In Positive Psychology flow, sometimes referred to as being in the zone, means you are unquestionably fixated in what you are doing.
If you are in a flow state you are in a positive experiential state and totally connected to the task at hand. People who are in a state of flow are highly likely to become incredibly individualistic with the ability to develop concepts such as motivation, peak performance, peak experience and enjoyment.
Named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is an amazing state of mind that can be entered into while performing any activity or task.
The optimal experience of flow, as Csikszentmihalyi describes it, is most likely to occur when a person becomes totally engrossed in one specific task to the point of being oblivious to their surroundings or distractions even bodily needs such as hunger, bathroom breaks or need for sleep. We slip into this state of flow while doing the things we are passionate about. The idea is to be able to recognise this state.
A friend of mine enjoys a flow state when playing his guitar and experimenting with different chords and riffs in readiness for upcoming gigs. "It's a great experience, I'm not thinking of anything else while going through my sets, and then, suddenly I look at the clock and am shocked at the time," he said.
Csikszentmihalyi first named the concept flow in 1975 when he and his research colleagues became enchanted by artists who would essentially become so engrossed in their creation they would simply forget about time and space.
I began a fascination with flow while studying psychology. Not only did I find myself in the flow while meditating - which became a big part of my daily routine as a transiting from daily commitments to blocks of serious study time.
My academic years just flew by seemingly to the point of me feeling like a woman awakening from a deep sleep (Rip Van Winkle) when I finally graduated. Today, I find myself totally engrossed and oblivious day-in-day-out while doing other passions like reading, writing and researching various psychological theories.
That is not to say that studying for me was a breeze, it most certainly wasn’t which makes the concept of flow all the more mysterious, and valuable. Mysterious in a sense of how could I get into such a state that when someone entered the room, I didn’t even know they were there?
The more I learn about being in a state of flow, the more I appreciate how powerful our mind actually is and how very much we need to learn about it so that we can control it rather than the other way round.
Concepts similar to flow have a long history in the teaching of Buddhism and Hindu. Terms like ‘action of inaction’ and ‘doing without doing’ refer to a similar state. Yet the concept could not be called science without ways of measuring the experience. Without such ways any concept is just commentary.
Is flow state a commentary or science?
There are three common ways to measure the experience of flow. One is the flow questionnaire (FQ) but don’t get too hung up on proving it scientifically when you can prove it personally for yourself, unless of course, you are a psychology student.
You can learn to experience flow by first being aware of it. You could very well be doing it now in your life and not identifying it as a state of flow.
First, think of the best time of day when you are calm. Some people live in a state of mental chaos and my heart goes out to them as I can remember such a time in my life. I am hoping that you can find a small window of time in your day where you can start practising feeling calm and peaceful.
If you are constantly rushing you cannot possibly access the state that is required for you to enter flow. If this is you, think of something that you really love doing; for example, it can be anything from playing a musical instrument to playing sport to painting, pottery, writing, working on a jigsaw puzzle, or even doing needlework can initiate flow. You may be a computer programmer experiencing a state of flow while designing an innovative program or app. If you are a developer of computer software you may use the terms 'wired in' or The Zone' when developing in an undistracted state.
The flow state doesn't necessarily mean sitting and meditating, it means doing something that you love to do and throwing yourself into it so that time has no meaning and if it is mediating, so be it. Whatever it is you love to do, the hours will fly by and ultimately just seems like five minutes when you finally put it down, that's the flow state.
How can you benefit that state of flow?
You will be creative while being passionate about the job at hand. Practising entering a flow state and recognising when you are in it can be highly valuable as this is when you can create your best work. Whatever you are doing whether it relates to your business or hobby going into a state of flow at will, will see you taking control of your daily schedule and, as a result, moving forward positively in leaps and bounds.
Great idea: teaching the theory of flow to adolescents struggling to find their identity or their fit, in other words, their place of belonging, can be very therapeutic. A word of warning: Those addicted to computer games do, indeed, enter into a state of flow, however, they need to be restricted to only short bursts at the computer.
Several of the single families I have worked with over the years have had a hard time trying to get their teenage kids - mainly sons - off the computer. It's a serious problem, one that is best not allowed to take hold. Those of you who have teenagers may know what I mean and I suggest that if it is a problem at your house that you seek professional help before it gets out of hand. Doing one activity for the majority of your waking hours can cause serious brain issues in young people.
Caution should be taken with any type of addiction, however, in general, flow experiences are predicted to lead to positive effect as well as to better performance if done in moderation.