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What is flow experience?

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Flow experience is a state of deep concentration, during which we forget about everything, except what we are doing right now. A person during flow experience feels happiness and peace. Flow describes e.g. composers: “You are in a state of such ecstasy that you almost don’t exist. It has happened to me many times. My hands do not seem to belong to me; I have nothing to do with what’s going on. I am just sitting, looking at it all with admiration and delight. It just flows out of me.” climbers, chess players, surgeons, skydivers… “Freefall is a …free feeling. It’s one time in my life when I think of nothing else. I mean, there’s nothing on my mind. There’s nothing I’m thinking about other than what I’m experiencing. Everything else is totally out of my mind and I am free. There is nothing to hold me down, to hold me back. There’s just nothing there…”.2

The concept introduced in the 70s psychologist at the University of Chicago – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He identified nine factors as accompanying an experience of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities).
  2. Concentration (a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness (the merging of action and awareness).
  4. Distorted sense of time (time goes faster or slower).
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself.

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.

When people achieve flow, their cerebral cortex works most effectively – its operation consumes the least amount of psychic energy. Its activity when measured by EEG techniques is reduced. Attention is focused, but not strenuous. The opposite happens when we try to work during fatigue, nervousness or boredom. In this case the cerebral cortex does not work effectively, because areas that are not needed to perform a given task are also stimulated. Flow experience is also associated with increased secretion, among others, dopamine, which maintains the activity of the prefrontal cortex (corresponding to focus, among others), and affects the feeling of happiness and satisfaction.

References
  1. Daniel Goleman “Emotional Intelligence”
  2. Transcendent benefits of high-risk sports
  3. Flow (psychology) at Wikipedia
  4. Neuro-psychological Measures of Flow

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