positive psychology Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living, focusing on both individual and societal well-being. It studies "positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions...it aims t ...
, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the
mental state A mental state, or a mental property, is a state of mind The mind is the set of faculties responsible for mental phenomena A phenomenon (; plural phenomena) is an observable fact or event. The term came into its modern philosophical ...
in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one's sense of time. Named by the
psychologist A psychologist is a professional who practices psychology and studies normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by experimenting with, and observing, interpreting, and recording how ...
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (, hu, Csíkszentmihályi Mihály, ; born 29 September 1934) is a Hungarian-American psychologist. He recognised and named the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity. He is ...

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
in 1975, the concept has been widely referred to across a variety of fields (and is particularly well recognized in
occupational therapy Occupational therapy (OT) is a profession within . It is the use of assessment and intervention to develop, recover, or maintain the meaningful activities, or ''occupations'', of individuals, groups, or communities. It is an performed by and o ...
), though the concept has been claimed to have existed for thousands of years under other names. The flow state shares many characteristics with
hyperfocus Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental Mental may refer to: * of or relating to the mind Films * Mental (2012 film), ''Mental'' (2012 film), an Australian comedy-drama * Mental (2016 film), ''Mental'' (2016 film), a Bangladeshi romantic-action ...
. However, hyperfocus is not always described in a positive light. Some examples include spending "too much" time playing video games or becoming pleasurably absorbed by one aspect of an assignment or task to the detriment of the overall assignment. In some cases, hyperfocus can "capture" a person, perhaps causing them to appear unfocused or to start several
project A project (or program) is any undertaking, carried out individually or collaboratively and possibly involving research or design, that is carefully plan A plan is typically any diagram or list of steps with details of timing and resources, us ...

s, but complete few.


Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow: * Intense and focused
concentration In chemistry Chemistry is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is an occurrence in t ...
on the present moment * Merging of
action ACTION is a bus operator in , Australia owned by the . History On 19 July 1926, the commenced operating public bus services between Eastlake (now ) in the south and in the north. The service was first known as Canberra City Omnibus Se ...
awareness Awareness is the state of being conscious Consciousness, at its simplest, is sentience or awareness of internal and external existence. Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosophers and scientists, cons ...

* A loss of
reflective Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated. Common examples include the reflection of light Light or visible ligh ...
self-consciousness Self-consciousness is a heightened sense of awareness of oneself. In the contemporary sense of the term, self-consciousness is a preoccupation with oneself, especially with how others might perceive one's appearance or one's actions. Historically ...
* A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity * A distortion of temporal experience, as one's subjective experience of time is altered * Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as
autotelic An autotelic is someone or something that has a purpose in, and not apart from, itself. Origin The word "autotelic" derives from the Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), o ...
experience Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called ''flow experience''. Additionally, psychology writer Kendra Cherry has mentioned three other components that Csíkszentmihályi lists as being a part of the flow experience: * Immediate feedback * Feeling the potential to succeed * Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible Just as with the conditions listed above, these conditions can be independent of one another.


Flow is so named because, during Csíkszentmihályi's 1975 interviews, several people described their "flow" experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along: "'It was like floating,' 'I was carried on by the flow.'"


Mihaly Csikszentmihályi
Mihaly Csikszentmihályi
and others began researching flow after Csikszentmihályi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. The theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihályi tried to understand the phenomenon experienced by these artists. Flow research became prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, with Csikszentmihályi and his colleagues in Italy still at the forefront. Researchers interested in optimal experiences and emphasizing positive experiences, especially in places such as schools and the business world, also began studying the theory of flow at this time. The cognitive science of flow has been studied under the rubric of effortless attention.


