Why sports are fun but studies are not
A few days ago, as I was struggling to concentrate while juggling tasks, I rummaged through articles and videos to find a fix. I then landed on the concept of flow – a euphoric state of mind in which a person performing an activity becomes fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus. When we are in flow, our mind is entirely present in the moment, and hours seem to pass in minutes.
Learning about flow got me thinking about the age-old questions we all wonder – why are some activities fun while others aren't? Why do some of us enjoy sports so much but not studies? And why do some of us even enjoy studying at all?
On the surface, the answer seemed obvious. We are all different beings and have our own preferences. However, on a deeper level, I suspected there was something more to that. Perhaps it boils down to how distinctly we enter the flow state.
The idea of flow dates back thousands of years to ancient China. In Taoist philosophy, there is a concept known as "Wu Wei", translated paradoxically as the action of non-action. Modern positive psychology also studies flow with great interest. Psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi first coined the term "flow" and described the state as being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. To get into the flow state, the psychologist suggested we stretch our body or mind to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. In other words, the activity has to be challenging, and at the same time, we need to have the skill set required to carry through the task.
Some of us can enter the flow state while writing, some while playing a musical instrument, and some while solving a complex problem. But a large group of people finds flow when playing sports.
I asked one of my most sports-enthusiast friends how he feels in the field. He replied, "I become so happy, I only think about the game forgetting all my problems and struggles."
Interestingly, most of my friends, whom I consider sports enthusiasts, are top performers. They are ambitious and have the skills to back it up. As they meet both preconditions to enter the flow state, they can lose themselves in the field. For this very reason, those who ace academics are usually the ones who can absorb themselves in studying. A perfect combination of challenges and ability is what we need to enter flow. When we are in flow, we can concentrate intensely, which translates into superior performance and we tend to like that activity more.
Knowing why we like the things we like might tell us something significant about how to make things we don't like a bit less boring. When we lament about studies, it's often because we can't focus as we don't find the topics purposeful or don't have a basic understanding of them. Because it's easier said than done, I have something to say in this regard. Perhaps if we learn to see tasks we can't escape as challenges and start upgrading our skills, we can experience flow more often and lead a more fulfilled life.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row.
Samin Yasar Anabil loves to overthink. Send food for overthinking at [email protected]