If you have ever been entirely focused and absorbed in something, you might have been experiencing what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other psychologists refer to as flow. Professor Csikszentmihalyi defined a state of flow in the 70s. It is described as a blissful state in which people are so immersed in the challenging but doable activity that they lose the sense of self. Achieving the flow state can help people feel greater joy and energy and increase their well-being, creativity, and productivity. But, how can we cultivate flow? Let’s find out.
What is Flow?
A state of flow is the presence of the mind, consciousness, and mindfulness. Essentially, it is a state of mind in which a person is so involved in a task that nothing else seems to matter. Flow is when you think you’ve only been running for 20 minutes and realize it’s been an hour. When you are so focused on trying to solve a problem at work, you don’t even realize your shift is over. Flow is when you decide to read just a chapter of a book, but you lose track of time and place and end up reading half of it. According to Csikszentmihalyi, it is the best-kept secret to finding joy, fulfillment, and happiness in life and every goal you set. As he explains: “Everything people experience, whether interest or boredom, joy or pain, is represented in their mind as information. If we can control this information, we can decide what our lives can be like.”
Why is the State of Flow So Important?
When Csikszentmihalyi started his research, he didn’t just discover how to encourage a flow-inducing atmosphere to boost productivity. He also found an unhappiness epidemic among people and became one of the founding fathers of Positive Psychology. According to him, it’s not enough to just work your hours and clock out at 5 pm, go home and do nothing in particular. When this happens, people tend to feel like their life is meaningless. As Csikszentmihalyi explains, it is perfectly okay to be great at your job, but the other 128 hours in a workweek also need to be filled with meaning and purpose if you want to lead a happy life. To Csikszentmihalyi, the biggest problem lies in paying attention. If we cannot pay attention to all of our senses, if we can’t be present in every moment we live, we are not conscious, and we are not experiencing.
“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy. Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we please; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.”
Flow helps us stay present, making every moment enjoyable. It builds our self-esteem and self-confidence that allows us to develop skills that can contribute to society. When we pay attention, we become aware of every moment of our lives, we see our goals, our progress, and we know what we can change to improve the lives and experiences of those around us.
What are the Factors of Flow?
According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are ten factors that define the state of flow. While most of these characteristics can be present, it is not necessary for all of them to exist for flow to happen:
- The task is intrinsically rewarding;
- You have clear goals that, although challenging, are still attainable;
- You have a complete focus on the task itself;
- You can experience feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome;
- You experience serenity and a loss of self-consciousness;
- There is immediate feedback;
- You know that the task is doable, and there is a delicate balance between your skill level and the challenge presented;
- You experience a lack of awareness of your physical needs;
- You have an intense concentration and focused attention; and
- You experience timelessness or a distorted sense of time where you are so immersed in the present that you lose track of time passing.
How Can We Get Into Flow?
Here is what you can do to increase your chances of achieving a state of flow:
1. Set clear goals. As Csikszentmihalyi explains, flow is likely to happen when a person faces an activity with clear objectives that require specific responses. A chess game is an excellent example of when a state of flow can occur. The chess player has concrete goals and reactions for the game’s duration, focusing solely on the game.
2. Eliminate distractions. A state of flow is impossible to experience if there are things in your environment competing for your attention. Try reducing causes of distraction (turn off your phone, use noise-canceling earphones) so you can entirely focus on the activity at hand.
3. Add challenge to your activity. As Csikszentmihalyi explains, a state of flow happens when our skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is almost manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning or perfecting skills and increasing challenges. If a challenge is too low, a person can get back into flow by expanding it. If a challenge is too big, a person can return to flow by learning new skills.
4. Choose an activity you enjoy doing. It’s unlikely that you will achieve a state of flow if you are doing something you don’t like. However, if you focus on doing something you love, achieving a state of flow is practically inevitable.
Attaining a state of flow can be an ideal way to make your activities more enjoyable and engaging. Not only do people perform better when they are in flow, but they’re also able to improve their skills in the chosen area. One thing is also important to mention – as your skill levels increase, you will have to continue to adjust the challenge levels needed to initiate the flow. The beauty in all of this is your continuous positive development of both body, mind, and soul.
Read the final part of this article here.