RSTP, Skill Acquisition and the Flow State, Part 1: What is it?

My first “Flow State” experience happened long before there was a term coined for that euphoric state where you are so immersed in an activity that time and place fade away, and your skills are stretched but equal to the given challenge.

By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By w:User:Oliverbeatson (w:File:Challenge vs skill.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That first taste of that mental and emotional high happened to me in Mrs. Morris’ kindergarten classroom – surrounded by easels and huge building blocks.  I can still recall that sense of momentum, rewarding challenge and mastery over 45 years later!  We were given a self-paced reading program contained in these little booklets – just enough to be demanding but not daunting. I was up to the task – reading, comprehending, marking the answers to the questions, checking my work. One little story, one little booklet after another, soaring – dancing over words, flipping pages, working to completion, hungrily devouring another and another.  It was exhilarating!  And then it was gone.  The teacher moved on to something else and I was left longing for an experience I couldn’t fathom or name.

I wouldn’t understand the phenomenon or how it could potentially be recreated intentionally until decades later, after having read the mind-bending book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  In it he writes:

“Over and over again, as people describe how it feels when they thoroughly enjoy themselves, they mention eight distinct dimensions of experience. These same aspects are reported by Hindu yogis and Japanese teenagers who race motorcycles, by American surgeons and basketball players, by Australian sailors and Navajo shepherds, by champion figure skaters and by chess masters. These are the characteristic dimensions of the flow experience:

  1. Clear goals: an objective is distinctly defined; immediate feedback: one knows instantly how well one is doing.
  2. The opportunities for acting decisively are relatively high, and they are matched by one’s perceived ability to act. In other words, personal skills are well suited to given challenges.
  3. Action and awareness merge; one-pointedness of mind.
  4. Concentration on the task at hand; irrelevant stimuli disappear from consciousness, worries and concerns are temporarily suspended.
  5. A sense of potential control.
  6. Loss of self-consciousness, transcendence of ego boundaries, a sense of growth and of being part of some greater entity.
  7. Altered sense of time, which usually seems to pass faster.
  8. Experience becomes autotelic: If several of the previous conditions are present, what one does becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.“

The Evolving Self – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 178-179

Those are the grown-up words used to describe the experience I had had so very many years ago, in my very first classroom.  And, here I now stand, several decades later, armed with RSTP and the ability to structure skill acquisition DELIBERATELY, INTENTIONALLY in such a way as to naturally elicit that delightfully ecstatic state for myself, and hopefully very soon, for others as well. 

In Part 2, I’ll be laying out just how RSTP addresses each facet of the flow state (see “RSTP, SKILL ACQUISITION AND THE FLOW STATE, Part 2”).

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