ComponentsJeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow: * Intense and focused
EtymologyFlow is so named because, during Csíkszentmihályi's 1975 interviews, several people described their "flow" experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along: "'It was like floating,' 'I was carried on by the flow.'"
HistoryMihaly Csikszentmihályi and others began researching flow after Csikszentmihályi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. The theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihályi tried to understand the phenomenon experienced by these artists. Flow research became prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, with Csikszentmihályi and his colleagues in Italy still at the forefront. Researchers interested in optimal experiences and emphasizing positive experiences, especially in places such as schools and the business world, also began studying the theory of flow at this time. The cognitive science of flow has been studied under the rubric of effortless attention.
MechanismIn any given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one's mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to Csikszentmihályi's 2004 TED talk, that number is about "110 bits of information per second." That may seem like a lot of information, but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just decoding speech takes about 40–60 bits of information per second, which is why when having a conversation, one cannot focus as much attention on other things. Generally, people have the ability to decide what they will give their full attention to. This excludes basic distinctive feelings, such as hunger and pain. However, when one experiences flow, they are completely immersed in a certain activity. This is a subconscious phenomenon. People who are experiencing flow are no longer aware of the environment around them, such as the time, others around, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. However, when one is in the flow state, they are completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. According to Csikszentmihályi, this event occurs because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated. The flow state has been described by Csikszentmihályi as the "optimal experience" in that one gets to a level of high gratification from the experience. Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and "depends on the ability" of the individual. One's capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals leads not only to the optimal experience but also to a sense of
MeasurementThere are three common ways to measure flow experiences: the flow questionnaire (FQ), the experience sampling method (ESM), and the "standardized scales of the componential approach."
Flow questionnaireThe FQ requires individuals to identify definitions of flow and situations in which they believe that they have experienced flow, followed by a section that asks them to evaluate their personal experiences in these flow-inducing situations. The FQ identifies flow as multiple constructs, therefore allowing the results to be used to estimate differences in the likelihood of experiencing flow across a variety of factors. Another strength of the FQ is that it does not assume that everyone's flow experiences are the same. Because of this, the FQ is the ideal measure for estimating the prevalence of flow. However, the FQ has some weaknesses that more recent methods have set out to address. The FQ does not allow for a measurement of the intensity of flow during specific activities. This method also does not measure the influence of the ratio of challenge to skill on the flow state.
Experience sampling methodThe ESM requires individuals to fill out the experience sampling form (ESF) at eight randomly chosen time intervals throughout the day. The purpose of this is to understand subjective experiences by estimating the time intervals that individuals spend in specific states during everyday life. The ESF is made up of 13 categorical items and 29 scaled items. The purpose of the categorical items is to determine the context and
Standardized scalesSome researchers are not satisfied with the methods mentioned above and have set out to create their own scales. The scales developed by Jackson and Eklund are the most commonly used in research, mainly because they are still consistent with Csíkszentmihályi's definition of flow and consider flow as being both a state and a trait. Jackson and Eklund created two scales that have been proven to be psychometrically valid and reliable: the flow state scale-2 (which measures flow as a state), and the dispositional flow scale-2 (designed to measure flow as either a general trait or domain-specific trait). The statistical analysis of the individual results from these scales gives a much more complete understanding of flow than the ESM and the FQ.
