Sunday, December 24, 2006

Complexity and the Growth of the Self

Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before.

Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration.

Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others.

Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people, with ideas and entities beyond the self.

A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies.

The self becomes more differentiated as a result of flow because overcoming a challenge inevitably leaves a person feeling more capable, more skilled. After each episode of flow a person becomes more of a unique individual, less predictable, possessed of rarer skills.

Flow helps to integrate the self because in the state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. After the flow episode, one feels more "together" than before, not only internally but also with respect to other people and to the world in general.

A self that is only differentiated—not integrated—may attain great individual accomplishments, but risks being mired in self-centered egotism. By the same token, a person whose self is based exclusively on integration will be connected and secure, but lack autonomous individuality. Only when a person invests equal amounts of psychic energy in these two processes and avoids both selfishness and conformity is the self likely to reflect complexity.

Paradoxically, it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.

Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind

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