What I learned from taking the WRONG train

I was coming home on the subway (underground train system in Toronto), reading a book. It’s around a half hour train ride from downtown to my station, so I “feel” it’s time to start wrapping up. Looked up outside the window, the colors and ambience seems off…it was different.

Wrong Subway
Wrong Subway

“Arriving at Islington station,” I hear from the loudspeakers.

Realization. I got on the opposite train and arrived at the “West End”. Add 1-hour to the train ride because I was going the wrong direction for 30minutes.

Crap! was my initial reaction, but then it turned into a smile, then a light chuckle as I looked back at the paperback book in my hand; Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

Obviously, I had to now run out and get over to the other train…

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow is about that feeling you get when you’re totally “into” something, and you have almost no sense of your surroundings. Like a NASCAR racer going 200MPH is hyper-focus because one mistake can smash his car, having one of those “super- salahs” (probably during Ramadan) where you’re listening for the meaning of verses, etc. or even when you’re researching online and keep at it for hours without notice.

We’ve all experienced it, but mostly out of fluke rather than consciously putting all our focus in and keeping distractions out.

Dr. Csikszentmihaly (pronounce that name) says, “the mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer. And that person who can do this usually enjoys the normal course of everyday life”


The ability to focus attention at will” – that’s talking about a skill you can develop, not random moments of inspiration.

Few other factors that come into play, in a nutshell, are: Challenge and Practice. There has to be some challenge in completing the task, it’s not happening while you wash 3 dishes. For the salah example, it’s way different if you’re just going through the motions for Isha by yourself than praying at the masjid and the imam starts reciting a surah you’re currently trying to memorize. As for practice, “It is not enough to know how to do it; one must do it”.

Why it Amused Me

It was very interesting to me that I entered the flow state while reading the book Flow. See there’s a lot of noise and movement on the subway, but I’ve been waiting to finally read this book and tuned it out. I was also practicing to increase my reading speed, trying to break the 400wpm (words per minute) block.

On top of that, the announcements went out for all 14 stops (twice for each one actually), I didn’t realize anything until it felt like my stop (Warden Station, opposite end that train).

In any case, the extra hour did help me finish like a quarter of the book.


I recently visited my notes on the book and put some of it to use.

Mainly, picking out a task that needs focus for at least an hour straight and is interesting enough that clock-checking isn’t needed. It resulted in finally editing and restarting on making videos. (Of course, also writing a blog post after a year…)

Click here to watch on YouTube

Did the part about Flow make sense?

It’s kind of an abstract concept…

6 thoughts on “What I learned from taking the WRONG train

  1. Salama alakium, remarkable theory although, I must say I had difficultly reading that name.
    Nevertheless, this was indeed an interesting article but at times young adults seems to be far too intact with their emotions, according to our “flow” of life. How would you practice to tone out from your own surroundings at times when you have little inspiration and interest?
    If you must know- I’m a college student, myself.

  2. Assalamualaikum,
    So what are the steps we should do to get in to this “flow” state, and how do people enjoy more their every day course of life?

  3. Consciously focusing on something for an hour seems almost impossible with all the distractions we have now, mainly technological. I can’t imagine doings something for an hour online because I either check my email 10 times or facebook updates or videos here and there. It would take a lot, A LOT of discipline to get into a flow and stay in it for an hour. I gotta try it

  4. @AC :)

    @Hodan wa alaikum assalaam. About getting this done “when you have little inspiration and interest”, I’ll re-check my notes. As for experience, I can’t get over that hump myself…

    @Sana wa alaikum assalaam. Good point, but a long explanation. So…part 2 I guess, inshaAllah.

    @matata Agreed. There’s actually a few audios on distractions and stuff in the UntangleYourTime series.

    Check it out.

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