CharacteristicsThe flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is more likely to occur when the task or activity is wholeheartedly engaged for intrinsic purposes. Passive activities such as taking a bath or even watching TV, usually do not elicit a flow experience because active engagement is prerequisite to entering the flow state. While the activities that induce flow vary and may perhaps be multifaceted, Csikszentmihályi asserts that the experience of flow is similar whatever the activity. Flow theory postulates that three conditions must be met to achieve flow: * The activity must have clear goals and progress. This establishes structure and direction. * The task must provide clear and immediate feedback. This helps to negotiate any changing demands and allows adjusting performance to maintain the flow state. * Good balance is required between the ''perceived'' challenges of the task and one's ''perceived'' skills. Confidence in the ability to complete the task is required. It has been argued that the antecedent factors of flow are interrelated, and as such, a perceived balance between challenges and skills requires that the goals are clear, and feedback is effective. Thus, the coordination of perceived demands and task skills can be identified as the central precondition of flow experience. In 1987, Massimini, Csíkszentmihályi and Carli published the eight-channel model of flow . Antonella Delle Fave, who worked with Fausto Massimini at the University of Milan, calls this graph the Experience Fluctuation Model. The model depicts the channels of experience that result from different levels of perceived challenges and perceived skills. The graph illustrates another aspect of flow: it is more likely to occur when the activity is a higher-than-average challenge (above the center point) and the individual has above-average skills (to the right of the center point). The center of the graph where the sectors meet represents the average level of challenge and skill across all individual daily activities. The further from the center an experience is, the greater the intensity of that state of being, whether it is flow or anxiety or boredom or relaxation. Several problems of the model have been discussed in literature. One is that it does not ensure the perceived balance between challenges and skills which is said to be the central precondition of flow experience. Individuals with a low average level of skills and a high average level of challenges (or the converse) do not necessarily experience a match between skills and challenges when both are above their individual average. Another study found that low challenge situations which were surpassed by skill were associated with enjoyment, relaxation, and happiness, which, they claim, is contrary to flow theory. Schaffer (2013) proposed seven flow conditions: * Knowing what to do * Knowing how to do it * Knowing how well one is doing * Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved) * High perceived challenges * High perceived skills * Freedom from distractions Schaffer published a flow condition questionnaire (FCQ), to measure each of these seven flow conditions for any given task or activity.
Challenges to maintaining flowSome of the challenges to staying in flow include states of
The autotelic personalityCsíkszentmihályi hypothesized that people with certain personality traits may be better able to achieve flow than the average person. These traits include curiosity, persistence, low egotism, and a high propensity to perform activities for intrinsic reasons. People with most of these personality traits are said to have an '' autotelic personality''. The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, ''auto'', meaning self, and ''telos'' meaning goal. Being autotelic means having a self-contained activity, without the expectation of future benefit, but simply to be experienced. There is scant research on the '' autotelic personality'', but results of the few studies that have been conducted suggest that indeed some people are more likely to experience flow than others. One researcher (Abuhamdeh, 2000) found that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for "high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth" compared to those without an autotelic personality. It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to experience flow. Experimental evidence shows that a balance between individual skills, and demands of the task (compared to boredom and overload) only elicits the flow experience in individuals having an internal locus of control or a habitual action orientation. Several correlational studies found need for achievement to be a personal characteristic that fosters flow experiences. Autotelic Personality also has been shown in studies to correlate and show overlapping of flow in personal life and the Big Five Personality Traits of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. More particularly the traits of agreeableness and extraversion. Study of Autotelic Personality is difficult as most studies are performed through self-evaluation as observation of an Autotelic Personality is difficult to observe.
GroupGroup flow (or team flow) is notably different from independent flow as it is inherently mutual. Group flow is attainable when the performance unit is a group, such as a team or musical group. When groups cooperate to agree on goals and patterns, social flow, commonly known as group cohesion, is much more likely to occur. If a group still has not entered flow, a team-level challenge may stimulate the group to harmonize.
Applications suggested by Csíkszentmihályi versus other practitionersOnly Csíkszentmihályi seems to have published suggestions for
EducationIn education, the concept of overlearning plays a role in a student's ability to achieve flow. Csíkszentmihályi states that overlearning enables the mind to concentrate on visualizing the desired performance as a singular, integrated action instead of a set of actions. Challenging assignments that (slightly) stretch one's skills lead to flow. In the 1950s British cybernetician Gordon Pask designed an adaptive teaching machine called SAKI, an early example of "e-learning". The machine is discussed in some detail in Stafford Beer's book "Cybernetics and Management". In the patent application for SAKI (1956), Pask's comments (some of which are included below) indicate an awareness of the pedagogical importance of balancing student competence with didactic challenge, which is quite consistent with flow theory: Around 2000, it came to the attention of Csíkszentmihályi that the principles and practices of the
SportsThe concept of ''being in the zone'' during an athletic performance fit within Csíkszentmihályi's description of the flow experience, and theories and applications of ''being in the zone'' and its relationship with an athletic competitive advantage are topics studied in the field of
