Our six year old son started compiling his Christmas list before the leaves turned. By the time we were ready to go shopping, he’d created at least six pages of double sided items for Santa, us parents and anyone else interested. The lists were accompanied by a handy worksheet (we declined to fill in the blank indicating how much we’d spent!).
Here’s the catch: every single item on the lists was either some kind of Lego set, or an item that can’t be purchased at a store–such as a “skeleton that can automatically pick up all my toys”.
We did sprinkle in a few other items, but he mostly got Legos for Christmas. This week, after a quick breakfast, he’ll empty out a new box of over 500 pieces, and get to work. He will become engrossed in it, and barely stop for lunch. Gone are the typical requests for snacks every 30 minutes. He is in a state of flow building with his Legos.
I read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience over six years ago, but the key concepts still stick with me. The basic idea is that we are at our best and happiest when immersed in a task that fully engages our mind and talents. The author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that our brains evolved to solve problems, so when solving an interesting problem, we are doing what we are meant to do. This is my recollection of the argument years later, for more I encourage you to read the book or start with the Wikipedia entry on flow.
B. clearly didn’t get the engineering genes from this humanities guy (Jodi’s side gets the credit for this!). He has long been far more advanced than I in putting together the sets. But every once and awhile, there is a part to play for larger hands and an adult perspective. After struggling for awhile trying to rig up a pulley system to open his Lego castle gate, I was pressed into service. Working together to interpret the instructions and try various ways to get it to work, I dipped into the flow state with B. It was pretty cool when we he was finally able to open and close that gate for the incoming knights!
I was going to end there, but the thought occurred to me: what if we focused on finding flow in trying to improve in the new year? I suspect most failed resolutions are some combination of drudgery or things we otherwise don’t want to do. If it’s exercise, for instance, we should find something that really engages us. Maybe it’s a team sport, building on our enjoyment of spending time with friends, or setting a goal of running a 10K, instead of simply “running”. Based on Csikszentmihalyi’s it’s worth considering how we can find that flow state to accomplish what we want.
Best wishes for a flow-filled 2012!