Flow, and the frustration of living without it

Ther’s a cool experiment called Rat Park. In this experiment, rats are addicted to drugs and then put into Rat Park, a happy place where they have access to all the things that are good in life for rats – food, shelter, stimulating activity and the opportunity to have a mate and raise pups. The rats can use drugs or they can live fully in Rat Park. They always choose the Park.

There’s a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi whose main work is the concept of Flow. He happened to be the keynote speaker at a UX conference I went to a few years ago. At the time I couldn’t understand why the keynote was about a psychological concept and he was an incredibly dull speaker. Except of course that the concept of Flow is so compelling that years later it’s really all I can remember about the conference itself.

For four weeks, through most of October, I was kept by circumstance from working on any technical problems or tasks. In fact, I was kept from working on any one thing for more than a few minutes at a time. In other words, October was hell. Not to be overly dramatic but I have trouble expressing the depth of the frustration I experienced during this time. Had there not been an end in sight I would have been working on my resume.

Finally this week I have been able to spend large amounts of uninterrupted time working on a technical problem – in this case, the problem of fully separating WordPress core updates out from our standard CI / CD process. This means working with Bamboo, which is always good times.



But really, it is good times, because I’m immersed in solving the problem.  It dawned on me this week that what I really, probably, missed was the experience of flow.

The Rat Park experiment was floating through my head because of a conversation we had at our dev team meeting about how great hydrocodone is. Like, too great. One of the things that kept me away from work was being sick, and I have a hydrocodone prescription at the moment as a result. And it’s great, but honestly, it’s not as great as spending all day figuring something out.