Religion and spiritualityIn
Games and gamingFlow in
Design of intrinsically motivated computer systemsA simplified modification to flow has been combined with the technology acceptance model (TAM) to help guide the design of and explain the adoption of intrinsically motivated computer systems. This model, the hedonic-motivation system adoption model (HMSAM) is modelled to improve the understanding of hedonic-motivation systems (HMS) adoption. HMS are systems used primarily to fulfill users' intrinsic motivations, such for online gaming, virtual worlds, online shopping, learning/education, online dating, digital music repositories, social networking, online pornography, gamified systems, and for general gamification. Instead of a minor, TAM extension, HMSAM is an HMS-specific system acceptance model based on an alternative theoretical perspective, which is in turn grounded in flow-based concept of cognitive absorption (CA). The HMSAM further builds on van der Heijden's (2004) model of hedonic system adoption by including CA as a key mediator of perceived ease of use (PEOU) and of behavioral intentions to use (BIU) hedonic-motivation systems. Typically, models simplistically represent "intrinsic motivations" by mere perceived enjoyed. Instead, HMSAM uses the more complex, rich construct of CA, which includes joy, control, curiosity, focused immersion, and temporal dissociation. CA is construct that is grounded in the seminal flow literature, yet CA has traditionally been used as a static construct, as if all five of its subconstructs occur at the same time—in direct contradiction to the flow literature. Thus, part of HMSAM's contribution is to return CA closer to its flow roots by re-ordering these CA subconstructs into more natural process-variance order as predicted by flow. Empirical data collection along with mediation tests further support this modeling approach.
Professions and workDevelopers of computer software reference getting into a flow state as "wired in", or sometimes as ''The Zone'', ''hack mode'', or operating on ''software time'' when developing in an undistracted state. Stock market operators often use the term "in the pipe" to describe the psychological state of flow when trading during high volume days and market corrections. Professional
In the workplaceConditions of flow, defined as a state in which challenges and skills are equally matched, play an extremely important role in the workplace. Because flow is associated with achievement, its development may have specific implications for increased workplace satisfaction and achievement. Flow researchers, such as Csikszentmihályi, believe that certain interventions may be performed to enhance and increase flow in the workplace, through which people would gain 'intrinsic rewards that encourage persistence" and provide benefits. In his consultation work, Csikszentmihályi emphasizes finding activities and environments that are conducive to flow, and then identifying and developing personal characteristics to increase experiences of flow. Applying these methods in the workplace can improve morale by fostering a sense of greater happiness and accomplishment, which may be correlated with increased performance. In his review of Mihály Csikszentmihályi's book "Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning," Coert Visser introduces the ideas presented by Csikszentmihályi, including "good work" in which one "enjoys doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself." He then provides tools by which managers and employees can create an atmosphere that encourages good work. Some consultants suggest that the experience sampling form (EMS) method be used for individuals and teams in the workplace in order to identify how time is currently being spent, and where focus should be redirected to in order to maximize flow experiences. In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihályi lays out the following three conditions: * Goals are clear * Feedback is immediate * A balance exists between opportunity and capacity Csikszentmihályi argues that with increased experiences of flow, people experience "growth towards complexity". People flourish as their achievements grow and with that comes development of increasing "emotional, cognitive, and social complexity." Creating a workplace atmosphere that allows for flow and growth, Csikszentmihályi argues, can increase the happiness and achievement of employees. An increasingly popular way of promoting greater flow in the workplace is using the " serious play" facilitation methods. Some commercial organisations have used the concept of flow in building corporate branding and identity, for example, The Floow Limited, which created its company brand from the concept.
BarriersThere are, however, barriers to achieving flow in the workplace. In his chapter "Why Flow Doesn't Happen on the Job," Csikszentmihályi argues the first reason that flow does not occur is that the goals of one's job are not clear. He explains that while some tasks at work may fit into a larger, organization plan, the individual worker may not see where their individual task fits it. Second, limited feedback about one's work can reduce motivation and leaves the employee unaware of whether or not they did a good job. When there is little communication of feedback, an employee may not be assigned tasks that challenge them or seem important, which could potentially prevent an opportunity for flow. In the study "Predicting flow at work: Investigating the activities and job characteristics that predict flow states at work", Karina Nielsen and Bryan Cleal used a 9-item flow scale to examine predictors of flow at two levels: activity level (such as brainstorming, problem solving, and evaluation) and at a more stable level (such as role clarity, influence, and cognitive demands). They found that activities such as planning, problem solving, and evaluation predicted transient flow states, but that more stable job characteristics were not found to predict flow at work. This study can help us identify which task at work can be cultivated and emphasized in order to help employees experience flow on the job. In her article in ''Positive Psychology News Daily'', Kathryn Britton examines the importance of experiencing flow in the workplace beyond the individual benefits it creates. She writes, "Flow isn't just valuable to individuals; it also contributes to organizational goals. For example, frequent experiences of flow at work lead to higher productivity, innovation, and employee development (Csikszentmihályi, 1991, 2004). So finding ways to increase the frequency of flow experiences can be one way for people to work together to increase the effectiveness of their workplaces."
