The Evolving Self by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Lucky C
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The Evolving Self by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Post by Lucky C » Sat Dec 16, 2017 10:17 am

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist best known for naming the psychological concept of Flow and writing the book on it. A few years later he wrote The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millenium, which integrates Flow with other concepts to provide the reader with a general concept of living a life that is both selfishly enjoyable and compatible with the needs and challenges of the 21st century.

Part of TES covers the concepts of Flow, but in a higher-level systems thinking sort of way compared to the original Flow book. Flow is that "in the zone" experience we achieve when doing things we enjoy, when we are highly focused and lose the sense of time passing by. This occurs when our tasks are well matched to our skill level - difficult but not frustratingly so. An activity with a low level challenge done by a person with a low skill level causes apathy. A low challenge level with a high skill level causes boredom. A high challenge level with a low skill level causes anxiety. Flow is that rare combination when we are forced to focus consciously on the task at hand in order to be successful, and our skills improve in doing so.

The rest of TES touches on a bunch of other concepts, but one of the main ideas is that life is all about fighting entropy and increasing complexity. While entropy is increasing universally, living things fight entropy, through organization at the microscopic level (DNA, cells) on up to the environment (farms, cities). Just as it is in our nature to view increasing entropy (wasting resources, vandalism, etc.) as "bad", it is in our nature to become more complex, both as individuals and as a society. Complexity is a balance between differentiation (attaining various skills, ideas, etc.) and integration (a harmonious interplay of these skills, ideas, etc.), with these two parts needing to grow together. Too much integration without differentiation would lead to over-specialization in one area with vulnerabilities in another. Too much differentiation without integration would be fragmented and chaotic. For a society-level example, it seems that America's level of integration is not keeping pace with its level of differentiation.

TES encourages the reader to think about how to optimize their life in a way that builds skills (rather than working a boring job and sitting in front of the TV), while taking on the 21st century environmental and social challenges we face. Clearly it is very compatible with ERE. Mihaly's ideal self is one who is continuously challenging oneself in a way that benefits society, potentially with a group of like-minded individuals forming some sort of altruistic organization. I see this as a way to live one's life post-FIRE.

ERE encourages one to continue becoming more efficient and less reliant on dollars even after financial independence is achieved, but otherwise you could just do whatever you want as long as it is compatible with your personal web of goals. On the other hand, the Evolving Self idealist could be done with personal finance skill-building after FI is achieved and the challenge it poses diminishes, then moving on to find or create a career that offers more flow/complexity. Many people would love to achieve financial independence and retire early from their career, but in today's society people still achieve flow mostly through work, and most would have difficulty filling infinite leisure time with activities that would generate flow (as opposed to mindless or "relaxing" activities which would be detrimental in excess). They will end up looking for work somewhere else even if they don't need the money, and the new job may not be any better than the first career they quit. The Evolving Self acknowledges that quitting work or work-like activities altogether would be problematic, and helps the reader start thinking about the types of work that would lead to a life that is both personally fulfilling and beneficial to society.

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