Flow (psychology)
Flow is the mental state
Mental state
* In psychology, mental state is an indication of a person's mental health**Mental status examination, a structured way of observing and describing a patient's current state of mind...

 of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychology professor, who emigrated to the United States at the age of 22. Now at Claremont Graduate University, he is the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago and of the department of sociology and anthropology at Lake...

, the positive psychology
Positive psychology
Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology whose purpose was summed up in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: "We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise, which achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in...

 concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation
Motivation is the driving force by which humans achieve their goals. Motivation is said to be intrinsic or extrinsic. The term is generally used for humans but it can also be used to describe the causes for animal behavior as well. This article refers to human motivation...

. It is a single-minded immersion
Attention is the cognitive process of paying attention to one aspect of the environment while ignoring others. Attention is one of the most intensely studied topics within psychology and cognitive neuroscience....

 and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning
Learning is acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.Human learning...

. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression
Depression (mood)
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, or restless...

 or the agitation of anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

 is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy
Happiness is a mental state of well-being characterized by positive emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources....

, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions.

Colloquial terms for this or similar mental states include: to be on the ball, in the moment, present, in the zone, wired in, or in the groove.

Components of flow

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow
  1. Clear goal
    A goal is an objective, or a projected computation of affairs, that a person or a system plans or intends to achieve.Goal, GOAL or G.O.A.L may also refer to:Sport...

    (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill
    A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both. Skills can often be divided into domain-general and domain-specific skills...

     level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention
    Attention is the cognitive process of paying attention to one aspect of the environment while ignoring others. Attention is one of the most intensely studied topics within psychology and cognitive neuroscience....

     (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
    Self-consciousness is an acute sense of self-awareness. It is a preoccupation with oneself, as opposed to the philosophical state of self-awareness, which is the awareness that one exists as an individual being; although some writers use both terms interchangeably or synonymously...

    the merging of action and awareness
    Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of...

  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically reward
    Reward system
    In neuroscience, the reward system is a collection of brain structures which attempts to regulate and control behavior by inducing pleasurable effects...

    , so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  10. Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.


Flow 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. The psychological concept of flow as becoming absorbed in an activity is thus unrelated to the older phrase, go with the flow.


The study of the concept of flow came about in the 1960s. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is considered to be the founder of flow, and his fellow researchers began researching flow after Csikszentmihayli 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. Thus, the origin of research on the theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihalyi tried to understand this phenomenon experienced by these artists. Flow research became prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, still with Csikszentmihalyi and his colleagues in Italy 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 in this time period. The theory of flow was greatly used in the theories of Maslow and Rogers in their development of the humanistic tradition of psychology.

Flow has been experienced throughout history and across cultures. The teachings of Buddhism and Taoism speak of a state of mind known as the "action of inaction" or "doing without doing" that greatly resembles the idea of flow. Also Indian texts on Advaita philosophy such Ashtavakra Gita and the Yoga of Knowledge such as Bhagavad-Gita refer to this similar state.

Historical sources hint that Michelangelo may have painted the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel while in a flow state. It is reported that he painted for days at a time, and he was so absorbed in his work that he did not stop for food or sleep until he reached the point of passing out. He would wake up refreshed and, upon starting to paint again, re-entered a state of complete absorption.

Bruce Lee also spoke of a psychological state similar to flow in his book the Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

Mechanism of flow

In every 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 Miller's 1956 study, that number is about 126 bits of information per second. That may seem like a large number (and a lot of information), but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just having a conversation takes about 40 bits of information per second; that's 1/3 of one's capacity. That is why when one is having a conversation he or she cannot focus as much of his or her attention on other things.

For the most part (except for basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain, which are innate), people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on. However, when one is in the flow state, he or she is completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, loses awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. This 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.

Conditions for flow

One cannot force oneself to enter flow. It just happens. A flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is most likely to occur when one is wholeheartedly performing a task or activity for intrinsic purposes.

There are three conditions that are necessary to achieve the flow state:
  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  2. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.
  3. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.

In 1997, Csíkszentmihályi published the graph to the right. This graph depicts the relationship between the perceived challenges of a task and one's perceived skills. This graph illustrates one further aspect of flow: it can only occur when the activity at hand is a higher-than-average challenge (above the center point) and requires above-average skills (to the right of the center point). The center of this graph (where the sectors meet) represents one's average levels of challenge and skill. 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).

