Archive for May, 2010

On Flow

Posted in Uncategorized on May 27, 2010 by onepercentyellow

I have spent the past few weeks working on a post about Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow.  My aim in the post was to explain the sense of flow I felt when I completed my second project proposal, the coincidences that occurred to confirm my sense that something wonderful and transcendent had happened, and how it affected the rest of my life.  It seems as though such a post would be easy to complete, but as I have discovered, the more we try to talk about flow (or happiness, or success) and define the outer limits of the factors contributing to that moment, the more elusive the moment becomes, folding into the endless stream of stimuli that exists in the world around us.  While I may not be able to fully communicate this feeling of flow in such a short post, perhaps I can share a bit of what I’ve learned along the way.

When I was working on my project proposal I was afraid.  I had misunderstood the aim of this course (I thought it was on self-directed learning), and felt trapped in a meaningless exercise of APA style and graph making.  Being my first masters course, I was driven to despair that I was not good enough to complete these studies and that this mistake was certain to thwart all my carefully laid plans to get into post-secondary education.  I’m not sure what gave me the courage to contact Emma via Skype to discuss the growing void this class was falling into, but the personal connection I felt during that conversation was enough to change my perspective.  After our Skype chat, I went to work on putting the finishing touches on my intial proposal and was ready to hand it in when an alternate proposal blurted itself into my head and onto my computer.  As I mentioned, I felt inspired by this second proposal in ways I didn’t understand and felt compelled to pursue this path before Emma even accepted my proposal.

In the week that followed, I saw a marked shift in my interpretations of the stimulus in my world.  Events connecting with my choice of project seemed to serendipitously unfold, leading me further into an understanding and interpretation of factors that contribute to successful self-change.  In particular, three days after I submitted my proposal, I was randomly directed to Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk (link below) that explained to me the feeling of flow I’d experienced during the writing of my second proposal.  Csikszentmihalyi’s graph at 16:30 helped me to understand the common feelings associated with transferring to a state of flow, and gave me insight on how to conceptualize a balance between these feelings in order to reach that state.  Csikszentmihalyi relates how our perception of the effectiveness of our skill set in relation to the challenges we face can dictate how we see ourselves in a situation.  For example if our perceived skills are very low while the perceived challenges are high, we will likely be gripped with feelings of worry and anxiety, while if the challenge is low and our skills high, we may feel boredom or even apathy.  The majority of my responses about my project to date had been that of worry and anxiety with brief moments of arousal or control.  I recognized that if I were to reach a state of flow in my course, I would need to take greater control over the situation in order to bring the balance closer to flow.

The graph below is similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s, though I suggest looking at his for a better representation.

A graph representing the attitudes of flow.

In fact, this is what I had just done.  I had contacted my professor directly with my frustrations, which she channeled quite effectively into a conversation on how I was going to move forward with my project.  By meeting my professor as an ordinary person on the other end of the computer, I was able to relax a bit about her role in the course.  With that little bit of relaxation of my anxiety, I could approach taking control of my project.  Of course this sense of control over my actions increased my sense of arousal about the process of the course, and I was able to move into a state of flow where my secondary project blurted itself onto the page.

While all of these coincidences were interesting and reassuring, perhaps the most fascinating development was the effect that finding flow in arguably the most important part of my life at the moment seemed to contribute to a greater sense of overall wellbeing.  During the past month I have had a number of interesting days in which I was able to move beyond my pattern of catastrophizing events and into a more flow-like approach (Seligman, 1998).  Perhaps the best example is the 7th of May. Through a series of unfortunate events, I had failed to make muffins for a man mourning two children, my once-a-month meditative chanting yoga was cancelled, my bicycle was stolen and I stepped in a big pile of shit with my new sandals on.  While any single one of these occurrences would usually be enough for me to write off my day, my feelings of satisfaction in my present focus in life helped me see other stimulus in the world.  I could see that a series of fortunate events had taken my boyfriend Pat to a group meal in support of the man in mourning, had given me an hour to myself playing my ukulele in the beautiful yoga studio, had found me having delicious pizza and beer with friends, and had allowed me the opportunity to walk all the way home playing my uke.  My day ended with the strangest sense of calm.

I’m still trying to conceptualize how and why a feeling of flow can inspire such a zen-like day, and I’m far from making any kind of argument justifying these ideas, but another TED participant has made me wonder what the role of our physical brain is in facilitating moments of flow.  Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk on her “Stroke of Insight” (link below) makes me wonder if the lack of ego and focus on the present moment is indicative of moments of flow taking place in the right hemisphere of our brains.  Her inspiring TED talk is also well worth a watch.

So, I have written a longer post than anticipated, and have still failed to fully express the full enigma of my experience of flow, but as I get farther away from the moment, it becomes more and more difficult to define.  While I would like to fully grasp this concept, I will have to be satisfied with a partial explanation for the moment.  After all, I am headed to India in 4 days for a 30 day academic tour of NGOs, universities, and dalit communities, followed by a 30 to 40 day return to Yangshuo, China (where I live right now).  I can only hope that my intense thought of late on the subject of flow will sort itself out in the underground of my subconscious.