Positive experiencesBooks by Csikszentmihályi suggest that enhancing the time spent in flow makes our lives more happy and successful. Flow experiences are predicted to lead to positive affect as well as to better performance. For example, delinquent behavior was reduced in adolescents after two years of enhancing flow through activities. People who have experienced flow, describe the following feelings: # Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated. # A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality. # Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing. # Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task. # A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego. # Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by the minute. # Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward. However, further empirical evidence is required to substantiate these preliminary indications, as flow researchers continue to explore the problem of how to directly investigate causal consequences of flow experiences using modern scientific instrumentation to observe the neuro-physiological correlates of the flow state.
Positive affect and life satisfactionFlow is an innately positive experience; it is known to "produce intense feelings of enjoyment". An experience that is so enjoyable should lead to positive
Performance and learningFlow experiences imply a growth principle. When one is in a flow state, they are working to master the activity at hand. To maintain that flow state, one must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches one's skills. One emerges from such a flow experience with a bit of personal growth and great "feelings of competence and efficacy". By increasing time spent in flow, intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning also increases. Flow has a documented correlation with high performance in the fields of artistic and scientific creativity, teaching, learning, and sports; Flow has been linked to persistence and achievement in activities while also helping to lower anxiety during various activities and raise self-esteem. However, evidence regarding better performance in flow situations is mixed. For sure, the association between the two is a reciprocal one. That is, flow experiences may foster better performance but, on the other hand, good performance makes flow experiences more likely. Results of a longitudinal study in the academic context indicate that the causal effect of flow on performance is only of small magnitude and the strong relationship between the two is driven by an effect of performance on flow. In the long run, flow experiences in a specific activity may lead to higher performance in that activity as flow is positively correlated with a higher subsequent motivation to perform and to perform well.
CriticismCsikszentmihályi writes about the dangers of flow himself:
...enjoyable activities that produce flow have a potentially negative effect: while they are capable of improving the quality of existence by creating order in the mind, they can become addictive, at which point the self becomes captive of a certain kind of order, and is then unwilling to cope with the ambiguities of life.Further, he writes:
The flow experience, like everything else, is not "good" in an absolute sense. It is good only in that it has the potential to make life more rich, intense, and meaningful; it is good because it increases the strengths and complexity of the self. But whether the consequence of any particular instance of flow is good in a larger sense needs to be discussed and evaluated in terms of more inclusive social criteria.Keller and Landhäußer (2012, p. 56) advocate for a flow intensity model because many models of flow have trouble predicting the intensity of flow experiences that can occur under various circumstances where skill and task demands fit together to produce flow. Cowley et al. found that because self-reported flow happens after-the-fact, it does not really capture the aspect of flow that happens in the moment. Furthermore, that aspect of flow is prone to change, so the self-reported experience of flow cannot be trusted as much. Cameron et al. found that there is not a lot of information on group flow, and this may be hindering development in managerial and theoretical contributions.
Future directionsCameron et al. proposed a research program that focuses on how group flow is different from individual flow, and how group flow affects group performance. These ideas will address some of the issues in group flow research such as poor data collection and interpretation. Sridhar & Lyngdoh suggested that research should investigate how mobility affects the ethical performance of sales professionals. Furthermore, there should be longitudinal studies done in various fields to understand the ethical implications of flow in sales. From their study, Chen et al. found that there needs to be more research done on how competition affects game-based learning. Linden et al. suggest that a neuroscientific model of flow would lead to new research questions that would guide future discoveries, experiments, and less obvious questions. Thissen et al. propose that more research is recommended in 2020 to understand how traffic affects fiction reading for all types of readers.
See also* Absorption (psychology) *
Sources* * (a popular exposition emphasizing technique) * * * * *