In the zone – Flow

Has time ever disappeared?

Have you ever been so involved in what you were doing, that time didn’t seem to exist? You may not have felt much of anything while you were occupied. But once you stopped you may have felt positive. This is what psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.

A discovery

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi grew up in Europe during World War II. As a child, he watched some adults crumble, while others had moments of happiness. This taught him that our environment is not the only factor in our happiness. And that made him curious. He wanted to understand how normal, everyday experiences, cause us to feel happy.

Intense focus

Eventually, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi became fascinated by a habit of some artist. These artists ignored hunger, their bladder, and even sleep when they were immersed in a project. Yet they said they were enjoying themselves immensely. He started studying these artists and everyday people. What was this state and how did it relate to happiness?

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi found that when we are in flow, our focus is incredibly intense. And this leaves no room for our brains. We can’t pay attention to how our body feels, our worries about the future, or our past regrets. This is why time stops existing and to some extent, our minds and bodies stop existing. It is a complete immersion in the present moment.

The benefits

The experience of flow is correlated with positive emotions. There may be a few reasons why. First, let’s look at what it takes to be in flow.

To be in flow, we need to be challenged. This challenge needs to be at the right level. We have to have confidence in our skills to succeed. Yet the task is still a challenge. Next, we need to have a goal and an understanding of how we can reach that goal. Finally, we need immediate feedback on our progress. This allows us to adjust as needed to reach our goals.

When we are in flow we feel a sense of control over our actions. The activity or process itself is intrinsically rewarding. We aren’t doing it solely because we have a goal. And this intense and focused concentration means that we lose our self-consciousness. We are not thinking about what we look like, or what others think about our progress. Our actions and awareness are focused on ‘doing’.

Focused attention has been shown to strengthen our brains at a cellular level. It thickens the connection between brain cells. This thickening allows information to be transferred quicker. It makes our brains more efficient at the task we are practicing. So we get better at it. This, in turn, can increase our self-confidence. Flow has also been correlated with increased persistence and enjoyment and decreased anxiety.

 The challenge

As you can see, flow helps us learn and grow. It brings pleasure. And it decreases self-consciousness. That’s why it’s part of the WhenThen Kids program.

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