“Playing the stock market in order to make money is not an autotelic experience; but playing it in order to prove one’s skill at forecasting future trends is — even though the outcome in terms of dollars and sense is exactly the same.
“Teaching children in order to turn them into good citizens is not autotelic, whereas teaching them because one enjoys interacting with children is.
“What transpires in the two situations is ostensibly identical; what differs is that when the experience is autotelic, the person is paying attention to the activity for its own sake; when it is not, the attention is focused on the consequences.”
— Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
“Csíkszentmihályi interviewed artists and musicians in order to understand what flow felt like,” Robert Genn noted. “Their reports — 7000 of them — were staggeringly similar: each described a feeling of total immersion and intrinsic enjoyment, a loss of a sense of time and other needs, and an almost out-of-body experience, where the activity was automatic, without much conscious effort. Think of a clarinetist observing her own fingers, letting the instrument play itself.
“The most important thing about flow is that it only happens when a person is nestled in a psychological state between challenge and control; immersed in an activity with which she already possesses a fair amount of skill and evolved technique. One cannot lose herself in a concerto, after all, until she has long practiced her scales.”
Csíkszentmihályi noted, “Some things we are initially forced to do against our will turn out in the course of time to be intrinsically rewarding.”