You’ve probably heard this statement at some point in your life- does it actually mean anything? It turns out that ‘flow’ is actually a concept in positive psychology. As you probably guessed, it describes the ‘total immersion’ in a task or work, or ‘being in the zone.’ Originally discovered by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when one is in the flow, ‘Time flies. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.’
This seems like a feel good description of ‘true bliss’, but if you actually think about it, you’ve probably only rarely been in the flow. It’s easy to confuse deadline pressures with flow- don’t worry, I did it too :). Some true examples of flow that I can think of include when I led my HS robotics team to win our first Team Spirit award, presented at any of the science fair competitions, and yes- when I had the privilege to attend Intel STS and hug the President of the United States. In all these moments, there were some patterns of similarity:
- Having clear and attainable goals
- Intense concentration along with an incredible sense of clarity
- Having no sense of time whatsoever
- Feeling control over the outcome- it was as if the outcome was already decided
- An insane sense of inner peace
It is interesting to note the above diagram which is Csikszentmihalyi’s original description of flow. Now we can understand the difference between being relaxed, or in control, vs being in the flow. I would say that in general, when we feel ‘good’ we are really feeling in control, or perhaps relaxed. What would be interesting to analyze is the effect of ‘time’ on someone’s capacity. I generally find that the less ‘free’ time we have to accomplish a task, we tend to gravitate more to the right side of this diagram.
In general, it seems that an overlap of high skill and incredible challenges leads to one’s immersion in a subject. Have you ever experienced ‘flow’? Let me know below!
Links: Flow- Curiosity