Flow is a term coined and popularised by the late Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It is when you’re fully mentally engaged and feeling enjoyment while doing an activity.
In previous articles, I introduced the idea of embracing work-life flow instead of aiming for work-life balance. Work-life flow is a conscious mental and emotional state of experiencing your professional and personal life to greater fullness and more fulfilment. Work-life flow is within your control, and you get to choose whether you want to create it and how you will design and achieve it.
In this article, I’ll give you a brief overview of the 8 main components of achieving a flow state uncovered through decades of research by Dr Csikszentmihalyi and his team and other researchers.
What is Flow?
The basic formula for flow is FLOW = High Challenge + High Skills. One of the ways Dr Csikszentmihalyi defined it was :
Flow is what we experience when we are enjoying something. That is when we are confronting some new challenge, and we develop new skills to face it. During flow, our attention is wholly focused on the activity, and we experience enjoyment. Flow is not about what you do but HOW you do it.
How can you experience flow?
Flow can be experienced in simple and complex physical or mental activities.
Flow can be experienced physically through body movement and sensations, such as walking or highly skilled sports, e.g., playing tennis or free solo climbing. It can also be experienced through sensory activities like savouring a tasty meal or listening to music. Mentally, flow can be experienced while deeply engaged in activities such as reading, writing, conversing, painting, or solving math problems.
What are the benefits of achieving flow?
Achieving flow makes everyday activities, including chores, more enjoyable. It also helps you organise and bring harmony to all areas of your life, whether alone or in the company of family, friends, or colleagues.
What are the results of achieving flow?
Flow leads to personal growth and leaves us with a feeling of fulfilment. As Dr Csikszentmihalyi stated in his recordings, “One of the paradoxes of flow is that you let yourself go during that flow moment, and afterwards (in self-reflection), your self returns stronger.”
How do you know when you are experiencing flow?
Dr Csikszentmihalyi describes 8 main elements of flow in his book Flow: Living at the Peak of Your Abilities:
Constant and immediate feedback. i.e., knowing how you are going during the activity.
Having an ideal match between the challenge & your skills. That is, when the challenge is high, and you have high skills, it leads to an enjoyable activity, i.e. flow. However, you feel stressed if the work is too demanding or challenging. And if the activity is below your skills, you feel bored and distracted.
You have a feeling of focused attention and concentration on what you do. You are in the moment, and the activity has your undivided attention. You are not multitasking. And because of this laser-beam-like attention, you are more effective and feel inner harmony, ease, and energised.
You escape from everyday frustrations, feel relief from the past, and are free of constraints.
You feel you’re in control of your life (i.e., control of your experiences and actions).
You are not self-conscious. Because you’re not worried about what other people think because you let go of your ego and thus let your guard down.
Your sense of time changes. It feels like time adapts to your experience and works for you instead of against you.
What’s the next step to achieving your work-life flow?
Now that you know the qualities of the flow states, in the following article, I’ll explain how I have used the principles of this framework to achieve a work-life flow experience.
So if you’re not experiencing flow yet, subscribe to this newsletter and join me on this journey.
And remember, achieving work-life flow is within your control. You get to choose whether you want to create it and decide how to design and achieve it.
It’s time to make your success healthy and happy!