Wednesday, January 09, 2008


In my previous post, I asked a few questions about motivation ... desire ... drive. How do we instill motivation within ourselves? Can it be instilled as an adult or does it have to be done in childhood? Can it be planted or does it come naturally?

Today I came accross an article about flow. I've heard of flow before, but have forgotten about it since my college days.

Another way to describe flow is "being in the zone" or "when things click" or "a Zen state."

Whatever you call it, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced
"chick-sent-mehigh-ee"), said the feeling may be not only the fuel driving our desire to snowboard or bike or run. It may be the reason we sing, paint, climb mountains, play chess, compose symphonies, build smaller microchips or do anything difficult. Basically, Csikszentmihalyi said, flow may be what makes humans human.

This makes sense to me. Personally, I think this is why I love to study and play chess so much. I remember playing a game of chess with my dad almost every Sunday evening for a stretch of several years when I was a kid. I loved the feeling of being in the game ... I was totally committed to the game. Since that time, I've played many games where I found that "zone" and I felt as though I could see everything.

I've been in the "zone" not only when playing chess, but when I've played basketball. I had games where I was in such a flow, that I could simply throw up a shot and it would go in. Of course those times are rare, but that is what made me go back for more. The same goes for chess ... once I tasted that flow in the game, I loved it and wanted more of it. This is why I could study and play chess all day long.

Another quote from the article:
Women who weave tapestries in the highlands of Borneo, meditating monks
in Europe and mountain bikers in the Rockies all report that when they do what they love to do, they occasionally get so engaged they forget time, stop thinking about other obligations, and feel as if they became one with what they were doing.

The article ends with a list entitled "THE EIGHTFOLD PATH TO FLOW"
1. Simplicity: You have a clear goal to achieve.
2. Confidence: You know you have the skills to accomplish your goal.
3. Challenge: What you're doing, whether it's playing chess or skiing a 14,000-foot peak, isn't easy.
4. External focus: There are limited outside distractions.
5. Internal focus: There are limited distractions in your mind.
6. You are not focused on a future outcome (i.e. winning or losing) but only on the present.
7. You are in complete control of your actions.
8. You relax.

What are your flow experiences? Do you do anything special to get in the flow?

I can think of a few things I do to try to get in the flow. For basketball, I find that when I watch highlights of Michael Jordan or other NBA players, I "get pumped up" and I feel my confidence soar. For running ... there wasn't a whole lot I could do. Some days I just had it and other days totally sucked.

As for chess ... I really have to limit the external distractions. I can really never focus on chess until my wife and family are happy and life is generally under control. Once that is in check, I settle in at my desk and begin to practice tactics. I try to relax my mind and eyes so that I see everything on the board. After several tactics, I will know if I'm feeling it or not. I've gotten much better at consistently getting in the zone, but there are still times when it doesn't matter what I try, I just can't get there.

I don't think I've answered all of my questions, but I think I'm on the right track.


  1. Excellent post. As a cyclist and triathlete I've used many of those ideas in some of my most important events. I'm not sure why it doesn't translate quite the same way in chess. Perhaps some of it may be from psychological differences of competing against my peers (age group) versus competing against chess players much younger or older then me. Playing kids has a lot of psycholgical implications that don't seem to crop up in bike racing and traithlons. Perhaps it's because even if there is a 10 year old in the field, I'm not competing head on with him/her.

  2. You might have bumped into something quite important here. Alas the article has disappeared.