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:
- Clear goals – goals align with one’s skills and abilities, however, the challenge level should be high, albeit achievable.
- Concentration and focus – a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (that is, deep immersion in an activity of interest).
- Loss of self-consciousness – the merging of action and awareness.
- Distorted sense of time – experience of time is subjected and altered, where time seems to pass by quickly.
- 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.
- Balance between ability level and challenge – the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult for one’s abilities.
- Personal control – a sense of personal control of the situation or activity, therefore can influence the outcome.
- 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