Bolte-Talyor, J. (2008). My stroke of insight. TED2008. Retrieved from

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperPerennial.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2004) On Flow. TED2004. Retrieved from

Seligman, M. (1998). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Pocket Books.


The Muse and Motivation

Posted in MAIS, Online with tags , , , , on May 17, 2010 by onepercentyellow

I began my first MAIS course in February, and for the first month of the course, I was angry.  Again, there were many things to which I could attribute my anger, but a clear and dominant focus was Watson and Tharp (2007).  I didn’t want to be angry with them.  They had interesting things to say, and a clear and focused method for me to find my way to personal satisfaction, yet my discontent simply grew with each passing page.  These two well-meaning strangers were asking me to look at my life and decide on something that really needed to change.  They soothed me with the success stories of others, and, like TV evangelists, promised me salvation if I could just follow the simple steps.  The problem was, they forgot to tell me how to start.  What was I to do if I had no pressing problem in my life?  With course time ticking away, I decided to trot out an old muse of mine: writing.

Now a writing project wouldn’t have been all bad, and there are numerous articles in our course readings that talk about both the difficulty and reward available to those who decide to pursue a regular writing practice, (Epstein, 1997; Malott, 1986; Wallace & Pear, 1977) but the fact remained that I was never able to truly begin my project.  I seemed to be waiting for something, perhaps a spark of inspiration to free my pen.  I wore my flint to the nub, watching for the faintest tendrils of smoke, fan ready to encourage the fire to grow, but all I could conjure were flashes.  In the cold darkness of my frustration, I couldn’t see that my kindling was wet.

Anyone who has been caught on the side of the road with an empty tank can tell you how important it is to have sufficient fuel to reach your destination, and a self-change journey is no different.  Garrison (1997) encourages us to look at our “motivational reserve or fuel” (Garrison, 1997, p. 27) gauge to check that we hit the road with ample entering and task motivation.  Watson and Tharp ensured that I thoroughly checked my task motivation gauge, encouraging me to clarify my goals, anticipate problems, and believe in myself (chapter 2); and stressing keen self-observation, and identifying the indicators on the road to self-modification: antecedents, behaviours and consequences (chapter 3).  Watson and Tharp effectively guided me in consulting my “map of the future” (Watson & Tharp, 2007, p. 32) and asked me, “Where exactly are you going?” (Watson & Tharp, 2007, p. 32).  What they didn’t ask me is, “Why do you want to go there?”

Garrison’s discussion of entering motivation centers on “the process of deciding to participate” (Garrison, 1997, p. 26).  Until this point in my research, I hadn’t realized that my failure to persist in my writing project could have been caused by my indecision to participate in the first place.  This disorienting thought lead to a re-examination of my project.  Why did I want to complete this particular project?  What skills did I have to complete it?  And most importantly, what barriers was I coming up against that prevented me from beginning?  Garrison’s (1997) outline of the factors influencing entering motivation helped me look closely at my proposed project.  Certainly my writing project was of value, and I had the skills and ability to complete it: it was a project I had focused on for more than three of my undergraduate courses.  It was my attitude, and my reason for choosing this goal that were not sound.  I realized I had chosen this goal for shallow reasons.  I had academic success with this muse before, and I thought it would be easy to reproduce the experience.

Entering Motivation Factors (Garrison, 1997, p. 28)

I recently had the pleasure of watching the movie “Nine” (2009), a film about a famous Italian director tasked with scripting an epic movie about his country.  In the crucial moment, his muse enters and refuses to perform for him in his visionless picture.  She walks out and he crumbles, his career in ruins.  When I explored for myself my muse, this group of characters who had performed so well for me in my undergrad, I recognized that I failed to approach the wellspring of my inspiration with a proper spirit.  By assuming that my creative spirit would simply perform for the sake of my good grades, I objectified my muse.  I turned again to Watson and Tharp, focusing on Figure 1-1, Alternative III (Watson & Tharp, 2007, p. 5) where they graphically represent reality as “an interaction of person and situation” (Watson & Tharp, 2007, p. 5, ital. mine).  They construct this reality as “the point of view we will adopt in this book” (p. 5), but they only use an anthropocentric viewpoint of “the situation”.  They never concede that the situation can be viewed as the “other”, and interpersonal skills apply.  As Jodie mentioned in her May 12th post, “in order to change a behaviour that is holding me back from fulfilling my true potential, I must first accept it. […] We have to respect that the unwanted behaviour is a part of ourselves that grew organically in response to some stress or threat.  When we remove the behaviour through effort, will and trying, we threaten ourselves further and the behaviour digs right in.”  In order to prevent this “digging in” of behaviour, or abandonment by our muses, it is important, as a gesture of respect, friendship, even love, to interact with our situation and see what it has to say about our future.

The process of choosing a goal is important, not only so you know where you’re going, but also so that you can ensure you’ve got the fuel to get there.  By observing the world and interacting with our situation, we can see signs that point us toward success.  If I were to do this course again, I would start with the assignment outlining goals for the next year/5 years, record the frequency that I attend to each one of these goals within the first month of the course, and then choose a goal to focus on from there.  While it may not yield success, at least I would be following through on a goal supported naturally by my environment.  It may mean fewer uphill battles, and leave me with just a little gas left over to enjoy the ride.

Epstein, R. (1997). Skinner as self-manager.  Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 30(3), 545-568.

Garrison, D. R. (1997). Self-Directed Learning: Toward a Comprehensive Model. Adult Education Quarterly, 48(1), 18-33. Retrieved from

Malott, R. W. (1986). Self-Management, Rule-Governed Behaviour and Everyday Life. Behaviour science: Philosophical, methodological, and empirical advances, pp. 207-228 Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Marshall, R. (Director), Tolkin, M. & Minghella, A. (Writers). (2009). Nine [Motion picture]. USA & Italy: The Weinstein Company.

Wallace, I. & Pear, J. J. (1977).  Self-control techniques of famous novelists. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 10(3), 515-525.

Watson, D. L., & Tharp, R. G. (2007). Self-Directed Behaviour. Belmont, CA: Thompson.

Back to class

Posted in MAIS, Online with tags , , , on May 10, 2010 by onepercentyellow

The following post is from the social forum of my first Masters of Integrated Studies course, Self-Directed Behaviour 655.  It is an online, individualized study course that I began in February.

is there anybody out there?Well, it seems as thought I have found my way back into this class.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been in the class the whole time, doing readings, answering questions, taking quizzes and reading about many of your projects, but I have been off the forums, and have just found my way back.  If there are any of you who are lurking in the corners of the class, please come out and chat!  This is the difficult part of this style of learning for me.  It’s hard to see those fellow students sitting in the dark banging their heads against the wall.  This makes it easy to feel like you’re the only one.

So why have I not been in this class?  Why have I been absent from sharing my project with anyone?  I suppose I have a long list of reasons, like anyone else, from moving to another country to sharing a 2 sq. meter apartment with a single bed with my boyfriend, to any other number of excuses, but in the end, it all comes down to motivation.  I remember at the beginning of the course being overwhelmed by the sheer number of options for a project for this course.  Should I choose something I’ve always wanted to do?  Should I change something about myself, like some annoying habit or nervous tic?  Or should I conduct an interesting experiment?  What to choose?!  I had many projects worked out in my head, but none of them jumped at me and demanded “a strong yes” so I doubted.  Then I hid.

I hid until Bertrand Russell found me, pulled me out of the shadows, and insisted that “[my] way of living should spring from [my] own deep impulses” (Russell, 1930, p. 109).  To transform myself, I needed to look at what motivated me; I needed to understand my deep impulses, those little instructions spoken in a “still, small voice” (Watson and Tharp, 2007, p. 138).

During my preliminary research, I came across Garrison’s (1997) approach to a comprehensive model of self-directed learning, and was immediately drawn to the discussion of entering and task motivation.  Motivation!  That’s what I had been lacking in my project!  I rewrote my project proposal, outlining a self-directed learning project aimed at “becoming critically aware of what [had] been taken for granted about [my] own learning” as a “key to self-directedness” (Garrison, 1997, p. 14, original quote, Mezirow, 1985, p. 17).  Finally, my early frustrations with the course found a purpose.  As a “disorienting dilemma” (Boyer, Maher, and Kirkman, 2006, p. 4, original citation Mezirow, 1995, p. 50) is the first stage in a transformative learning experience, I constructed a project aimed at moving me through the typical stages of such an educational experience.

This post (as well as others to follow) is a part of my progression from disorienting dilemma to action.  In this series of posts I will reflect critically on my own feelings, beliefs and value judgments that support or negate my feelings of frustration with learning in an individualized online environment.  I will incorporate aspects of our readings that assist me in this critical reflection.  It is my hope that discussions on this subject with others in the class, as well as with individuals on my blog will center on exploring a new understanding of the aspects of this online course in self-directed behaviour that support a transformative learning experience.


Boyer, N. R., Maher, P. A., & Kirkman, S. (2006). Transformative Learning in Online Settings: The Use of Self-Direction, Metacognition and Collaborative Learning. Journal of Transformative Education, 4(4), 335-361.  Retrieved from

Garrison, D. R. (1997). Self-Directed Learning: Toward a Comprehensive Model. Adult Education Quarterly, 48(1), 18-33. Retrieved from

Russell, B. (1930). The Conquest of Happiness. New York, NY: Liveright.

Watson, D. L., & Tharp, R. G. (2007). Self-Directed Behaviour. Belmont, CA: Thompson.