Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access and a downloadable/printable version of the summary.


A masterpiece by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where, through sharing observations from studies and interviews conducted over a long period of time, he aims to explain under what circumstances our minds experience what he calls optimal experience. While the author with a ridiculously hard-to-spell last name talks mainly about how to direct our attention towards one thing so we can better concentrate (i.e. enter the flow state) the main outcome he wants for his readers is for them to achieve complete domination over their consciousness.

The Core Idea:

Money, fame, stuff, these things can’t bring us lasting joy. The only way we can convince our minds that we’re actually enjoying life is when we’re doing worthwhile voluntary work that’s difficult but not impossible. The flow state which the author promotes throughout the book can be described as a mysterious-like condition where you’re able to fully immerse in the work you do – and completely ignore everything else – which immediately makes the present more enjoyable.


  • To make the present feel more enjoyable, we need to find purpose even in the most boring daily tasks.
  • What you pay attention to shapes who you are and who you’ll become.
  • Becoming world-class in any field happens when you gradually increase the difficulty.

6 Key Lessons from Flow:

Lesson #1: Don’t Blindly Obey The Social Norms. Develop Your Own Set of Goals

Society can only advance if we work together. But since people are primarily narcissistic and worry about their own existence, to force us into playing a co-op game, the elders, from the dawn of time were always enforcing some sort of norms. That’s why things like death by burning and hagging were legal punishments for years.

These days you won’t see a guillotine in front of the town hall but there are other systems in place: religion and consumerism.

Everything in our current culture is created to make people obedient. We’re told to go to school and to obey the rules. If we do things the right way, we’ll someday have access to a lot of fancy things. And that’s OK to a certain extent. I mean, we can’t have hospitals and caring institutions if there’s isn’t some sort of order.

However, at some point, the following happens as the author writes in the book: “…people move through life, passing from the hopeful ignorance of youth into sobering adulthood, they sooner or later face an increasingly nagging question: “Is this all there is?”

Society promotes a good life and your local churn promises eternal existence if you follow their rules. But at some point in life, you wake up and feel cheated, “Why I’m still not happy and lavishly rich?”

Well, that’s what happens when you strictly follow the rules imposed by others – you forget to pursue what makes you happy.

To resolve this and to find real meaning, the author suggests settings your own set of rules while still coping with the basic social norms. He writes the following:

“The solution is to gradually become free of societal rewards and learn how to substitute for them rewards that are under one’s own powers. This is not to say that we should abandon every goal endorsed by society; rather, it means that, in addition to or instead of the goals others use to bribe us with, we develop a set of our own.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Lesson #2: To find Real Joy We Need To Learn To Live Now

Everything we do is towards some sort of future gain: We eat healthily and train to have nice-looking bodies later in life; We save money to buy a bigger car and a bigger house; We put up with our bosses’ anger outbursts hoping that one day he’ll promote us… But to find lasting happiness, we need to find joy in the things we do on a daily basis.

But how? How can someone transform an obviously shitty situation into a blissful, Instagram-worthy, experience? For example, waiting at a bus station or doing boring work?

As it turns out, you need to approach every situation the same way an Olympic athlete approaches every new race. By asking himself: How can I beat my record?

In the case of making an apparent dull job more interesting, you’ll have to ask yourself this: How can I gain the most of this situation?

In the book, Mihaly shares a story of an assembly line worker named Rico. While his colleagues were constantly complaining about the job, he was continuously optimizing his set of moves to make sure the job is done in the fastest possible way. This self-imposed challenge provider a joyful, momentary, pleasant experience doing a task most people will try to skip.

The same things can be applied to everything you do. When you’re facing a situation that doesn’t feel really enjoyable but it’s somehow unavoidable, instead of moaning, you can make the most out of the scene.

For instance, read a book while you wait for the bus and make sure that you’re doing the best possible work by challenging yourself even if the task is really dull.

That’s how you make the present moment more fun and life, in general, more pleasant.

“We grow up believing that what counts most in our lives is that which will occur in the future. Parents teach children that if they learn good habits now, they will be better off as adults.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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