Daily Quote: “Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last blockon a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves…The task is to learn how to enjoy everyday life without diminishing other people’s chances to enjoy theirs.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” – Csikszentmihalyi, 1990
Here are some of the characteristics that comprise THE FLOW EXPERIENCE according to Csikszentmihalyi’s.
Characteristics of flow:
- Complete focus on the task at hand
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding, has an end itself
- Effortlessness and ease
- There is a balance between challenge and skills
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
- There is a feeling of control over the task
Who experiences flow?
Interestingly, a capacity to experience flow can differ according to personality. Studies suggest that those with ‘’autotelic personalities’’ tend to experience more flow.
A person with an ‘’autotelic personality’’ tends to do things for their own sake rather than chasing some distant external goal or dream. This type of personality is distinguished by certain meta-skills such as high interest in life, persistence, and helping others.
It can be speculated that negative and critical individuals are more prone to anxiety and being self-centered, which are conditions that can block the state of FLOW. In contrast, servant leaders, responsible, considerate and realistic individuals are more likely to spend time on mastering challenging tasks, which are characteristics important for creating the flow experience.
What happens in the brain?
The state of flow has been rarely investigated from a neuropsychological perspective but is a growing interest. According to Dietrich, it has been associated with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is an area responsible for higher cognitive functions such as self-reflective consciousness, memory, temporal integration, and working memory. It’s an area that’s responsible for our conscious and explicit mind state.
However, in a state of flow, this area is believed to temporarily down-regulate; a process called transient hypofrontality. This temporary inactivation of the prefrontal area may trigger the feeling of distortion of time, loss of self-consciousness, and loss of inner-critic.
Moreover, the inhibition of the frontal lobe may enable the implicit mind to take over, resulting in more brain areas to communicate freely and engage in a creative process. In other research, it’s also hypothesized that the flow state is related to the brain’s dopamine reward circuitry since curiosity is highly amplified.