The autotelic personality

Csíkszentmihályi hypothesized that people with several very specific personality traits may be better able to achieve flow more often than the average person. These personality traits include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only. People with most of these personality traits are said to have an autotelic
A thing which is autotelic is described as "having a purpose in and not apart from itself". It is a broad term that can be applied to missionaries, scientists, systems, and so forth.-Origins:...


It has not yet been documented whether people with an autotelic personality are truly more likely to achieve a flow state. One researcher (Abuhamdeh, 2000) did find that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for "high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth" than those without an autotelic personality. It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to enter the flow state.

Group flow

Csíkszentmihályi suggests several ways a group can work together so that each individual member achieves flow. The characteristics of such a group include:
  • Creative spatial arrangements: Chairs, pin walls, charts, but no tables; thus work primarily standing and moving
  • Playground design: Charts for information inputs, flow graphs, project summary, craziness (here also craziness has a place), safe place (here all may say what is otherwise only thought), result wall, open topics
  • Parallel, organized working
  • Target group focus
  • Advancement of existing one (prototyping)
  • Increase in efficiency through visualization
  • Using differences among participants as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle

Applications suggested by Csíkszentmihályi versus other practitioners

Only Csíkszentmihályi seems to have published suggestions for extrinsic applications of the flow concept, such as design
Design as a noun informally refers to a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system while “to design” refers to making this plan...

 methods for playgrounds to elicit the flow experience. Other practitioners of Csíkszentmihályi's flow concept focus on intrinsic applications, such as spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

, performance improvement
Performance improvement
Performance improvement is the concept of measuring the output of a particular process or procedure, then modifying the process or procedure to increase the output, increase efficiency, or increase the effectiveness of the process or procedure...

, or self-help
Self-help, or self-improvement, is a self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis. There are many different self-help movements and each has its own focus, techniques, associated beliefs, proponents and in some cases, leaders...

. Reinterpretations of Csíkszentmihályi's flow process exist to improve performance in areas as diverse as business
A business is an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, where most of them are privately owned and administered to earn profit to increase the wealth of their owners. Businesses may also be not-for-profit...

, piano improvisation
Free improvisation
Free improvisation or free music is improvised music without any rules beyond the logic or inclination of the musician involved. The term can refer to both a technique and as a recognizable genre in its own right....

, sport psychology
Sport psychology
Sport psychology is an interdisciplinary science that draws on knowledge from the fields of kinesiology and psychology. It involves the study of how psychological factors affect performance and how participation in sport and exercise affect psychological and physical factors...

, computer programming
Computer programming
Computer programming is the process of designing, writing, testing, debugging, and maintaining the source code of computer programs. This source code is written in one or more programming languages. The purpose of programming is to create a program that performs specific operations or exhibits a...

, and standup comedy.


In education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

, there is the concept of overlearning
Overlearning is a pedagogical concept according to which newly acquired skills should be practiced well beyond the point of initial mastery, leading to automaticity...

, which seems to be an important factor in this technique, in that 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.

Around 2000, it came to the attention of Csíkszentmihályi that the principles and practices of the Montessori Method
Montessori method
Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. Montessori education is practiced in an estimated 20,000 schools worldwide, serving children from birth to eighteen years old.-Overview:...

 of education seemed to purposefully set up continuous flow opportunities and experiences for students. Csíkszentmihályi and psychologist Kevin Rathunde embarked on a multi-year study of student experiences in Montessori settings and traditional educational settings. The research supported observations that students achieved flow experiences more frequently in Montessori settings.


Musicians, especially improvisation
Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or...

al soloists
Solo (music)
In music, a solo is a piece or a section of a piece played or sung by a single performer...

 may experience a similar state of mind while playing their instrument.
Research has shown that performers in a flow state have a heightened quality of performance as opposed to when they are not in a flow state. In a study performed with professional classical pianists who played piano pieces several times to induce a flow state, a significant relationship was found between the flow state of the pianist and the pianist’s heart rate, blood pressure, and major facial muscles. As the pianist entered the flow state, heart rate and blood pressure decreased and the major facial muscles relaxed. This study further emphasized that flow is a state of effortless attention. In spite of the effortless attention and overall relaxation of the body, the performance of the pianist during the flow state improved.
Groups of drummers experience a state of flow when they sense a collective energy that drives the beat, something they refer to as getting into the groove. Bass guitarists often describe a state of flow when properly playing between the percussion and melody as being in the pocket.


