Imagine for a moment that you are running a race. Your attention is focused on the movements of your body, the power of your muscles, the force of your lungs, and the feel of the street beneath your feet. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the present activity. Time seems to fall away. You are tired, but you barely notice.
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According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, what you are experiencing in that moment is known as flow, a state of complete immersion in an activity. He describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. Some might experience flow while engaging in a sport such as skiing, tennis, soccer, dancing, or running. Others might have such an experience while engaged in an activity such as painting, drawing, or writing. These moments of flow often occur when you are engaged in an activity that you enjoy and in which you are quite skilled.
How Does it Feel to Experience Flow?
According to Csíkszentmihályi, there are ten factors that accompany the experience of flow. While many of these components may be present, it is not necessary to experience all of them for flow to occur:
Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable
Strong concentration and focused attention
The activity is intrinsically rewarding
Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings of self-consciousness
Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing
Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented
Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome
Lack of awareness of physical needs
Complete focus on the activity itself