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My optimal how, being in a state flow

January 30, 2012

Have you ever been so engaged in something that you lost all sense of time? Do you know the feeling of being ‘in the moment’? If you do, you will probably agree that it is a great ‘state’ to be in. Now, suppose you could organise things in a way that you would be in that state more often, wouldn’t that be great?

A clue to what makes us immerse fully in some tasks, and less in others could be found in the right combination of our capabilities and the challenges posed to us. With a concept called ‘flow’, positive psychologist Mihály Csikzentmihalyi explains how he thinks this works. Csikzentmihalyi defines flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it (source: Wikipedia).

I see a link with the concept of mastery-motivation, like described by Daniel Pink (see post “Why do I do it – motivation“), combining command or understanding of a subject, outstanding skill and expertise, the power of command and control, and victory or superiority.

The flow model simply puts challenge level on the y-axis, and skill level on the x-axis, leading to eight quadrants representing different ‘mental states’.

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow (adapted from: Wikipedia):

  1. Goals that are clear (clear expectations), challenging but doable (require highs skills level, but not too high).
  2. Combination of high concentration and high focus of attention.
  3. Loss of self-consciousness, action and awareness merge
  4. Loss of a sense of time
  5. Direct feedback of success/failure and opportunity to adjust
  6. Balance between abilities and challenges
  7. Confidence about level of control over the activity or situation
  8. Intrinsic motivation to act, resulting in low perceived effort.
  9. Lack of awareness of bodily needs (hunger or fatigue)
  10. Narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself

Q: Do you recognise being in a state of flow? If yes, do you know what causes it for you?


From → How?, Motivation

  1. I too like the Flow model but have advanced my thinking to dividing the 10 factors, though I think a couple may have lost something in translation form C’s original, into two classes:
    preconditions and anticipated outcomes

    The usefulness of preconditions is that they give you some idea of what framework elements to attempt to achieve and the anticipated outcomes give you the feedback to loop through the precondition states again

    For example, if you can see the lack of sense of time then you have a good indicator that your session is traveling on some acceptable track; noting however that you still have to judge whether that track is achieving your session’s learning goals

    If you can see that the skill/challenge balance is not set in the flow zone, then you can move to either increase or decrease the challenge vis-a-vis the skill demonstrated.

    In light of my earlier comment about participating, again this can be achieved by intervening questions rather than statements, though if the skill is missing there may be need of a mini-tutorial introducing new information and asking if it may be applied

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