The concept of being in the zone during an athletic performance fits within Csíkszentmihályi's description of the flow experience, and theories and applications of being in the zone and its relationship with athletic competitive advantage are topics studied in the field of sport psychology
Sport psychology
Sport psychology is an interdisciplinary science that draws on knowledge from the fields of kinesiology and psychology. It involves the study of how psychological factors affect performance and how participation in sport and exercise affect psychological and physical factors...


Timothy Gallwey
Timothy Gallwey
W. Timothy Gallwey is an author who has written a series of books in which he has set forth a new methodology for coaching and for the development of personal and professional excellence in a variety of fields, that he calls "The Inner Game." Since he began writing in the 1970s, his books include...

's influential works on the "inner game" of sports such as golf
Golf is a precision club and ball sport, in which competing players use many types of clubs to hit balls into a series of holes on a golf course using the fewest number of strokes....

 and tennis
Tennis is a sport usually played between two players or between two teams of two players each . Each player uses a racket that is strung to strike a hollow rubber ball covered with felt over a net into the opponent's court. Tennis is an Olympic sport and is played at all levels of society at all...

 described the mental coaching and attitudes required to "get in the zone" and fully internalize mastery of the sport.

Roy Palmer suggests that "being in the zone" may also influence movement patterns as better integration of the conscious and subconscious reflex functions improves coordination. Many athletes describe the effortless nature of their performance while achieving personal bests – see references.

MMA champion and Karate
is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Islands in what is now Okinawa, Japan. It was developed from indigenous fighting methods called and Chinese kenpō. Karate is a striking art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands. Grappling, locks,...

 master Lyoto Machida
Lyoto Machida
Lyoto Carvalho Machida is a Japanese-Brazilian mixed martial artist from Belém, Brazil who fights as a light heavyweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship...

 uses meditation techniques before fights to attain mushin
Mushin is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. They also practice this mental state during everyday activities. The term is shortened from mushin no shin , a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the...

, a concept that, by his description, is in all respects equal to flow.

The Formula One
Formula One
Formula One, also known as Formula 1 or F1 and referred to officially as the FIA Formula One World Championship, is the highest class of single seater auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile . The "formula" designation in the name refers to a set of rules with which...

 driver Ayrton Senna
Ayrton Senna
Ayrton Senna da Silva was a Brazilian racing driver. A three-time Formula One world champion, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time...

, who during qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix
1988 Monaco Grand Prix
The 1988 Monaco Grand Prix was a Formula One race held on May 15, 1988 at the Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo. It was the third race of the 1988 Formula One season.-Qualifying:...

 explained: "I was already on pole, [...] and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel."

When challenges and skills are simultaneously above average, a broadly positive experience emerges. Also vital to the flow state is a sense of control, which nevertheless seems simultaneously effortless and masterful. Control and concentration manifest with a transcendence of normal awareness; one aspect of this transcendence is the loss of self-consciousness.

Religion and spirituality

Csíkszentmihályi may have been the first to describe this concept in Western psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, but as he himself readily acknowledges he was most certainly not the first to quantify the concept of flow or develop applications based on the concept.

For millennia, practitioners of Eastern
Eastern world
__FORCETOC__The term Eastern world refers very broadly to the various cultures or social structures and philosophical systems of Eastern Asia or geographically the Eastern Culture...

Major religious groups
The world's principal religions and spiritual traditions may be classified into a small number of major groups, although this is by no means a uniform practice...

 such as Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

 have honed the discipline of overcoming the duality of self and object as a central feature of spiritual development. Eastern spiritual practitioners have developed a very thorough and holistic set of theories around overcoming duality of self and object, tested and refined through spiritual practice instead of the systematic rigor and controls of modern science.

The phrase being at one with things is a metaphor of Csíkszentmihályi's flow concept. Practitioners of the varied schools of Zen Buddhism apply concepts similar to flow to aid their mastery of art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

 forms, including, in the case of Japanese Zen Buddhism, Aikido
is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying life energy" or as "the Way of harmonious spirit." Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to...

, Cheng Hsin, Judo
is a modern martial art and combat sport created in Japan in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Its most prominent feature is its competitive element, where the object is to either throw or takedown one's opponent to the ground, immobilize or otherwise subdue one's opponent with a grappling maneuver, or force an...

, Honkyoku
Honkyoku are the pieces of shakuhachi or hocchiku music played by mendicant Japanese Zen monks called komusō. Komusō played honkyoku for enlightenment and alms as early as the 13th century. Honkyoku is the practice of suizen...

