Do you want to know what Flow is? If your vote is for watching (‘5):
If your vote is for reading, in our new book “Missing Link Discovered“, we wrote a whole chapter on “The Science Behind Flow”. The following is an extract from From Chapter 1:
In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s own words:
“My original research, which I still do, is creativity. Flow was an offshoot of creativity. Two things struck me in studying thousands of creative artists, surgeons, top executives, others with impressive accomplishments, and even ordinary people working efficiently and seemingly happily in what to others would seem to be simple jobs.
First, that it wasn’t the reward that seemed mainly to motivate them. That was part of it, but, more importantly, they did what they did enthusiastically because doing it was rewarding to them, in and of itself. So I started looking at not how you do something, but how you feel when you’re doing it.
Second, that irrespective of the field or type of work, many described their feelings in similar ways: metaphors or analogies that involved sports or the arts. They would say, ‘It’s like skiing’, or ‘It is like sailing’, or ‘There is a little bit of wrestling involved’. So finally I said, ‘Since they all seem to describe the same thing, let’s give it a name.’ Looking over my many interviews, the most frequent analogy was something which flowed effortlessly, like being carried away by a river. So I decided to call it a ‘Flow’ experience.”
Csikszentmihalyi explains further:
“People are happy when they are in a state of Flow, a type of intrinsic motivation that involves being fully focused and being ‘fully present’ in a situation or task. Being in a Flow state means complete involvement 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 are using your skills to the utmost.”
The definition of Flow above is clear. Let’s say a little more about how it was discovered, and place it in a broader context.
First, based on thousands of carefully structured interviews and the measurement of what might be called the “state of mind” of many volunteer individuals over long periods – as they engage in various types of activities (each involving different challenges and skills) – Csikszentmihalyi identified and labeled the frequently changing moods of a modern human being, as shown here:
The two axes of the chart are the level of skills an individual possesses and the level of challenges that the same person faces at any given time. One of the preconditions for Flow states to occur is that there should be a good match between the kinds of challenges a person faces and the skill-sets he or she has; and for Flow to reoccur, to be willing and able to move, over time, to higher combinations of challenges and skills.
Flow is generally considered to be a “peak experience”, “being in a Zone”, that has limited duration, ranging from a few minutes to several hours; never more than a working day.
Flow is somewhat similar to the concept of engagement. The difference between them is that while engagement is usually a prolonged state, Flow is a temporary one. One can periodically re-enter a Flow state — in ideal situations, at increasingly higher combinations of challenges and skills.
Our illustration shows a space at the center labeled “subjective mean”. That area represents an average level of challenges and skills of an ordinary person through an average week. The overall average of moods tends be in the middle, a given individual’s personal center. If at that point, that individual’s perception is that he or she is neither in a positive nor in a negative mental state. Conversely, the greater the distance a person moves away from his or her personal center point, the stronger the indicated state of mind becomes.
Csikszentmihalyi described the common features of a given mood state. He identified the Flow state (upper right corner), often referred to as the Zone, as the mental state of a person who is fully involved in a task, enjoying the activity, and feeling lots of energy. In his interpretation, being in a Flow state represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing positive emotions, in line with the task at hand, exhibiting spontaneity, joy and creativity.