Concentration Flow

Concentration Flow

Just realised it’s been three days now since I ate any lunch. It’s not deliberate – I just don’t think about it at the appropriate time. At least I’ve been having one meal a day thanks to my wife who puts a dinner in front of me when I get home from work – if it wasn’t for that I’d probably not eat regularly at all. What it is – I get so absorbed in what I’m doing that I lose track of everything else and don’t notice little things like the time of day, thirst, hunger, a full bladder…

That’s one problem with the level of concentration I can sustain when engaged in one of my special interests, programming in particular: the world could end around me and I wouldn’t notice. I’ve even failed to hear a fire alarm on a couple of occasions because I’m in the zone and blocking out everything else. (The fire bell is about twenty feet from where I sit with no obstructions between it and me – it’s LOUD.)

The positive side is that this focused mental state (also called flow) is especially productive. It’s like strapping a rocket to my intellect and lighting the fuse – I see systems and patterns with crystal clarity and solutions to problems just arrive in my mind without conscious effort. It’s an exhilarating, euphoric experience: my mind running perfectly, like an engine at full revs with no noise or vibration.

This sustained high level of concentration and attention – the hyperfocus on a particular object or task is not just an Aspie trait although it is reportedly common. It is something that can be learned – most top sportsmen and -women train hard to develop this kind of focus because it helps them attain their best performances. But for me at least it seems to be an innate ability.

Some things will scupper it. I can’t focus on something while I’m depressed or anxious although physical pain doesn’t seem to get in the way. Indeed I don’t notice pain while in flow. But being involuntarily brought out of flow – certain stimuli will do this, such as touching me or putting something in my line of sight – is a jarring experience. I find it can stress me; even anger me, to be taken out of that state unexpectedly and that can be a barrier to getting my flow back.

4 thoughts on “Concentration Flow

  1. Wow, you just described my husband. He cannot see or hear anything around him while he is programming or playing a game, or working a Sudoku puzzle or anything that he is intensely interested in. I once fell down the stairs and he didn't notice it at all and he was only 15 feet away from me. My son and I are difficult to get out of our "flow", as you call it, but we can more easily than my husband. My son and I are almost hyper in-tuned with one another and so we can sense each other quickly. However, neither of us like to be disturbed or interrupted while in the middle of one of our intense interests/activities.

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  2. Thank you so much for the link about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I very much enjoyed reading it. "people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter (Csikszentmihalyi,1990). The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.[8]"This is a very interesting and, honestly, a very logical and what I feel must be true, theory. How many of us are so much happier when totally engaged in something that captures our entire attention and brings about a fair share of, well, I guess bliss. Pardon me today, I'm having a great deal of difficulty coming up with the words I'd like to say.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed it. I have been aware of the concept for a number of years – it appears to be quite widely recognised within the software development community – but not under the term flow. It amazes me that so profound an experience had never been studied until the 1960's.

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