When last did you engage in an activity where you lost track of time? You get so engrossed in the activity that you did not notice time passing; maybe time even stood still for you. That peculiar and complex state of mind is called flow. Perhaps you haven’t heard of the term “flow” before and are familiar with the phrase “in the zone”? These are one and the same mind states.
A flow moment was researched and coined by a gentleman by the name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (how’s that for a tongue twister?) in 1975. The characteristics of flow differ from performance, even though these two may commonly be seen as one and the same. Flow means deep involvement in an activity with intense concentration, absorption, and enjoyment. One feels in control of the situation, one’s ability, and has clear goals that are intrinsically gratifying.
The reason this mind state was named “flow” is because of the feeling of fluidity, continuity in action, as well as concentration described by people. Another term used is optimal experience, but this is to a lesser extent. What is important and the core differentiation to peak performance is that the activity has to be challenging and complex enough to mobilise skill, concentration and engagement. Repetitive and low information-based activities result in boredom, and the opposite of over complex challenges that cause anxiety are not flow.
Flow is crucial for happiness and growth
Flow is a crucial component in a person’s self-development, growth and happiness. The reason for that is high challenges increase a person’s effort, skills and competence in a voluntary way. Through the refinement of skill mastery, an individual naturally seeks new and complex challenges.
It may come as a surprise, but work presents the place where people most often experience flow. Other areas are in arts, sport, study, and crafts. Work can be a place where an individual encounters the most challenges and complex situations.
The work-related flow inventory (WOLF) developed by Arnold B Bakker in 2008 measures flow at work. It focuses on three basic work experiences: absorption, enjoyment, and intrinsic motivation.
In the current workplace, the concept of flow has become increasingly important. Technology has made sure that some tasks are repetitive, mechanical, and even routine. These components are antidotes to flow, growth and innovation. Leaders have to find ways in which a person can express themselves in their tasks.
Experiencing flow means maintaining a conscious balance between challenge and skills. One could call it a deliberate practice to stimulate personal growth of reaching one’s potential.