Ordering the Mind

Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment: it will focus on some real or imaginary pain, on recent grudges or long-term frustrations. Entropy is the normal state of consciousness – a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable.

To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is reality available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings. This explains why such a huge proportion of time is invested in watching television, despite the fact that it is very rarely enjoyed. Compared to other sources of stimulation – like reading, talking to other people, or working on a hobby – TV can provide continuous and easily accessible information that will structure the viewers attention, at a very low cost in terms of the psychic energy that needs to be invested. While people watch television, people need not fear that their drifting minds will force them to fact disturbing personal problems. It is understandable that once on develops this strategy for overcoming psychic entropy, to give up the habit becomes almost impossible.

The better route for avoiding chaos in consciousness, of course, is through habits that give control over mental processes to the individual, rather than to some external source of stimulation… To acquire such habits requires practice, however, and the kind of goals and rules that are inherent in flow activities.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Flow