Entering a State of Flow

Creativity is generally addictive for a very good reason — the sensation of being in a state of full concentration or hyper-concentration is both pleasant and productive. The author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi devotes three works to this and related topics. Flow is also described as the “state of optimal performance.” He describes this state of “flow” as:

“Over and over again, as people describe how it feels when they thoroughly enjoy themselves, they mention eight distinct dimensions of experience. These same aspects are reported by Hindu yogis and Japanese teenagers who race motorcycles, by American surgeons and basketball players, by Australian sailors and Navajo shepherds, by champion figure skaters and by chess masters. These are the characteristic dimensions of the flow experience:

Stream Cascading Through Lush Forest

1. Clear goals: an objective is distinctly defined; immediate feedback: one knows instantly how well one is doing.

2. The opportunities for acting decisively are relatively high, and they are matched by one’s perceived ability to act. In other words, personal skills are well suited to given challenges.

3. Action and awareness merge; one-pointedness of mind.

4. Concentration on the task at hand; irrelevant stimuli disappear from consciousness, worries and concerns are temporarily suspended.

5. A sense of potential control.

6. Loss of self-consciousness, transcendence of ego boundaries, a sense of growth and of being part of some greater entity.

7. Altered sense of time, which usually seems to pass faster.

8. Experience becomes autotelic: If several of the previous conditions are present, what one does becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.“

The Evolving Self – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 178-179

Books on the “flow” experience:

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1994) The evolving self. New York: Harper Perennial.
  • Csikzentmihalyi, M. (1996) Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Perennial.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. Basic Books

Think about what Csikszentmihalyi has said to describe the flow state:

1. Can you think of any times in your own life what you have been in a state of complete hyper-concentration?

2. What were those times?

3. What conditions existed in order for that state to occur?

One of the greatest barriers to restricting flow in schools is time and how we insist children use it.

  • See if you can structure experiences so that students have enough time to create states of hyper-concentration so that they can really be productive and enjoy learning.
  • List some changes you might make or can make in setting up educational experiences which promote white moments or flow experiences.
  • Observe students’ attitudes, levels of concentration, products if they are allowed to enter a state of flow and fully engage in creating a product or in exploring a problem.

Online links to articles on flow & creativity

In Psychology Today by Flow author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creating your own microflow experiences U of PA pages

Henrique Fogli’s Blog on Creativity – CreativeGibberish

 

Original materials on this site are copyrighted to Leslie Owen Wilson – e-mail