“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 block on 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.” – Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi
In one of the largest psychology studies ever conducted, spanning over twenty years, Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi found that when people felt their best and performed their best they were in a state of flow.
Csikszentimihalyi continues to research flow until today, and outlines much of his original work in his infamous book, Finding Flow.
Csikszentimihalyi’s research has proven robust across culture, gender and activity and is still underpins how scientists measure flow today. Csikszentimihalyi found that the flow state experience was comprised of nine key components:
9 Dimensions of Flow
1. Challenge-skills balance
Flow requires an equal balance between the skill level and the challenge. If the challenge is too demanding, we get frustrated. If it is too easy, we get bored. In a flow experience, we feel engaged by the challenge, but not overwhelmed.
2. Action-awareness merging
We are often aware of and thinking about something that has happened, or might happen, in another time or place. But in flow, we are completely absorbed in the task at hand.
3. Clear Goals
In many everyday situations, there are contradictory demands and it is sometimes quite unclear what should occupy our attention, however in a flow experience, we have a clear purpose and good grasp of what to do next.
4. Unambiguous Feedback
Direct and immediate feedback is continuously present so that we are able to constantly adjust our reactions to meet the current demands. When we’re in flow, we know how well we are doing, all the time.
5. Concentration on the task at hand
High levels of concentration narrow our attention excluding any unnecessary distractions. Because we’re absorbed in the activity, we are only aware of what is relevant to the task at hand, and we do not think about unrelated things.
6. Sense of control
An absolute sense of personal control exists, as if we are able to do anything we want to do.
7. Loss of self-consciousness
A lack of awareness of bodily needs as self-consciousness disappears. We often spend a lot of mental energy monitoring how we appear to others. In a flow state, we are too involved in the activity to care about protecting our ego.
8. Transformation of time
A distorted sense of time occurs. Time either slows down or flies by when we’re completely engaged in the moment.
9. Autotelic experience
Flow is an intrinsically rewarding activity; the activity becomes autotelic, an end in itself, done for its own sake.