Saturday, January 5, 2013

flow, persistence, and buyer’s remorse

The other day I watched a documentary on happiness which talked about the concept of flow as being an essential component. It mentioned knitting as a way to achieve flow, which made me think of re-visiting this subject.

The word’s been around for a long time to describe a state of being we might all wish to achieve. But the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave it a particular definition and set of parameters that should help us understand and achieve it.

He made a simple, two-axis scale in which skills oppose challenge. And his premise for a state of flow—which he called the flow channel—is that we achieve it when skills = challenge.

 But Csikszentmihalyi went further—describing the states we are in when outside the flow channel. And here’s where things get more interesting and—I think—instructive.

If challenge is too high for our skill level, we are anxious, frustrated, stuck. If skills are too high for the task, we are bored. And the kicker is that human beings are much less happy when they are bored!

So what does that mean for us?

Let’s just establish that knitters are never bored and look to the other side of Csikszentmihalyi’s chart.

It’s not difficult to get frustrated with our knitting: wrong yarn, wrong pattern, wrong level of challenge, wrong garment for our body, wrong garment for our wardrobe. The mistake, however, would be to pitch the project. Much better to
  • figure out what’s wrong with it,
  • rip it out,
  • do the work to fix it.
When we do this, we produce a result that’s worthy. And—in doing the work of figuring, ripping, re-figuring, and re-knitting—we raise our skill set. And so the next time we tackle a similar project, we are higher in the flow channel! This is a result much to be desired and remembered every time we pack away a not-wonderful knit result.

Buyer’s remorse
So we’ve all bought clothing we should not have. The sales person told us we looked “cute” (not a word I think should ever be attributed to my 63-yr-old self, so there was my first clue), or maybe it was “on sale” (but what kind of bargain is it if I never wear it?!?!), or maybe we were having a good hair day or out-of-body experience (so everything looked good). Whatever! Been there, done that! (Hang with me, this does relate to my previous discussion.)

I have had this experience many times with clothing . . but . . . never with yarn!!!!! I have never regretted a yarn purchase!!!

Yes, I’ve knit with yarn that didn’t work out. But even so, I have not regretted the purchase. I’ve just learned that it was the wrong project for the yarn. Good lesson! And what comes next? Rip and re-knit!

Imagine how lucky this makes us! No buyer’s remorse because we can use this yarn again. Add to that an opportunity to raise challenge and enter the flow channel at a higher level because we’ve learned something that raised our skill level. Nothing to regret no matter the outcome!

Is this New Year’s Optimism speaking? I think not. This is the nature of my world, a place I happily inhabit!


  1. Excellent post. I think artists and creators of all types can relate here. No matter what you're creating, you're liable to have buyer's remorse for a material or come up against a wall with a project. And I do love the optimism!

  2. I have had the rare regrettable yarn purchase. This happens when for some unexpected reason, I find a yarn unpleasant to work with. There's usually nothing inherently wrong with it--it just doesn't like me. So it goes into the annual guild holiday auction where it can go to a happier home.

  3. I very much enjoyed reading this post. "Knitters are never bored." How true.

    When I reach those moments where I know that I picked the wrong project for my yarn and need to rip and start over, I like to think... Well, I am getting my money's worth with this yarn, since I get to knit with it twice!

    I happily inhabit the same world!

  4. "Much better to
    figure out what’s wrong with it,
    rip it out,
    do the work to fix it."
    May I add one more: to sit on it for a while because every project has its own time.

    I believe there is no wrong color/project/yarn/pattern per se, but only that it's the wrong time at a particular point. When the time is ready, a creative person can always pull all the elements together, even though they are things people conventionally viewed as wrong or mismatched. This to me is the most fascinating thing about arts and crafts.

  5. You are absolutely right. Sometimes we need to sit with it. I have often ripped too quickly!