, Kendo
, meaning "Way of The Sword", is a modern Japanese martial art of sword-fighting based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship, or kenjutsu.Kendo is a physically and mentally challenging activity that combines strong martial arts values with sport-like physical elements.-Practitioners:Practitioners...

 and Ikebana
is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as .-Etymology:"Ikebana" is from the Japanese and . Possible translations include "giving life to flowers" and "arranging flowers".- Approach :...

. In yogic
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India. The goal of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility while meditating on Supersoul...

 traditions such as Raja Yoga
Raja Yoga
Rāja Yoga is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind using meditation to further one's acquaintance with reality and finally achieve liberation.Raja yoga was first described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and is part of the Samkhya tradition.In the context of Hindu...

 reference is made to a state of flow in the practice of Samyama
Samyama . Combined simultaneous practice of Dhāraṇā , Dhyāna & Samādhi . A tool to receive deeper knowledge of qualities of the object...

, a psychological absorption in the object of meditation. Theravada Buddhism refers to "access concentration," which is a state of flow achieved through meditation and used to further strengthen concentration into jhana, and/or to develop insight
Vipassanā or vipaśyanā in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality. A regular practitioner of Vipassana is known as a Vipassi . Vipassana is one of the world's most ancient techniques of meditation, the inception of which is attributed to Gautama Buddha...


In Islam the first mental state that precedes human action is known as al-khatir. In this state an image or thought is born in the mind. When in this mental state and contemplating upon an ayat or an imprint of God, one may experience a profound state of Oneness or flow whereby the phenomena of nature, the macrocosmic world and the souls of people are understood as a sign of God. Also, the teaching in the Qu'ran of different nations of people existing so that they may come to know each other is an example of Oneness. All members of society and the world are considered to be in flow of Oneness, one family, one body.


Flow is one of the fundamental reasons that people play video games. This is especially true since the primary goal of games is to create entertainment through intrinsic motivation. The use of flow in games helps foster an enjoyable experience which increases motivation and draws players to continue playing. Game designers, in particular, benefit from integration of flow principles into game design. Games facilitate flow as either an individual or group activity.

Flow in games has been linked to the Laws of Learning as part of the explanation for why learning games (the use of games to introduce material, improve understanding, or increase retention) can show such incredible results. In particular, flow is intrinsically motivating, which is part of the Law of Readiness. The condition of feedback, required for flow, is associated with the feedback aspects of the Law of Exercise. The positive emotions associated with flow are associated with the Law of Effect. The intense experiences of being in a state of flow are directly associated with the Law of Intensity.

Using the Web

Researchers suggest that using the internet can cause a flow state for users. If individuals are going through a flow state, which is a pleasurable experience, web users eventually improve their subjective well-being through accumulated ephemeral moments. Many web users report certain descriptions of flow when using the web, for example, absorbed interest, a feeling of discovery, immersed pleasure, and time going very fast.

Flow Activities on the Web

Web users state that activities in the web atmosphere lead to a flow state. There are four common activities that promote flow, searching, surfing, reading and writing, and chatting.

The first and the most common activity to reach the flow state on the web is searching on the web. An example of searching is solving a problem such as the following responses from participants in a study of web flow:

"I was very involved in several projects and used the net resources to look up items to
supplement/back-up/provide information on those projects."

"Doing research into emotional intelligence theory ± following links and leads to more

"Trying to find some scientific references for my research."

"Anytime I get involved in a new research project on the Web, I get so excited and into it, I can
have someone talking to me right next to my desk . . . and I won't even hear them talking."
Surfing or Navigating

The second activity to reach flow state on the web is surfing or navigating. An example of surfing or navigating is going through hyperlinks such as the following responses from participants in a study of web flow:

"Going from site to site, following links that were related."

"Doing some Web searches for information on a hobby of mine."

"I was going to a Web site which had a new song by my favorite punk band. I was surprised
and enmeshed in it."

"Looking for information on a specific book, and got off on some links that were interesting
and related [sort of] to what I started out looking for."
Reading and Writing

The third activity to reach flow state on the web are reading and writing. Reading consists of reading incoming emails, news, articles, etc. on web pages. In addition, writing consists of composing letters, articles, speeches, etc. on web pages. The activity of reading e-mail and articles is one of the routes to experience flow because the text usually contains some new or relatively unfamiliar aspects, providing the challenges to sustain flow, which in turn usually caused growth and perceived benefits from increased knowledge and/or personal development. Furthermore, writing articles, speeches, or emails corresponds with the flow model due to the fact that an individual is arranging his or her thoughts positively.
Chatting online

The fourth activity to reach flow state on the web is chatting online. An example of chatting online is communicating with other individuals such as the following responses from participants in a study of web flow:

"I was simply engaged in a running series of conversations with friends . . ."

