Think of a time when you were completely immersed in what you were doing, and it seemed effortless to perform at your peak.
Maybe you were doing a work project, playing sports, creating art, studying something interesting, or having a great conversation.
For me there are three activities where I lose track of time and get fully absorbed in the experience. These include playing drums, writing and teaching/speaking.
I noticed this specifically for speaking while I was conducting seminars last week. There were moments when time seemed to fly by and the words effortlessly poured out.
This experience is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’ and refers to those moments when we have total concentration and become completely engrossed in what we’re doing. We may be no longer aware of what is going on around us and nothing else seems to matter in the moment.
In his own words, Csikszentmihaly said it is “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.”
Well-being and flow
These flow experiences are powerful moments when it comes to our well-being and fulfillment.
It allows us to achieve fulfilling goals, energizes us, and is when we’re at our best.
In these moments we are giving it our all and can reach peak performance. Our skills our challenged and we are pushed to reach our potential.
It’s the balance between the challenge and our skill that keeps us engaged in flow. When the balance is off and we’re not challenged we become bored or apathetic. Likewise, when our skills are stretched beyond our capability we experience anxiety and our performance suffers.
Understanding flow can help us use our skills and strengths most effectively.
Consider why you procrastinate or lack motivation with a particular task? It probably isn’t challenging and doesn’t offer much satisfaction.
For instance, watching television or randomly surfing the internet are probably not going to be intrinsically fulfilling or allow you to use your strengths in a challenging way.
So what leads to flow?
Over the years researchers have determined the conditions under which flow happens.
- The event is freely chosen.
- Our goal is clear.
- Feedback on our performance is immediate and concrete.
- The challenge of the task is high.
- We have the skill and competency to meet the challenge
Consider hobbies and productive activities that motivate you and use your concentration fully.
We can become more absorbed in what we do by shaping our routine to offer us challenges and opportunities to stretch our skills, and by having clear goals and feedback about the progress being made.
Photo by: familymwr
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991) Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience.