The 3 Cs of a Complex Self

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of national bestseller Flow, described what he called the 3 Cs of the complex self. What is a complex self? You can think of it as a fully developed personality. The process of developing a complex self is characterized by pulling apart and isolating a characteristic, and then reintigrating it when it is further understood and developed. Each of these 3 aspects must be isolated and reintegrated into the psyche.


The first C is clarity. Specifically clarity of goals. Goals need to be clear overall, and also moment to moment. For instance, tennis players pay attention to every shot and receive feedback based on where the ball ended up. Every shot is imagined first, then acted upon, and the process is free flowing. The same clarity of goals needs to be defined for all of our tasks. Understanding the moment to moment goals, receiving feedback, and then seeing progress towards the ultimate goal in place brings about maximum enjoyment out of any task.


Optimal experience must be matched with optimal challenge. When things are too easy they become boring, when they are too difficult they make us anxious. Adjust the difficulty of your goals to your specific skill level. Be honest with yourself about what your capable of, this is the only way to maximum performance, and maximum improvement.


When someone is fully engaged in a task, they are completely absorbed in every movement and thought. Think about the third C as molding your entire being around a task. Your attention must be fully engaged, and you must seek to refocus each time you become distracted. Meditation can really help with this skill.

Isolating a developing these three areas of your life maximize the possibility of living in Flow, the zone of optimal experience. I encourage you to reflect on your greatest memories or performances, did they include these elements? I’ve particularly found the moment to moment goals helpful, especially in situations where its not all that obvious when you are doing well. Got instance, when I’m studying the feedback is not instant, but if I set myself clear short term goals I am able to track my progress and enter into Flow. Try reading with a timer, and depending on your book and the reading difficulty, set a time per page which you want to achieve. Try to stay in the zone and stay attentive. Before you know it, you may have just read 100 pages!

Hustle it up!

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