"Chatroom outside normal business hours."

"Involved in a nine-way chat session with some friends I've made on the alt.fan.sailor-moon newsgroup."
Other Activities

There are many other activities people can partake in while using the web. Some individuals state that they achieve flow by coding a program, hacking into a small business, building their own web page, watching a movie preview, troubleshooting computer problems, and many more.
Merging of action and awareness

When an individual is in flow, they are concentrating and narrowing down their activity. Therefore, an individual’s inner experience may reveal the phenomenon of merging action and awareness. The mind and action merge when individuals experience high concentration in the flow state. An example of high concentration in the flow state is a tennis player focusing only on his or her opponent and tennis ball, disregarding all external and internal activities, such as losing or yelling from an audience. In the web environment, the merging of action and awareness is realized when a user becomes the issue he or she is debating, the words he or she is typing, the sentences he or she is reading, or the machine he or she is working on. As a result, people “just sit here and keep clicking and reading away”. Examples of merging action and awareness are responses from participants in a study of web flow:

"Connected to the material, like I had several books open at the same time and was moving
between them without pause."

"I feel [am!] totally concentrated on my task. There is nothing but the keyboard, the screen and
my thought. If someone talks to me I will answer and I am still on ``stand by awareness with
my environment, but I wouldn't think of doing or saying anything."

"When I was unemployed and desperately searching for work, a task that seemed increasingly
worthless, I began reading newsgroups and involving myself in discussions and
disagreements there. The more involved I became in the *issues* that I was discussing and
arguing, the less important my own petty problems became."

"Just that my whole concentration is focused in what I'm doing ± I become the words I'm
typing or reading. It's not that the outside world doesn't exist ± if one of my roommates
knocks on my door, I notice them and it's not a shock to return to the outside world. But until
that happens I'm totally engrossed."

"In chat sessions ± I chat often enough that ``talking through the keyboard has become second

"Relaxed . . . I guess just . . . well . . . nothing. I wasn't feeling anything until I'd sit back and
relax my eyes a bit . . . then I'd realize that I had more stuff that I should be doing, but I'd just
sit here and keep clicking and reading away."

"I was in a heated discussion on a chat network for the better part of two hours. I cannot
remember what the subject was about, but all I knew was I was totally blind to the world."
A Loss of Self-Consciousness

People tend to lose awareness of self, due to the experiencing of flow state. In addition, people tend to lose the function of defending and protecting themselves because of flow. This is a common experience from web users, such as the following responses below from participants in a study of web flow:

"Whether it is reading newsgroups or doing a search for a particular thing I tend to
concentrate and ``lose myself."

"I become the persona I present in the newsgroup, not my ``real
self. It's my other identity."

"I am a smoker, I can't smoke in my office, and sometimes I won't even want a cigarette for
several hours [when in the flow state]."

"How do I feel? I tend to shut out my feelings too ± if I'm reading/interacting with good
content, I put off my feeling that I need to go to the bathroom, that I am hungry, etc."

"I feel like there is no ``Me; I feel there has been a merging of man and machine."

"I feel agitated and compelled to get the job done to the point of ignoring hunger, thirst or the
need to go to the bathroom."

"I get so disconnected from the world that someone else has to pull me out.
Like they were there with me to keep my mind off of the ``real
Oblivious. The physical world and its demands cease to exist. My own mind and intelligence
are the only limitations I encounter."

"I heard the radio, drank beer, and smoked cigarettes. I was aware of my surroundings, but yes
I was less aware of my problems."

"I don't know. I was working not looking at me working . . ."
Sense of Time Distortion

When a person is experiencing flow, their internal clock slows down or speeds up, but the external clock is constant. Furthermore, people state that hours seem to change into minutes and vice versa. The sense of time distortion is frequent in the web environment, such as the following responses from web users:

"Even though I have a program that audibly announces the time in a female voice every
15 minutes on my computer, I don't hear it . . . When I leave my computer from the newsgroup
I have a slightly dazed, disassociated feeling. While in the newsgroup I have lost all sense of
time. What subjectively seems like 20 minutes turns out to have actually been 2 and 1/2 hours."

"Time went by extremely fast. Two hours had passed before I had ever realized it. I was quite
shocked that so much time had passed without me being aware of it."

"Just that feeling of being totally absorbed in what you're doing, looking at the clock and
saying ``Dang, how can it be 4 a.m., I just started this project!

