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How to Flow: Unlocking The Mental State That Will Change Your Life

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 3

Do you want spontaneous joy, rapture and fulfillment? Do you want the key to happiness?

Of course. We all do. In this article, we're going to cover how it's possible with flow.

Yes, the seemingly simple answer lies in the mental state of flow, as identified by the famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (whoa, that name is a mouthful). You're probably wondering what is this state of flow, and how do I enter flow? This article will lay out the answers, which in turn will satisfy all life's quandries. I'm not kidding. Flow can change your life. We owe a big thank you to Mr Csikszentmihalyi.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow

First we will analyze flow by means of example. Think of Albert Einstein, bent over his equations, fully focused on the task at hand and striving for a solution. Think of Bono, on stage unleashing his passion in front of tens of thousands of U2 fans. Or how about a rock climber, like this guy, motivated and driven to reach the next peak. A passionate musician, practicing all day and losing track of the time. A professional golfer, whose only concern is the next putt he has to drain. A tennis player, who cannot afford a lapse in concentration. Do you understand where this is going? All of the afore mentioned examples have individuals who are in the zone", "on the ball" or have their "head in the game". These terms are synoymous with flow.

Csikszentmihalyi Flow Tennis
Csikszentmihalyi Flow Einstein
Csikszentmihalyi Flow Rock Climbing
Csikszentmihalyi Flow Golf

Let's be clear on what flow is by setting out a formal criteria. Here is what Csikszentmihalyi came up with:

  1. Clear goals. Alright, so there has to be rules and goals that make the activity attainable yet challenging. Skill required and the challenge confronted should be set proportionally high.

  1. Concentrating. This is straightforward. To enter flow, we need a high degree of focus on a limited field of attention. We gotta delve deep in the activity.
  2. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness. Csikszentmihalyi calls it the merging of action and awareness. Basically it means being in the present moment.
  3. Distorted sense of time. We've all been doing something that we enjoy and notice that time flies. That's a trademark of flow.
  4. Feedback. We have to know what we're doing well and what can be improved on. This feedback must be timely and clear.
  5. Balance between ability level and challenge. The activity can't be too easy, nor too difficult. It must match our skill level.
  6. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity. Control is engaging; loss of control is hopeless.
  7. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  8. A lack of awareness of bodily needs. Ever heard of those Japanese gamers who nearly starved to death because they were so engaged? They were in flow. (Note: I would not suggest pursing flow to this extent!)
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

Barrels More of Information

  • Any work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the man who pioneered the research on flow. Notable books by Csikszentmihalyi include Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience, The Evolving Self and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.
  • Any work by Martin Seligman. Sliegman's book Positive Psychology is particularly relevent.
  • The Element by Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D. In this bestseller Robinson outlines how our education system should be readjusted, especially in light of the findings of flow. Also, be sure to check out Robinson's inspiring TED talk.

All of these books are available on Amazon. See the sidebar for direct links. And did you know, you can even enter flow when you're reading. So happy reading!


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    Comments

    Oct 25, 2010 9:11am
    southerngirl09
    I didn't know what flow was until I read your article. This happens a lot when working on IB articles. Thanks for sharing.
    Oct 25, 2010 3:57pm
    gibberade
    Thanks for the comment.
    It's the best feeling in the world.
    Nov 23, 2010 7:11am
    pwarlick
    Do something you really love always puts you in the zone.
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