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WHAT IS: Flow

Flow - fulfilled and engaged - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - happiness.org

True happiness and satisfaction in our work, studies, or hobbies. Things we all strive for, but only a few seem to be able to obtain it.

There is a state, to be fulfilled and engaged in these activities. That state is called flow, named by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [Mee-high cheek-sent-mee-high]. How does it work? And how can we obtain it ourselves?

What is flow?

Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, involvement, and enjoyment. This state is characterised by total absorption in what one does, and the resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

  • Action and awareness become merged.
  • We have no worry of failure, because we are in control.

And, our sense of time becomes distorted, because the activity becomes rewarding in itself.

Autotelics, and how to achieve flow

There are people who have developed their flow in such a way that every obstacle becomes an enjoyable challenge.

Csikszentmihalyi calls these people “autotelic”: people that are never bored, rarely anxious, and constantly involved with what goes on.

How do we become more autotelic ourselves? There are some conditions that have to be met to achieve it:

  1. The activity has a clear set of goals and progress.
  2. The task must have clear and immediate feedback.
  3. We have to pay attention to what is happening in the moment without distractions.
  4. We need to learn to enjoy the immediate experience.
  5. We have to proportion our skills to the challenge.

Flow - fulfilled and engaged - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - happiness.org

How do we obtain and maintain it?

Flow is a balancing act between anxiety, when the task is too difficult, and boredom, when the task is not difficult enough. That is because when we are in flow, we subconsciously work towards becoming masters. So to maintain flow, we must seek greater challenges.

It is an innately positive experience. It produces “intense feelings of enjoyment”, with long-term benefits to positive affect and happiness. Csikszentmihályi also stated that happiness comes from personal development and growth. Flow states create this development and growth.

The more time we spend in flowstate activities, the more our intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning increase. Challenge yourself with more complicated challenges, improve your skills, and repeat this process continuously, to obtain happiness and satisfaction!

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