"I felt involved and like the time was a half-hour but it was more like three hours."

"Finding content material for a series of class presentations. I began putting the material
together at 10 a.m. and floundered for a few minutes, when I began finding detailed
information I kept working of what seemed like an hour ± it was actually 3 p.m."

"I don't remember specifics, but I have several memories of ``head jerking (as in when you fall
asleep and your head falls forward and jerks back) that caused me to realize that my
perception of what time it should be was several hours behind the time it actually was."

Professions and work

Developers of computer software reference getting into a flow state, sometimes referred to as The Zone or hack mode, 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 poker
Poker is a family of card games that share betting rules and usually hand rankings. Poker games differ in how the cards are dealt, how hands may be formed, whether the high or low hand wins the pot in a showdown , limits on bet sizes, and how many rounds of betting are allowed.In most modern poker...

 players use the term "playing the A-game" when referring to the state of highest concentration and strategical awareness.

Flow in the Workplace

Conditions 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 could have concrete implications in increasing workplace satisfaction and accomplishment. Flow researchers, such as Csikszentmihalyi, 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, Csikszentmihalyi 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, such as Csikszentmihalyi did with Swedish police officers, can improve morale by fostering a sense of greater happiness and accomplishment, and in correlated to increased performance.
In his review of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning,” Coert Vissar introduces the ideas presented by Csikszentmihalyi, 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. First, Csikszentmihalyi explains that experiencing flow, in which a task requires full involvement, and the challenge of a task matches one’s ability.

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihalyi lays out the following eight conditions:

1. goals are clear

2. feedback is immediate

3. a balance between opportunity and capacity

4. concentration deepens

5. the present is what matters

6. control is no problem

7. the sense of time is altered

8. the loss of ego

Csikszentmihalyi argues that with increased experiences of flow, people experience “growth towards complexity,” in which people flourish as their achievements grow and with that comes development of increasing “emotional, cognitive, and social complexity” (Vissar). By creating a workplace atmosphere that allows for flow and growth, Csikszentmihalyi argues, can increase the happiness and achievement of employees.
There are, however, barriers to achieving flow in the workplace. In his chapter “Why Flow Doesn’t Happen on the Job,” Csikszentmihalyi 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 Clean 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 (Csikszentmihalyi, 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.”

Benefits of flow

Flow is an innately positive experience; it is known to "produce intense feelings of enjoyment and its improvement of performance results in satisfying achievement.

Flow has a strong, documented correlation with performance enhancement. Researchers have found that achieving a flow state is positively correlated with optimal performance in the fields of artistic and scientific creativity (Perry, 1999; Sawyer, 1992), teaching (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996), learning (Csíkszentmihályi et al., 1993), and sports (Jackson, Thomas, Marsh, & Smethurst, 2002; Stein, Kimiecik, Daniels, & Jackson, 1995).

Flow also has a strong correlation with the further development of skills and personal growth. When one is in a flow state, he or she is 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".

Further, flow is positively correlated with a higher subsequent motivation to perform and to perform well.

See also

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  • Creativity
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  • Hyperfocus
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  • Hypnosis
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  • Imagination
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  • Improvisation
    Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or...

  • Jhana
  • Mindfulness
    Mindfulness (psychology)
    Modern clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation.-Definitions:...

  • Motivation
    Motivation is the driving force by which humans achieve their goals. Motivation is said to be intrinsic or extrinsic. The term is generally used for humans but it can also be used to describe the causes for animal behavior as well. This article refers to human motivation...

  • Mushin
    Mushin is a mental state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. They also practice this mental state during everyday activities. The term is shortened from mushin no shin , a Zen expression meaning the mind without mind and is also referred to as the...

  • Play
    Play (activity)
    Play is a term employed in ethology and psychology to describe to a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment...

  • Prayer
    Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

  • Samyama
    Samyama . Combined simultaneous practice of Dhāraṇā , Dhyāna & Samādhi . A tool to receive deeper knowledge of qualities of the object...

  • Spirituality
    Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

  • Taoism
    Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

  • Trance
    Trance denotes a variety of processes, ecstasy, techniques, modalities and states of mind, awareness and consciousness. Trance states may occur involuntarily and unbidden.The term trance may be associated with meditation, magic, flow, and prayer...

  • Wu wei
    Wu wei
    Wu wei is an important concept of Taoism , that involves knowing when to act and when not to act. Another perspective to this is that "Wu Wei" means...

External links

; presentation at the February, 2004 TED conference
TED (conference)
TED is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate "ideas worth spreading"....

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