Finding Your Flow

November 15th, 2011 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Success

Have you ever experienced a situation in your personal or work life when everything progressed according to plan and was working optimally? Were you also at the same time completely focused, motivated and immersed in the activities of the work you were undertaking? This state of being has been described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as FLOW.

Flow is the mental state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity, where they feel focused, motivated, in self-control and have a sense of fulfillment. Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Many people engaged in sporting activity who ultimately rise above the challenge of  competitors to win an event or game usually state that they were in their flow or in the zone. Flow provides an ongoing state of satisfaction, exhilaration and fulfillment where success is achieved in the process of the activity.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow delivers personal satisfaction, happiness and satisfies our creative desires. To experience flow you need to gain a level of competency in the tasks you are performing (e.g. playing a musical instrument, engaged in a sporting activity etc) and be able to transition into a relaxed state of achievement. Getting into the right mental state of flow is a skill that can allow you to think creatively, solve problems and perform at optimum levels. The key to entering the mental state of flow requires the ability to transition your mind into the Alpha State which is the bridge between the conscious and subconscious.

Csíkszentmihályi identifies a number of  factors that are associated with experiencing flow:

  1. Clear goals – goals align with one’s skills and abilities, however, the challenge level should be high, albeit achievable.
  2. Concentration and focus a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (that is, deep immersion in an activity of interest).
  3. Loss of  self-consciousness the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time experience of time is subjected and altered, where time seems to pass by quickly.
  5. Immediate feedback – response is direct and immediate, therefore successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, and actions can be adjusted as needed.
  6. Balance between ability level and challengethe activity is neither too easy nor too difficult for one’s abilities.
  7. Personal control – a sense of personal control of the situation or activity, therefore can influence the outcome.
  8. Intrinsically rewarding the activity undertaken is rewarding therefore the actions seem effortless.

When in a state of flow the person is fully absorbed in the activity and their awareness is reduced to the actions of the activity, sometimes resulting in a lack of awareness for personal needs when undertaking the activity – not eating or taking a break.

What are some examples when you have experienced flow or have been in the zone?

Dr John Kapeleris

Did you like this? Share it:
Be Sociable, Share!

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 You can leave a response, or trackback.

6 Responses

  • Learning how to Juggle as a paradigm for learning how to learn, and achieving a state of flow.

    Michael Gelb teaches juggling as a paradigm for learning how to learn in general (meta-learning), through learning something in particular. As such, I claim it is also a paradigm for learning how to create, and learning how to learn to create, because the act of learning is just an act of creating new knowledge ‘of something’, or knowledge of ‘how to do something.’ The something in particular could indeed just as well be singing or dancing, or painting. However, to learn to juggle well, we need to achieve a state of ‘relaxed concentration,’ and in order to do this, we must heed YODA’s advice and paradoxically ‘not try’, whilst we are ‘trying’, to learn. I want to extend Gelb’s paradigm for learning to juggle, to being one for learning how to learn to be creative, innovative and inventive in general. Fundamentally, to juggle or dance well is to achieve a flow state that is a result of the joyful experience of creating something new, each time we do it. To juggle well is also to be in the state of relaxed concentration needed in order to be thus creative. The most significant fact about this, is simply that it gives us personal experience of what it feels like to be in the state of relaxed concentration that is essential for being creative in general. Each time we experience it, it becomes progressively easier to achieve, and we become progressively more creative. To be creative is a fundamental force of nature in need of being harnessed to create value for ourselves and others, just as the force of gravity is in need of being harnessed in order to create for instance energy from tidal movement.

    Richard Krista
    link to

    • John Kapeleris says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thank you for outlining Michael Gelb’s paradigm of how to learn and achieve a state of flow. You mentioned the concept of “relaxed concentration”. Relaxed concentration is the key characteristic of achieving a state of flow. The ability to effortlessly transition into a state of relaxed concentration will allow a person to move into flow and achieve the outcomes they desire, whether learning, creating something new or completing a set of activities.



  • According to a well-known writer that I’m coming to know better-and-better each day, being ‘in the zone’ is characterised by three things. You love what you’re doing. You gain energy as a result of this activity. In the process, you learn better ways of doing things. Being in the zone sure beats going with the flow, methinks.

    Go well.

    • John Kapeleris says:

      Well summarised using the three characteritics Neil.

      It is important to differentiate being in a state of flow, which means being in the zone, from going with the flow, which means following everyone else. When you follow everyone else you are not differentiating yourself from the pack.



  • Dear John this is an interesting article and one more befitting a discussion in contemporary western philosophy. I am in fact developing a paper around these area but with philosophical appraisal in mind, needless to say your observations that you raise in this article have far reaching impacts beyond the paradigms we are used to aligning our selves with. I shall leave my comments to that for now.
    Kind regards Ross Naidoo (Philosopher in Residence)

    • John Kapeleris says:

      Hi Ross,

      Thank you for your comments. I look forward to reading your philosophical thoughts in your paper. However, I am also happy to enter a discussion in contemporary western philosophy.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *