
The Relevant Factors to My Motivations
Now, I'm going to elaborate on a number of factors that keep me personally motivated. Many of them involve both sides of the intrinsic/extrinsic coin. My motivation is always being adjusted by my own wants and desires and by what I see others doing and getting around me.
At the end of everything, I find that I can't separate and pinpoint my motivation from everything else that happens around me. It comes down to a mix of what I imagine to be genetic, environmental, experiential, and cultural factors.
While this is a pretty long post, there is still an entire concept that I have only just begun to explore within the realm of motivation - identity. I am seeing motivation more and more as the result of figuring out my real identity and how it conflicts with my imagined identity. This is a topic I am still new to and won't go into detail on. Nevertheless, I am seeing most of what I do as a consequence of trying to close the gap between an ideal self and my real self.
This unexplored area doesn't discount what I've written above, it only adds to the fact that motivation is not likely to be explained with one or two causal factors. It certainly isn't static, although it may be stable, and will continue to wax and wane for me depending on a multitude of contexts.
This is a topic I was asked to write about and is not something I've read about recently, so it'll all be from memory of the handful of books I read on the topic well over a year ago and a quick consultation with Wikipedia to jog my memory on a few aspects.
What Flow Is
Flow is essentially defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of peak performance. Csikszentmihalyi is the researcher who has coined the term and done the most studies on the phenomena over the years. This temporary state of peak performance typically occurs when the level of challenge in an activity is just right, meaning it is not so difficult as to be impossible, but not so easy as to be boring or unengaging.
The name came from a number of interviews done by Csikszentmihalyi where athletes and musicians commonly referred to their best performances as being "in the zone, on fire, or flowing". He interviewed surfers, rock climbers, musicians, chess players, and a host of other high end performers and they all said similar things when attempting to describe the state. Flow is what he settled on calling it.
Wikipedia has a nice summary of six factors included in flow from Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi (2001):
Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience.
It's important to realize that this state is extremely beneficial to mental well being. It often leaves people feeling a sense of refreshment and revitalization. Entering flow regularly can be one factor in becoming a happier, more balanced individual.
From my own experiences with flow, I would say that numbers one through four above are the most important, with five and six being secondary. Some of these experiences will be explained next.
Personal Accounts of Flow
During any given week, I would say two activities are responsible for me entering flow on a highly predictable basis: weight lifting and reading.
Unless I am planning an easy day at the gym, I am almost guaranteed of a flow experience. This can be explained using seven conditions necessary for flow proposed by Schaffer (2013) :
Having discussed weight lifting in depth, I won't go over the same seven conditions step-by-step for reading. However, I will highlight the major differences. When weight lifting, the flow experience can go in and out. This is because during an exercise, the challenge and focus needed will be excruciatingly high as discussed in point seven just above, but between sets I can fall out of flow.
This back and forth does not often happen in reading and flow can be prolonged for a much longer continuous time frame. While I believe physical states of flow are stronger for me, such as weight lifting, running, difficult hiking, biking, or swimming, the mental act of reading does allow for all of the conditions to be met in certain cases.
For example, when I read a highly engaging textbook (oxymoron?) on a topic that I am deeply interested in, I will undoubtedly know what I am doing (learning), know how to do it (read), know how well I am doing it (understanding or not), have a high perceived challenge (full understanding of a graduate-level text), have high perceived skills (I am capable of reading, learning, understanding at the master's/doctoral level), and be free from distractions (alone in my room or alone in a sea of Starbucks customers and white noise). Again, all of these conditions come from the seven points above in the weight lifting section. Refer back to refresh your memory.
The last point on being free from distraction is often the most difficult part of finding flow with reading. The gym is easy. People generally leave you alone and headphones-in-ears is a clear "fuck off" signal to most people. However, reading is not the same. Many people assume that they have the right to interrupt a person who is reading and that it is easy for them to go right back to what they were doing. While this is the case for light reading, such as Facebook or many blogs, it is not the case at all for the type of reading necessary for finding flow. The difficulty level and amount of focus required to understand complex texts at the end of your ability makes being interrupted a much bigger deal. Interruption will knock you out of flow and it can take up to fifteen minutes to regain this state once being lost.
Complex fiction is also good flow, I don't mean to give the impression that non-fiction textbooks are the only way.
Other Flow Applications
For me personally, the two examples above are the most common departure points for finding flow. However, there are tons of other ways to dig in and experience the wonderful almost ecstasy inducing feeling.
Some have already been mentioned throughout this post and along with others include: surfing, mountain climbing, music, chess, sports of all kinds, writing, meditation and even sex. Nevertheless, there is one area where flow has been highly undervalued to date.
Education and the classroom.
The classroom should be, in my opinion (backed by research and a graduate degree), a place where teachers push students to find a feeling of flow in whatever subject they are responsible for. If children do discover flow states in a class, there are much higher odds that they will want to repeat the activity.
Flow in learning should come first, mandated curriculum should come second.
Now, I understand completely that most people cannot enter flow in an activity they are new at and that many classroom activities, exercises, or subjects are new. For instance, no one is likely to enter flow the first time they sit down to play the piano or attempt calculus. There are too many challenges and so that activity is often too difficult for their ability. Oftentimes, it takes gaining a certain level of competence before flow and a love for an activity can happen and develop. With that being said, I believe one hundred percent that teachers should seek to get their students into flow states during their classes as soon as possible and whenever possible.
This turned out to be longer than I planned. I hope you made it all the way through it. If you did, thanks for reading, if not, oh well. Finding activities that you value and allow for flow can be truly amazing. It has been for me. While most activities can potentially lead to flow and thus a state of well being and reward, not all activities are created equal in terms of their benefits.
Now that you (hopefully) understand what flow is and how to get it, I suggest you evaluate which activities can potentially lead to the most benefits for your life and invest heavily in trying to spend the most flow-time as you can in them.
If you don't know or understand how you could potentially enter flow in an activity you value and think would be benefit you from doing so, contact me and I will help you do so. The feeling of entering flow is rather addicting (in a good way) and something I would wish for everyone.
Nakamura, J.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (20 December 2001). "Flow Theory and Research". In C. R. Snyder Erik Wright, and Shane J. Lopez. Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–206.ISBN 978-0-19-803094-2. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
Schaffer, Owen (2013), Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow, Human Factors International