Flow, a mental state of complete yet effortless concentration, is a concept that was coined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975. Colloquially, people may recognize the feeling as being “in the zone” or “in the groove.” Csikszentmihalyi was a prisoner during World War II and became interested in human happiness and how people become content in life. His studies led him to write his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience in which he concluded that happiness is an internal state that can be achieved through flow. Csikszentmihalyi also said that flow increases creativity and productivity.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are eight characteristics of flow:
- Complete, focused concentration and attention on the present task.
- Clarity of goals and immediate feedback.
- Balance between skills and challenge.
- Transformation of or altered perception of time.
- Merging of action and awareness, eliminating self-consciousness.
- Feeling in control.
- Reward in the end.
When you experience a state of flow, you are fully immersed in what you’re doing. Flow occurs when the challenge at hand isn’t too boring or too complex, it’s the constant wave between the two. It’s likely you’ve experienced this state before. An easy way to achieve flow is to completely commit to a game, sport or exercise in the moment, allowing yourself to work towards a clear goal with immediate feedback and intrinsic reward. Flow is also often applied to education. While studying or reading about a specific topic, you may experience a type of learning flow once you’ve come to master a concept. In the workplace, you may achieve flow while working on a task you specialize and excel at.