Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Flow and hyperfocus.

During our conversation on Friday, we continued to talk about flows, and try to get a further grip of when would we call a situation a flow. We were to talk about our experiences doing certain tasks, such as my machine problems (MPs) for Computer Engineering or Nicole's psychology research papers. During the conversation, I explained my process of solving the MPs, mainly coding and debugging a certain script that I have to write down in a certain language. I described the process to take 3~16 hours long, varying on how smoothly I can script the MPs. When I told people (except Yuchen) that I stayed on the computer for 16 hours straight for the task, professor asked me if I was in a flow while I was on it. My answer was 'no'. I certainly did not have flow while I was on the MPs (for the fact that I do not like Computer Engineering too much..), but I explained it to be a part of my nature that I had to end a certain thing when I have started it. Professor was quite surprised by the fact that I was staying in front of the computer debugging the script for 16 hours without flow. 

This led me to something that I was thinking about for the past few days after our discussion, and as a result, I conclude that there is a term which could explain this straight 16 hour MP. It is not flow, but I found the term to be 'hyperfocus.' To introduce the terms and to see the difference, I will link 'flow' and 'hyperfocus' here. If you go into the link and compare the definitions, flow is similar to hyperfocus, but the word 'flow' has somewhat more glowing meaning to it. 

"In some circumstances both flow and hyperfocus can be an aid to achievement, but in other circumstance or situations, the same focus and behavior could be a liability, distracting from the task at hand."
- from 'hyperfocus', Wikipedia.

So, even though both terms have almost the same concept, flow makes people feel joy, and even rapture on a certain level, while the hyperfocus makes people focus on a more narrow vision, making people to be 'stereotypical'. 

I would like to share my working conditions for the MPs, which I believe I become  'hyperfocused' for most of the times during the tasks. As I have introduced to you already, Computer Engineering is not my greatest fields that I can perform. I learned this by taking the early ECE courses, which I had to prepare more than others to follow up the courses. After learning that I was not really exceptional at this field and discovering that I also did not have special interests, the things I learned in the engineering courses became mind numbing. Of course, it does not mean that I do not learn anything. However, it's just that I am not as much interested on doing the tasks for engineering courses as other subjects that I am interested in, such as econ. Although, I had to get them done before the deadline to get the grades that I needed to graduate. 

I find, in conclusion, the type of task to be important for the flow/hyperfocus to occur during the task. If one has sincere interest in the task, it would be easier for him to find the flow, or the joy of doing the task while being absorbed in it. However, like my MPs, if the task is a must which does not inspire you, continued 16 hours in front of the task would not cause the flow, but instead would get you into a hyperfocused situation.

I would like to hear your opinion about the concept of hyperflow, and would like to see if there might be some other things that would be the cause the distinction of the flow/hyperfocus upon the tasks that one has to do.


  1. I'd like to get away from the terminology for a bit and instead asked some related questions.

    The first is this. While you are concentrating on the task at hand, in this case the Machine Problem, do you still have a sense of yourself at the same time? Or do you completely vanish in your own mind and the task takes over completely?

    The next question is about the debugging itself. Is there anything creative to debugging - perhaps finding where the problem is as quickly as possible? Or is it purely a routine activity that does seem creative at all?

    The last question is about mental endurance in other activities apart from the Machine Problems. Do you find that for any activity that you are obligated to complete that you simply do so by sitting down and finishing it? Or are there activities that you initiate but then stop, with other episodes of starts and stops?

    Here I don't want to suggest how the answers to these questions tie to the your distinctions between flow and hyperfocus. I think for the time being we should suspend using those term and instead try to be more descriptive about the activity when it happens.

    1. Typo. It should read ---- Or is it purely a routine activity that does NOT seem creative at all.

  2. On debugging,
    Plug and chugging,
    Flat screen hugging,
    Long time slugging.

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    1. I didn't take computer science course before but maybe I would take some of them in the future. From David's experience I feel that this kind of hyperfocus is not a state that everyone would/could be in. For things that I am simply obligated to finish, I tend to sit down and force myself to be focused on the task, trying to finish it as soon as possible. At most time I don't take break or stop unless I encounter difficulties. For the course I'm taking this semester -- Econ 198, I have never been in flow. Because the materials are all about career preparation such as writing resume and cover letter, or about how to use linked in and other websites, etc. They're not interesting enough to motivate me to take it seriously. So every time I just sit down and finish the two-page reflection in ten to fifteen minutes to get the point.
      While for the seminar reflection for my psychology class, which is about brain and languages, it is the opposite situation. I typically don't rush to finish the reflection after I attend the seminar. Since the seminar is given by top professors who have a lot of experience, I would find a lot of things in the talk that I don't understand, which is motivation for me. After I get home I will do some research online about the topics and the terminologies for some time. In that way I feel that I can write the reflection more smoothly. In this situation, I stop in between in order to have a better understanding of the talk materials and also dig deeper for the things that I'm interested in.