Flow: The psychology of optimal experience

In the neverending research for optimizing productivity I came across the work of a very interesting author with an unpronounceable name: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.


In his book called “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience” the author discusses how highly effective and productive individuals experience a state of flow in various aspects of their lives, including work and leisure activities. Professionals in different fields, such as surgeons and athletes, described a sensation of optimal performance where they were not consciously controlling their actions. This state of flow occurs when one engages in an enjoyable activity that also challenges their skills. It leads to focused attention, a sense of serenity, and a feeling of clarity. Flow is similar to being so absorbed in a task that it becomes effortless and spontaneous.

Characteristics of the state of flow:

Focus: The state of flow requires intense focus and concentration on the task at hand. When in flow, all your energy, effort, and senses are directed towards the activity, resulting in a heightened level of engagement.

Serenity: Achieving flow necessitates a sense of calmness and inner peace. When the mind is free from distractions and troubles, it becomes easier to immerse oneself in the task at hand. Serenity promotes self-forgetfulness, enabling the state of flow to emerge.

Timelessness: Flow is characterized by a loss of time awareness. When completely absorbed in an enjoyable activity, hours can pass unnoticed. The sense of time becomes irrelevant as the focus remains solely on the task, allowing for a profound sense of engagement.

Clarity: Flow occurs when the activity being performed is clear and familiar. Knowledge and mastery of the task are necessary to enter the state of flow. It is challenging to achieve flow when faced with new, unfamiliar tasks or when attempting to learn new skills.

How to achieve the state of flow
According to the book, flow is achieved when there is a balance between anxiety and boredom. The task should be challenging enough to cause some anxiety but not too easy to become boring. This state of flow leads to increased productivity and effectiveness. To enter this state, one must find tasks that are both challenging and within their skill level.


Four pointers:

Get out of your comfort zone.

Get rid of distractions.

Practice and harness your skills.

Enjoy what you do such that it gives you purpose.



In Japanese mythology, the Kappa is a type of Suijin or water deity, supernatural beings associated with bodies of water like lakes and rivers.



These flesh-eating creatures live in rivers, lakes, and ponds and are typically depicted with a tortoise-shaped body, an ape-like head, scaly limbs, cascading hair encircling the skull, webbed hands and feet, and yellow-green skin. Frequently, Kappa illustrations feature a shell clinging to their backs. Some folklore even suggests that Kappa possess the ability to change their skin color similar to chameleons. They have an aversion towards metallic objects and loud sounds such as cannon fire or gunfire.


The most notable trait of the Kappa is the concave cavity perched atop their heads. This saucer-like depression holds a nourishing liquid that grants them strength. If you come across an antagonistic Kappa, it is vital to bow deeply. Upon reciprocating the respectful gesture, the courteous Kappa will inadvertently spill its strength-granting water, rendering itself feeble and prompting its return to the watery realm it calls home.


Despite their stature resembling that of a child aged 6 to 10, Kappa possess exceptional strength. They assault horses, cattle, and humans, often pulling their victims into the water. Legends vary regarding the actions that occur next; some claim the Kappa feeds on the blood or saps the life force of its prey, while others assert it extracts the livers through their anuses or devours their entrails, leaving behind nothing but an empty container. In certain tales, Kappa are linked to theft and instances of assaulting women.

From the research of scholar Michael Dylan Foster



“One of the better known of the kappa’s traits is its love of kyuri, or cucumbers. Other foods to which the kappa is partial include nasu (Japanese eggplant), soba (buckwheat noodles), natto (fermented soybeans), and kabocha (pumpkin). Although the kappa is attracted to some foods of the uri, or melon, grouping – such as kyuri and kabocha – it is clear that it has an aversion to hyotan (gourds), which are also of the melon group.” […]



“The kappa’s obsession with the shiri (buttocks, hips) is made apparent in legends that describe the kappa hiding in the toilet, waiting to stroke or fondle a female victim’s shiri.” […]


Medical skills

“The kappa is notorious for attempting to lure horses and cows to a watery death; but the key word here is attempting. In most versions of this legend, the kappa fails; its plan backfires and it (or just its arm) is pulled by the startled horse all the way to the stable. The kappa’s success rate in fondling women’s shiri in the toilet may be slightly higher, but often on its second attempt its arm is grabbed and yanked from the body. And when its mischief goes awry, when it is weakened from losing water from its sara or incapacitated (emasculated) by a yanked-off arm, the honest and benevolent side of the kappa’s nature surfaces. In order to be set free or receive back its arm (the arm can often be reattached within a certain number of days), the kappa will take an oath. It will pledge, for instance, to stop harassing people in the area, or to assist with work in the fields, or to teach its captor secret bonesetting techniques and formulas for making medicine and salves. It should be noted that this last trait – the kappa’s familiarity with bonesetting and other medical procedures – is one of the most widespread of the beliefs associated with the kappa.” […]



“In one legend involving sumo, some children are playing by the water when a child with whom they are unacquainted appears and challenges them to sumo. Observing this child closely, they realize it is actually a kappa, and that there is water in the sara on its head. Accordingly, they shake their own heads; the kappa imitates them, spilling the water. Bereft of all strength, it is forced to leave (Ishikawa1985, p. 175). This love of the sport of sumo can be found throughout much kappa lore (see e.g., Ishikawa1985, pp. 163-76, and Iida 1993, pp. 153-60). One common method for defeating the kappa when challenged to sumo, or any other confrontation, is simply to bow politely. The kappa, though mischievous, is essentially a polite creature who defers to human ritual; it will bow in response, spilling its water, and thus losing its power.”


This character is still very popular in contemporary culture, for instance cucumber sushi in Japan is called “Kappa-maki”.


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