by the Black Dog Institute
Have you ever been so immersed in doing something that you looked up and had no idea of what time it was? Did you find you weren’t jaded or tired, even though you’d been doing it for a long time?
Flow is a state of complete immersion in an activity
Flow happens when you’re so absorbed by an activity that you’re no longer aware of time or worries, and even lose your sense of self.
One of the pioneers of the concept of flow is Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He’s also one of the founders of positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi first developed the concept of flow when he was trying to understand when people enjoyed themselves most.
What does being in flow feel like?
Csikszentmihalyi describes being in flow as ‘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.’
Csikszentmihalyi’s factors to identify flow include:
- intense and focused concentration on the present moment and the activity itself
- merging of action and awareness
- a loss of reflective self-consciousness
- a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- a distortion of temporal experience
- experience of the activity is intrinsically rewarding
- losing all sense of time passing
- non-awareness of any physical needs.
Flow is a state of joy, creativity and total involvement. Our problems disappear, and there’s a feeling of transcendence.
You’re usually applying all your attention to something challenging, and concentrating so much that you enter a ‘flow’ state. Flow happens when you’re quite challenged or doing something you love. It happens in different ways for all of us.
Some sportspeople achieve a state of flow and describe it as being ‘in the zone’. Others experience flow whilst painting or playing a musical instrument.
What are the benefits of flow?
Csikszentmihalyi found that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of flow.
‘The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.’ ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
When we are in a flow state of consciousness, we are so completely absorbed in an activity that we feel:
- effortlessly in control
- a loss of self-consciousness (forget yourself and all your worries)
- an expression of creative and higher order abilities
- a heightened sense of awareness of the present (also known as ‘being in the zone’)
- we are so focused
- there is no negative thinking or discomfort.
Flow can also improve our performance and helps us master new skills. For example, in a sporting performance, musical concert, teaching others, learning, pursuing a creative task, a work task, or exam situation.
Things you can do to find your flow
Flow can happen in whatever it is that you’re completely absorbed in. Flow can happen while you’re studying a new topic or learning a new skill – something that requires you to extend/challenge yourself, such as:
- surfing, skiing, rock climbing
- building, painting
- solving puzzles
- playing backgammon, chess or cards
- playing sport
- doing yoga
- playing music
- playing an instrument
- a challenging bushwalk
- writing, reading
- drawing, designing
- at work: when you’re totally engaged in the task