In any given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one's mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to Csikszentmihályi's 2004 TED talk, that number is about "110 ". That may seem like a lot of information, but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just decoding speech takes about 40-60 bits of information per second. That is why when having a conversation one cannot focus as much
attention Attention is the behavioral and cognitive process Cognition () refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses many aspects of intellectual funct ...

on other things. For the most part (except for basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain, which are innate), people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on. However, when one is in the flow state, they are completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. According to Csikszentmihályi, this occurs because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated. The flow state has been described by Csikszentmihályi as the "optimal experience" in that one gets to a level of high gratification from the experience. Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and "depends on the ability" of the individual. One's capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals leads not only to the optimal experience but also to a sense of
life satisfaction Life satisfaction (LS) is the way in which people show their emotions, feelings (moods) and how they feel about their directions and options for the future The future is the time after the past and present. Its arrival is considered inevitab ...


There are three common ways to measure flow experiences: the flow questionnaire (FQ), the experience sampling method (ESM), and the "standardized scales of the componential approach."

Flow questionnaire

The FQ requires individuals to identify definitions of flow and situations in which they believe that they have experienced flow, followed by a section that asks them to evaluate their personal experiences in these flow-inducing situations. The FQ identifies flow as multiple constructs, therefore allowing the results to be used to estimate differences in the likelihood of experiencing flow across a variety of factors. Another strength of the FQ is that it does not assume that everyone's flow experiences are the same. Because of this, the FQ is the ideal measure for estimating the prevalence of flow. However, the FQ has some weaknesses that more recent methods have set out to address. The FQ does not allow for measurement of the intensity of flow during specific activities. This method also does not measure the influence of the ratio of challenge to skill on the flow state.

Experience sampling method

The ESM requires individuals to fill out the experience sampling form (ESF) at eight randomly chosen time intervals throughout the day. The purpose of this is to understand subjective experiences by estimating the time intervals that individuals spend in specific states during everyday life. The ESF is made up of 13 categorical items and 29 scaled items. The purpose of the categorical items is to determine the context and
motivation Motivation is what explains why people or animals initiate, continue or terminate a certain behavior at a particular time. Motivational states are commonly understood as forces acting within the agent that create a disposition to engage in goal-d ...

al aspects of the current actions (these items include: time, location, companionship/desire for companionship, activity being performed, reason for performing activity). Because these questions are open-ended, the answers need to be coded by researchers. This needs to be done carefully so as to avoid any biases in the statistical analysis. The scaled items are intended to measure the levels of a variety of subjective feelings that the individual may be experiencing. The ESM is more complex than the FQ and contributes to the understanding of how flow plays out in a variety of situations, however the possible biases make it a risky choice.

Standardized scales

Some researchers are not satisfied with the methods mentioned above and have set out to create their own scales. The scales developed by Jackson and Eklund are the most commonly used in research, mainly because they are still consistent with Csíkszentmihályi's definition of flow and consider flow as being both a state and a trait. Jackson and Eklund created two scales that have been proven to be psychometrically valid and reliable: the flow state scale-2 (which measures flow as a state) and the dispositional flow scale-2 (designed to measure flow as either a general trait or domain-specific trait). The statistical analysis of the individual results from these scales gives a much more complete understanding of flow than the ESM and the FQ.


The flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is more likely to occur when the task or activity is wholeheartedly engaged for intrinsic purposes. Passive activities like taking a bath or even watching TV usually do not elicit a flow experience because active engagement is prerequisite to entering the flow state. While the activities that induce flow vary and may be multifaceted, Csikszentmihályi asserts that the experience of flow is similar whatever the activity. Flow theory postulates that three conditions must be met to achieve flow: * The activity must have clear goals and progress. This establishes structure and direction. * The task must provide clear and immediate feedback. This helps to negotiate any changing demands and allows adjusting performance to maintain the flow state. * Good balance is required between the ''perceived'' challenges of the task and one's ''perceived'' skills. Confidence in the ability to complete the task is required. It has been argued that the antecedent factors of flow are interrelated, as a perceived balance between challenges and skills requires that the goals are clear and feedback is effective. Thus, the coordination of perceived demands and task skills can be identified as the central precondition of flow experience. In 1987, Massimini, Csíkszentmihályi and Carli published the eight-channel model of flow . Antonella Delle Fave, who worked with Fausto Massimini at the University of Milan, calls this graph the Experience Fluctuation Model. The model depicts the channels of experience that result from different levels of perceived challenges and perceived skills. The graph illustrates another aspect of flow: it is more likely to occur when the activity is a higher-than-average challenge (above the center point) and the individual has above-average skills (to the right of the center point). The center of the graph where the sectors meet represents the average level of challenge and skill across all individual daily activities. The further from the center an experience is, the greater the intensity of that state of being, whether it is flow or anxiety or boredom or relaxation. Several problems of the model have been discussed in literature. One is that it does not ensure the perceived balance between challenges and skills which is said to be the central precondition of flow experience. Individuals with a low average level of skills and a high average level of challenges (or the converse) do not necessarily experience a match between skills and challenges when both are above their individual average. Another study found that low challenge situations which were surpassed by skill were associated with enjoyment, relaxation, and happiness, which, they claim, is contrary to flow theory. Schaffer (2013) proposed seven flow conditions: * Knowing what to do * Knowing how to do it * Knowing how well you are doing * Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved) * High perceived challenges * High perceived skills * Freedom from distractions Schaffer published a flow condition questionnaire (FCQ), to measure each of these seven flow conditions for any given task or activity.

Challenges to maintaining flow

Some of the challenges to staying in flow include states of
apathy Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, or concern about something. It is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as , , , or . An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, soci ...

boredom In conventional usage, boredom is an emotion Emotions are mental state, psychological states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysiological changes, variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pl ...

, and
anxiety Anxiety is an emotion Emotions are mental state, psychological states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysiological changes, variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pleasure or suffering, disp ...

. The state of apathy is characterized by easy challenges and low skill level requirements, resulting in a general lack of interest in the activity. Boredom is a slightly different state that occurs when challenges are few, but one's skill level exceeds those challenges causing one to seek higher challenges. A state of anxiety occurs when challenges are high enough to exceed perceived skill level, causing distress and uneasiness. These states in general prevent achieving the balance necessary for flow. Csíkszentmihályi has said, "If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills."

The autotelic personality

Csíkszentmihályi hypothesized that people with certain personality traits may be better able to achieve flow than the average person. These traits include curiosity, persistence, low egotism, and a high propensity to perform activities for intrinsic reasons. People with most of these personality traits are said to have an ''
autotelic An autotelic is someone or something that has a purpose in, and not apart from, itself. Origin The word "autotelic" derives from the Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), o ...
personality''. The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, ''auto'', meaning self, and ''telos'' meaning goal. Being autotelic means having a self-contained activity, without the expectation of future benefit, but simply to be experienced. There is scant research on the ''
autotelic An autotelic is someone or something that has a purpose in, and not apart from, itself. Origin The word "autotelic" derives from the Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), o ...
personality'', but results of the few studies that have been conducted suggest that indeed some people are more likely to experience flow than others. One researcher (Abuhamdeh, 2000) found that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for "high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth" compared to those without an autotelic personality. It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to experience flow. Experimental evidence shows that a balance between individual skills, and demands of the task (compared to boredom and overload) only elicits the flow experience in individuals having an internal
locus of control Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives. The concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, and has sinc ...
or a habitual action orientation. Several correlational studies found
need for achievement Need for achievement (N-Ach) is an individual's desire for significant accomplishment, mastering of skill A skill is the learned ability to perform an action with determined results with good execution often within a given amount of time, energy, ...
to be a personal characteristic that fosters flow experiences.


Group flow (or team flow) is notably different from independent flow as it is inherently mutual. Group flow is attainable when the performance unit is a group, such as a team or musical group. When groups cooperate to agree on goals and patterns, social flow, commonly known as group cohesion, is much more likely to occur. If a group still has not entered flow, a team-level challenge may stimulate the group to harmonize.


