Flow is a mental state where you are completely absorbed in your work, you have lost all track of time, and it all flows effortlessly. It refers to the state of gratification we enter when we feel completely engaged in what we are doing. The phrases in the zone, or lost in your work, often refer to flow experiences.
Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as optimal experience.
The experience of flow has several of these characteristics:
- Clear and attainable goals.
- Concentrating and focusing—a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention. A person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it. People become absorbed in their activity, and their focus of awareness is narrowed to the activity itself.
- A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
- A distorted sense of time, your subjective experience of time is altered.
- Direct and immediate feedback—successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be rapidly adjusted as needed.
- An appropriate challenge, neither too difficult nor too easy—Competency is demonstrated.
- A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding—action becomes effortless.
- Notice when you have just emerged from the flow state.
- Reflect on your experience of flow. Which of the characteristics listed above can you recall occurring during the flow state?
- Reflect on what you were doing and how you entered the flow state.
- Seek out opportunities to enter and enjoy this state of mind.
Suggestions for further reading:
- Mihaly Csikszentmihályi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-016253-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=V9KrQgAACAAJ.