Hacking The Flow

Eva-Lotta Lamm, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow 01, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Eva-Lotta Lamm, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow 01, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“The flow” is a state of clarity and ecstasy that some say leads to ultimate contentment. Athletes get in “the Zone”, mystics into ecstasy, and artists in aesthetic rapture.

How do we achieve the flow state? What can we do to hack into it?

This article is based on a podcast from Stuff To Blow Your Mind

In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow. In The Rise of Superman, author Steven Kotler explores the state of consciousness known as “flow” and how people are able to achieve flow states during everyday activities.

We may experience a state of flow anytime and anywhere, according to Csíkszentmihályi and Kotler, when four qualities and six conditions of flow are present.

Four Qualities of Flow

  1. A clear set of goals and rules

Games like chess or checkers games, rock climbing, guitar playing, or meditation practices all have clear sets of goals and rules. You know when you are slipping, falling, or reaching new heights as you scale the rock or play guitar.

  1. Self-contained universe with rituals

Nearly all activities have their own universe of special environment, materials, paraphernalia, and official or informal rituals of play or game. A rock climber has specific rope, rocks, rituals and techniques for climbing. A seasoned meditator has her special chair or posture to sit in, perhaps altar with incense, favorite mantras, and definite methods for focusing her mind during meditation practice.

  1. Immediate feedback

When you slip, fall, or ascend up a rock face you immediately get feedback. When you notice during your meditation practice that your mind wandered off your object of focus you get immediate feedback.

  1. Manageable challenge

The objective of the activity is challenging but attainable. You are required to stretch beyond what previously seemed possible.

premasagar, Ganga Flow, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
premasagar, Ganga Flow, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

In addition to the above four qualities, there are six conditions for flow.

Six Conditions for Flow

  1. Complete involvement with your activity or act

You forget everything else.

  1. Sense of ecstasy or of being outside your everyday reality
  2. Great inner clarity

You know what needs to be done and when. It happens effortlessly.

  1. Confidence your activity is doable

Your skills are honed for your task.

  1. Sense of serenity, transcendence, or timelessness

You have no worries for the self. You have a feeling of being beyond your ego.

  1. Intrinsic motivation

Your activity itself becomes its own reward. You engage in the task for its own sake.

Maria Ly, rock climbing lei pi shan, yangshuo china, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Maria Ly, rock climbing lei pi shan, yangshuo china, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

When all of the four qualities and six conditions of flow are present you are likely to experience an overwhelming sense of being “One” with your task or activity.

To hack into the flow all you need is to create the conditions and qualities of flow.

In the 1989 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Csíkszentmihályi published lab results showing that people experience flow states as much at work as during leisure. No matter where you are or what you may be doing, when the above four qualities and six conditions are present, you’ve hacked into the flow state.

Question for readers: Do you experience flow? What rituals are involved when you achieve a flow state?

This post was based on a podcast available at Stuff To Blow Your Mind: Gaming The Flow 

You also may want to check out my post The Rise of Superman: Finding Your Flow

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