Applications suggested by Csíkszentmihályi versus other practitioners

Only Csíkszentmihályi seems to have published suggestions for
extrinsic In science and engineering, an intrinsic property is a property of a specified subject that exists itself or within the subject. An extrinsic property is not essential or inherent to the subject that is being characterized. For example, mass ...
applications of the flow concept, such as
design A design is a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity or process, or the result of that plan or specification in the form of a prototype A prototype is an early sample, mode ...

methods for playgrounds to elicit the flow experience. Other practitioners of Csíkszentmihályi's flow concept focus on
intrinsic In science and engineering, an intrinsic property is a property of a specified subject that exists itself or within the subject. An extrinsic property is not essential or inherent to the subject that is being characterized. For example, mass ...
applications, such as
spirituality The meaning of spirituality has developed and expanded over time, and various connotations can be found alongside each other. Traditionally, spirituality referred to a Religion, religious process of re-formation which "aims to recover the origin ...

performance improvement Performance improvement is measuring the output of a particular business process A business process, business method or business function is a collection of related, structured activities or tasks Task may refer to: * Task (project management ...
, or
self-help Self-help or self-improvement is a self-guided improvement''APA Dictionary of Physicology'', 1st ed., Gary R. VandenBos, ed., Washington: American Psychological Association The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest scientific ...
. His work has also informed the measurement of donor momentum by The New Science of Philanthropy.


education Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, value (ethics), values, morals, beliefs, habits, and personal development. Educational methods include teaching, training, storytelling, discussion ...

, the concept of
overlearning Overlearning refers to practicing newly acquired skills beyond the point of initial mastery. The term is also often used to refer to the pedagogical Pedagogy (), most commonly understood as the approach to teaching, is the theory and practice of ...
plays a role in a student's ability to achieve flow. Csíkszentmihályi states that overlearning enables the mind to concentrate on visualizing the desired performance as a singular, integrated action instead of a set of actions. Challenging assignments that (slightly) stretch one's skills lead to flow. In the 1950s British cybernetician Gordon Pask designed an adaptive teaching machine called SAKI, an early example of "e-learning". The machine is discussed in some detail in Stafford Beer's book "Cybernetics and Management". In the patent application for SAKI (1956), Pask's comments (some of which are included below) indicate an awareness of the pedagogical importance of balancing student competence with didactic challenge, which is quite consistent with flow theory: Around 2000, it came to the attention of Csíkszentmihályi that the principles and practices of the
Montessori Method The Montessori method of education was developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori. Emphasizing independence, it views children as naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a sufficiently supportive and well-prepar ...
of education seemed to purposefully set up continuous flow opportunities and experiences for students. Csíkszentmihályi and psychologist Kevin Rathunde embarked on a multi-year study of student experiences in Montessori settings and traditional educational settings. The research supported observations that students achieved flow experiences more frequently in Montessori settings.


Musicians, especially
improvisational Improvisation is the activity of making or doing something not planned beforehand, using whatever can be found. Improvisation in the performing arts is a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation. The skills of impro ...
soloists, may experience a state of flow while playing their instrument. Research has shown that performers in a flow state have a heightened quality of performance as opposed to when they are not in a flow state. In a study performed with professional classical pianists who played piano pieces several times to induce a flow state, a significant relationship was found between the flow state of the pianist and the pianist's heart rate, blood pressure, and major facial muscles. As the pianist entered the flow state, heart rate and blood pressure decreased and the major facial muscles relaxed. This study further emphasized that flow is a state of effortless attention. In spite of the effortless attention and overall relaxation of the body, the performance of the pianist during the flow state improved. Groups of drummers experience a state of flow when they sense a collective energy that drives the beat, something they refer to as ''getting into the groove'' or entrainment. Likewise drummers and bass guitarists often describe a state of flow when they are feeling the downbeat together as being ''in the pocket.'' Researchers have measured flow through subscales; challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, total concentration, sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, transformation of time and autotelic experience.


