Have you ever been completely absorbed in an experience that has left you wondering where the time has gone?
This experience is called being in ‘Flow’, which is defined as ‘a particular state of mind when consciousness is harmonized with whatever activity is being pursued’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Flow can be achieved in many settings ranging from sport and skill development to simple tasks such as cleaning.
Flow experiences are called autotelic, in Greek meaning auto=self and telos=goal. Flow is enjoying the activity for the activity rather than an end goal. In order for flow to be accomplished individuals must have intrinsic motivation to pursue the activity for enjoyment purposes rather than the end goal. Skill acquisition is enhanced when motivation is driven intrinsically rather than by external factors. Flow is a balanced state acquiring a level of skill and challenge to continue within the flow state (Figure 1).
An Autotelic personality type is defined as those who:
1) Set goals
2) Immerse themselves within the activity
3) Pay attention and have a heightened level of awareness
4) Learn to enjoy immediate experience
Flow has many crossovers with happiness, wellbeing and positive psychology. Flow requires individuals to be based within the present moment to engage fully with the experience of reality – moving from one moment to the next. Being in the present moment helps individuals to stay out of their heads and defuse thoughts from the past and future, therefore allowing a sense of happiness to ensue whilst in flow.
Some of the benefits of being in flow include:
- Increased productivity
- Improved performance
- Increased happiness
- Bringing awareness to what is important in life that you enjoy
- Brings meaning and purpose to life
So how do we incorporate flow into our everyday life?
- Begin with an experience or activity that you enjoy
- Take yourself away from distractions
- Set clear goals of what you want to achieve
- When your mind wanders off task bring it back to the present
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row.