Get in the Flow

Earlier this year as an assignment for a leadership class I researched and became acquainted with ‘Flow Theory’.  Apologizes to my fellow first-year MBA comrades who have heard this lesson that I’ve previously shared, but the more I’ve tried to apply the principles of Flow Theory, the more I am convinced of their truth…and the more I want to tell other people.Let me start with a brief definition of Flow Theory and then tell you how it applies to you.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the father of “flow” defined it as follows: “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” In laymen’s terms it is ‘being in the zone’.  It’s when time just passes without you even realizing it because you are so engaged in the activity in which you’re participating. Why do we want this?  When we are having these flow moments we are more engaged, produce better results, and feel more fulfilled.

How do we attain flow? Dr. Csíkszentmihályi noted the following: “Contrary to what we usually believe… the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them.  The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

So in other words, it’s when we are being challenged and our body and mind are able to rise to that challenges in an effective way that we feel the most ‘Flow’.   The diagram below illustrates the ‘challenge’ vs. ‘skill level’ relationship necessary to obtain Flow.


Here are a few ways to have more flow moments in your life:
(1) Figure out what brings you flow already.  Think about how to maximize those moments
Application: Do you feel more flow at certain times of the day?  In certain places? While working with certain people?  
(2) Add in factors that create flow in your regular activities
Application: If the ideas and your engagement level tend to peak at night, prioritize and put the activities that require the most engagement at night.  
(3) Identify and use your signature strengths
Application: In addition to being challenged, you must have the skills to meet those challenges.  Identify your strengths and  take on challenges where you can use those strengths.
Take-aways/cliff notes:
1. Flow is being in the zone.  You want to maximize your time in the zone.
2. Flow happens when you’re being challenged and you have the skills to meet those challenges
3. Find ways to incorporate areas where you already feel flow into other areas of your life

1 thought on “Get in the Flow

  1. I remember you presenting about the ‘Flow theory’ and it’s really nice to be able to go back and refresh it in the memory. I learn more by reading so thanks for putting this on ‘paper’

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