The concept of ''being in the zone'' during an athletic performance fits within Csíkszentmihályi's description of the flow experience, and theories and applications of ''being in the zone'' and its relationship with athletic competitive advantage are topics studied in the field of
sport psychology Sport psychology is an interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It draws knowledge from several other field ...
. Timothy Gallwey's influential works on the "inner game" of sports such as
golf Golf is a club-and-ball sport Sport pertains to any form of competitive Competition is a rivalry A rivalry is the state of two people or groups engaging in a lasting competitive relationship. Rivalry is the "against each other" ...

tennis Tennis is a racket sport that can be played individually against a single opponent (Types of tennis match#Singles, singles) or between two teams of two players each (Types of tennis match#Doubles, doubles). Each player uses a tennis racket th ...

described the mental coaching and attitudes required to "get in the zone" and fully internalize mastery of the sport. Roy Palmer suggests that "being in the zone" may also influence movement patterns as better integration of the conscious and subconscious reflex functions improves coordination. Many athletes describe the effortless nature of their performance while achieving personal bests. In many
martial arts Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practiced for a number of reasons such as self-defense; military and law enforcement applications; combat sport, competition; physical, mental, and spiritual development; entertainment; an ...
, the term
Budō is a Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = ...
is used to describe psychological flow.
Mixed martial arts Mixed martial arts (MMA), sometimes referred to as cage fighting, no holds barred (NHB), and ultimate fighting, is a full-contact combat sport based on strike (attack), striking, grappling and ground fighting, incorporating techniques from var ...

Mixed martial arts
champion and
Karate (; ; Okinawan Okinawan may refer to: * Something of or relating to: ** Okinawa Island ** Okinawa Islands ** Okinawa Prefecture * Okinawan language, an endangered language spoken by the people of Okinawa Island * Okinawan people, a subgroup o ...

Lyoto Machida (born 30 May 1978) is a Brazilian professional mixed martial artist and karateka, currently signed with Bellator MMA, competing in the Light heavyweight (MMA), Light heavyweight division. He formerly competed for the Ultimate Fighting Champion ...

Lyoto Machida
uses meditation techniques before fights to attain mushin, a concept that, by his description, is in all respects equal to flow. The
Formula One Formula One (also known as Formula 1 or F1) is the highest class of international racing for single-seater An open-wheel car (formula car, or often single-seater car in British English) is a car with the wheels outside the car's main body ...
Ayrton Senna Ayrton Senna da Silva (; 21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994) was a Brazilian racing driver Auto racing (also known as car racing, motor racing, or automobile racing) is a motorsport involving the racing of automobiles for competition. Aut ...

Ayrton Senna
, during qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, explained: "I was already on pole, ..and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel." Former 500 GP rider
Wayne Gardner Wayne Michael Gardner (born 11 October 1959) is an Australian former professional Grand Prix motorcycle and touring car Touring car and tourer are both terms for open cars (i.e. cars without a fixed roof). "Touring car" is a style of ope ...
talking about his victory at the 1990 Australian Grand Prix on ''The Unrideables 2'' documentary said: "During these last five laps I had this sort of above body experience where actually raised up above and I could see myself racing. It was kind of a remote control and it's the weirdest thing I've ever had in my life. .. After the race .html" ;"title="oohan
Mick [Doohan
Mick [Doohan
and in fact Wayne Rainey said: "How the hell did you do that?" and I said: "I have no idea."

Religion and spirituality

In Yoga, yogic traditions such as Raja Yoga, reference is made to a state of ''flow'' in the practice of
Samyama ''Samyama'' (from Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language of South Asia that belongs to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia ...
, a psychological absorption in the object of meditation.

Games and gaming

Flow in
game A game is a structured form of play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play may refer also to: Computers and technology * Google Play, a digital content serv ...

