Flow State – Positive Psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow State – Positive Psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. A prolific writer, psychologist and university lecturer, he coined the concept of “flow” and was one of the leading representatives of positive psychology. Let’s take a deeper look at the personality of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his life…

Throughout his career, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has made a major contribution to psychology and helped to explore the mechanisms of creativity, concentration and personal motivation. After spending his childhood and youth in Italy, he emigrated to the United States at the age of twenty-two and studied at the University of Chicago, where he returned as a lecturer and headed the Department of Psychology.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has always been interested in the mechanisms that drive creativity, motivation and engagement. His research has shown that there is an “ideal” state in which we are fully focused on an activity: this is flow, or flow, the concept that gave rise to the title of Csikszentmihalyi’s most important work.

Personal motivation

Flow State - Positive Psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

This is what happens to a musician on stage, an actor during a performance, athletes, and creative people such as writers or artists. Most of us have experienced flow at least once, when we are completely immersed in our work.

The Flow theory has become a true classic of modern psychology and has influenced many influential figures in the arts, business and politics, such as former US President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory also helped Jimmy Johnson, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, prepare for the 1993 Super Bowl. Ideas about flow were later explored in other books by Csikszentmihalyi, such as Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention and Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engaging with Everyday Life.

Have you ever lost track of time while doing something challenging and exciting at the same time? Then it means that you have already experienced the so-called Flow State. In this article, we’ll find out what it is and what you need to do to have this experience.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the “father” of the concept of the state of flow, describes it as the moment when the mind and body, completely absorbed in a certain action, enter a state of harmonious concentration.

Those who feel this way feel caught up in an activity that pulls them along like a current.

In this true state of grace, we feel more than alive.

Thus, flow can be experienced in different areas of life.

Indeed: in order to live a full, happy life and satisfy one’s need for self-realisation, a person must strive to experience it in as many areas as possible.

This is what we will talk about at the end of the article so that you can feel your own…

Flow State - Positive Psychology

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the state of Flow.

Some people confuse this very specific state of mind with mere concentration, and some even with meditation.

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In fact, as already mentioned, the state of Flow has very specific characteristics: knowing them will help you to experience it as quickly as possible (and as often as possible).

When we try to concentrate, we must actively try to eliminate distractions.

Conversely, when we enter the state of Flow, we are so absorbed that we simply ignore any distractions.

The difference is subtle, but significant.

This happens because the mind, fully engaged in the present moment, muffles the constant internal chatter that usually accompanies us: we stop thinking and just be and do.

Pervaded by this mental silence, we lose awareness of ourselves.

No, don’t worry, no fainting!

In fact, when we enter the flow, we don’t know exactly how long the experience will last.

In fact, this is one of the most typical and in some ways interesting features of Flow: we perceive time differently; depending on the action, minutes seem to pass slower or faster, but always in a positive and pleasant way.
We perform this action guided by our deepest desire, not by a sense of obligation or future expectations. That’s why flow is one of the most effective ways to cultivate our happiness (you can find the other 5 ways, supported by science, in this article). So, these are the main characteristics of the flow state.

How can we achieve this state of ecstasy these days?

Well, there are no magic formulas or simple tricks to achieve a state of flow.

But not all hope is lost.

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I will never get tired of repeating it: learn to set relevant, specific and ambitious goals.

We can only find Flow by doing what interests us, what we understand and what challenges us.

…and this last characteristic of our goals is particularly important, in fact the second requirement for creating favourable ground for the state of the Flow…

Simple activities that do not test our skills make us apathetic.

Performing tasks that are too simple can make us feel relaxed, but also bored.

On the other hand, if we don’t have the necessary skills to perform certain actions, we feel stressed.

Only by finding the right balance between complexity and a sense of mastery can we strive to enter the state of Flow.

This specific aspect is perfectly explained in Professor Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk:

Whether they are internal, i.e. emotions or body signals, or external, feedback is a message that gives us guidance on how we are doing in achieving our goal and functions as positive reinforcement.

Activities that bring us into a state of flow tend to give us immediate and certain feedback.

In short, the more we act, the better, more fulfilled and more competent we feel.

These are the 3 basic requirements for entering the state of flow.

Knowing them will help you develop them. Speaking of which.

I hope that this article on the state of flow has stimulated you to delve deeper into this topic, but most of all I hope that you will start seeking the state of flow in your own time.

  1. What hobby, sport or activity has helped you experience the state of flow as I described it earlier? If you have identified one, think about how you can spend more time with it this week.
  2. How can you change the way you work or study to turn your commitments into opportunities to enter the state of Flow as often as possible? (Hint: think again about the 3 requirements for entering the state of Flow!)

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