[I wrote this in Oct 2011 - reposting here on my new blog. The text below is truer now, more than ever. I’m finding flow again in all aspects of my life, including work, and it feels great]
It’s that time again. Self reflections and some interesing insights which I thought I’d share to everyone.
For years, I’ve loved photography, but I never really knew why.
I’d go to great lengths and expense to research and purchase equipment. I’d drive or travel hundreds of miles to photograph a scene I could view from a book. Or I’d relentlessly network without hesitation nor shame to gain access to a behind the scenes look at something I could read about. My theories for why I’d subject myself to this (and enjoy it) varied over the years… At first it was the novelty of learning a new skill. That soon wore off and so I assumed it was through critiquing and sharing of photographs amongst the photography community that was the big draw. However once I established myself and formed a core set of connections, I found my desires in this area waned. I checked things off the list one by one… Getting published – that was exciting at first but soon wore off. Access to interesting / unseen places – this remained interesting but not the reason itself. Shooting professionally – it turns out that getting paid for photography nearly made me quit it altogether. None of my ideas stuck.
I finally thought I’d landed on a theory when I wrote about how photography simply allowed me to create treasured memories of loved ones. This was and still is absolutely the case. But the inconvenient truth was that it was more a side effect than a reason in itself – and it never really explained to me why photography made me feel the way I did during a shoot. That feeling – calm, happy, connected to what I was doing – yet disconnected from life’s usual stresses and pressures that normally required great effort to keep at bay. I was without a good explanation so “treasured memories” sufficed.
Then about a year and a half ago I started reading a series of books on positive psychology. One of them, a book called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, was particularly enlightening. After just the first chapter, the answer for why I loved photography so much became clear. In this book Mihali writes:
“I developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”.
That described my situation perfectly. He goes on to write:
“First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes”.
It was clear to me – Mihaly was writing about me and how photography made me feel. An form of suspending attention that I’d stumbled upon without realizing. There is some irony in that I had been unsatisfied with the simplest explanation of all – that I photographed because I enjoyed it. It turns out that the real answer was more complex but in many ways it was just as simple.
I’ll add one more quote that I think particularly relevant:
“The most important step in emancipating oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment. If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one’s shoulders. Power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated to outside forces. It is no longer necessary to struggle for goals that always seem to recede into the future, to end each boring day with the hope that tomorrow, perhaps, something good will happen.”
So the reason I’m sharing this is because through photography, through Flow, through reflection and through the discussions that have come out of all of these things, I’ve started to stitch together a framework for better understanding my life. I’m becoming minutely clearer of what drives me, what makes me happy and what I aim to seek more of in the future. Photography is part of that, but not all of it. In actual fact, if I’ve succeeded in making any sense then hopefully this short write up has very little to actually do with photography at all – and everything to do with flow and happiness. We have all experienced flow whether it be behind the camera, in the darkroom (digital or otherwise) and in many other aspects of our life. I hope by sharing this you’ll get a further sense of what drives and makes you happy also.
I used to do almost all my online reading in an RSS reader but recently, I’ve been getting more and more tech articles forwarded to my by friends. As it’s impractical to read everything all at once, my old solution used to be to simply open up a new browser tab for each article and then read it later. But lately that’s not been scaling. So I decided to get my act together and find a better solution. It turns that a lot of people must have been struggling with the same thing because there’s already a great solution called “Read it Later" out there. I had already used Instapaper on the ipad but hadn’t really invested in using it much and not cross device. So anyway, I guess I’m just late to the party.
It’s great though - the solution is v simple. You basically install a bookmark into your browser. Then whenever you come across an article you want to read later you simply select “Read it later” from your bookmarks. It becomes available in the cloud and subsequently accessible from any supported device (web html, mobile html, iphone / ipad, Windows Phone 7, etc). On my Windows Phone 7 device, I use an app called “Read Later” ($1.49 or $1.99 if I recall). I love the simplicity of this solution - would have been easy for them to lose focus and build all sorts of reading add on’s.
Anyway, that’s it. Here’s what my current ‘read it later’ list looks like:
Following a post about Wisdom 2.0, I was asked if there are any good books to read up on mindfulness, positive psychology, etc. There are actually dozens (hundreds?) on the topic, but I’ve read a few in the past 18 months. Here’s a list - I recommend all these:
“The Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him most, he said “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”—
I just got back tonight from Wisdom 2.0. It was my first year and I was really impressed. I went to gain more insight on how to incorporate mindfulness and empathy into my workplace and came away with a ton of new insights, books to read and great connections. I’ll definitely be back next year - hopefully with more of my team.
The conference was made possible by an incredible set of people who were overflowing with optimism, energy and authenticity.
Here’s what the conference is about:
"The Wisdom 2.0 Conference is a one-of-a-kind event in Silicon Valley that brings together people from a variety of disciplines, including technology leaders, Zen teachers, neuroscientists, and academics, to explore how we can live with deeper meaning and wisdom in our technology-rich age."
Mindfulness in the technology sector and in the workplace. This week had that strange feeling when you realize that things may be a tipping point.
OK - after a few years of posting exclusively on photography, I’m going to start over. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and the timing just seems right. My previous wordpress / photography blog is now on life support as I start afresh with shorter simpler thoughts and hopefully more regular entries … Going to give tumblr a shot - I like the simple design and tools.