If you have ever felt completely absorbed in something, you might have been experiencing a mental state that psychologists refer to as flow.
Achieving this state can help people feel greater enjoyment, energy, and involvement.
Imagine for a moment that you are running a race. Your attention is focused on the movements of your body, the power of your muscles, the force of your lungs, and the feel of the street beneath your feet. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the present activity. Time seems to fall away. You are tired, but you barely notice. This is an example of state of flow.
What Is Flow?
Flow is a state of mind in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as a state of complete immersion in an activity.
While in this mental state, people are completely involved and focused on what they are doing.
“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,” Csíkszentmihályi said in an interview with Wired magazine.
Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. It often occurs when you are doing something that you enjoy and in which you are quite skilled.
This state is often associated with the creative arts such as painting, drawing, or writing. However, it can also occur while engaging in a sport, such as skiing, tennis, soccer, dancing, or running.
The Benefits of Flow
In addition to making activities more enjoyable, flow also has a number of other advantages, such as:
Characteristics of Flow
According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow. While many of these components may be present, it is not necessary to experience all of them for flow to occur:
The Neuroscience of Flow
Research has found that there are changes in brain activity during flow states. Other research suggests that there is also an increase in activity of dopamine (a brain chemical involved in pleasure and motivation) when people are experiencing flow.
While flow experiences can happen as part of everyday life, there are also important practical applications in various areas including education, sports, and the workplace.
Flow In Creative Pursuits
Flow is perhaps most often associated with creativity. For example, a writer experiencing a state of flow may become so immersed in their work that time passes without them even noticing. The words flow easily and quickly. An artist might spend hours working on a painting,and emerge with a great deal of progress that seemed to fly by quickly.
Flow in Education
Csíkszentmihályi has suggested that overlearning a skill or concept can help people experience flow. Another critical concept in his theory is the idea of slightly extending oneself beyond one’s current ability level. This slight stretching of one’s current skills can help the individual experience flow.
Flow in Sports
Engaging in a challenging athletic activity that is doable but presents a slight stretching of your abilities is a good way to achieve flow. Sometimes described by being “in the zone,” reaching this state of flow allows an athlete to experience a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of complete mastery of the performance.
Flow in the Workplace
Flow can also occur when workers are engaged in tasks where they are able to focus entirely on the project at hand. For example, a writer might experience this while working on a novel or a graphic designer might achieve flow while working on a website illustration.
How to Achieve Flow
So what can you do to increase your chances of achieving flow? Try the following:
Achieving a state of flow can be a great way to make the activities you pursue more engaging and enjoyable. Not only do people often perform better when they are in this state of flow, but they are also often able to improve their skills in that area. Fortunately, it is also a skill you can learn to achieve with practice.
It is important to remember that flow is a dynamic and ever-changing state. As your skill levels increase, you will need to continue to adjust the level of challenge that is needed to help initiate a state of flow.
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