s and gaming has been linked to the laws of learning as part of the explanation for why learning-games (the use of games to introduce material, improve understanding, or increase retention) have the potential to be effective. In particular, flow is intrinsically motivating, which is part of the law of readiness. The condition of feedback, required for flow, is associated with the feedback aspects of the law of exercise. This is exhibited in well designed games, in particular, where players perform at the edge of their competency as they are guided by clear goals and feedback. The positive emotions associated with flow are associated with the law of effect. The intense experiences of being in a state of flow are directly associated with the law of intensity. Thus, the experience of gaming can be so engaging and motivating as it meets many of the laws of learning, which are inextricably connected to creating flow. In games often much can be achieved thematically through an imbalance between challenge level and skill level. Horror games often keep challenges significantly above the player's level of competency in order to foster a continuous feeling of anxiety. Conversely, so called "relaxation games" keep the level of challenges significantly below the player's competency level, in order to achieve an opposite effect. The video game ''
Flow Flow may refer to: Science and technology * Flow (fluid) or fluid dynamics, the motion of a gas or liquid * Flow (geomorphology), a type of mass wasting or slope movement in geomorphology * Flow (mathematics), a group action of the real numbers on ...
'' was designed as part of
Jenova Chen Xinghan Chen (; born October 8, 1981), known professionally as Jenova Chen, is a Chinese video game designer Video game design is the process of designing the content and rules of video games in the Video game development#Pre-production, pre-pr ...
's master's thesis for exploring the design decisions that allow players to achieve the flow state, by adjusting the difficulty dynamically during play. It improves performance; calling the phenomenon "TV trance", a 1981 ''
BYTE The byte is a unit of digital information that most commonly consists of eight bit The bit is a basic unit of information in computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It ...
'' article discussed how "the best seem to enter a trance where they play but don't pay attention to the details of the game". The primary goal of games is to create entertainment through
intrinsic motivation Motivation is what explains why people or animals initiate, continue or terminate a certain behavior at a particular time. Motivational states are commonly understood as forces acting within the agent that create a disposition to engage in goal-d ...
, which is related to flow; that is, without intrinsic motivation it is virtually impossible to establish flow. Through the balance of skill and challenge the player's brain is aroused, with attention engaged and motivation high. Thus, the use of flow in games helps foster an enjoyable experience which in turn increases motivation and draws players to continue playing. As such, game designers strive to integrate flow principles into their projects. Overall, the experience of play is fluid and is intrinsically psychologically rewarding independent of scores or in-game successes in the flow state.

Design of intrinsically motivated computer systems

A simplified modification to flow has been combined with the
technology acceptance model The technology acceptance model (TAM) is an information systems theory that models how users come to accept and use a technology. The ''actual system use'' is the end-point where people use the technology. ''Behavioral intention'' is a factor th ...

technology acceptance model
(TAM) to help guide the design of and explain the adoption of intrinsically motivated computer systems. This model, the hedonic-motivation system adoption model (HMSAM) is modelled to improve the understanding of hedonic-motivation systems (HMS) adoption. HMS are systems used primarily to fulfill users' intrinsic motivations, such for online gaming, virtual worlds, online shopping, learning/education, online dating, digital music repositories, social networking, online pornography, gamified systems, and for general gamification. Instead of a minor, TAM extension, HMSAM is an HMS-specific system acceptance model based on an alternative theoretical perspective, which is in turn grounded in flow-based concept of cognitive absorption (CA). The HMSAM further builds on van der Heijden's (2004) model of hedonic system adoption by including CA as a key mediator of perceived ease of use (PEOU) and of behavioral intentions to use (BIU) hedonic-motivation systems. Typically, models simplistically represent "intrinsic motivations" by mere perceived enjoyed. Instead, HMSAM uses the more complex, rich construct of CA, which includes joy, control, curiosity, focused immersion, and temporal dissociation. CA is construct that is grounded in the seminal flow literature, yet CA has traditionally been used as a static construct, as if all five of its subconstructs occur at the same time—in direct contradiction to the flow literature. Thus, part of HMSAM's contribution is to return CA closer to its flow roots by re-ordering these CA subconstructs into more natural process-variance order as predicted by flow. Empirical data collection along with mediation tests further support this modeling approach.

Professions and work

Developers of computer software reference getting into a flow state as "wired in", or sometimes as ''The Zone'', ''hack mode'', or operating on ''software time'' when developing in an undistracted state. Stock market operators often use the term "in the pipe" to describe the psychological state of flow when trading during high volume days and market corrections. Professional
poker Poker is a family of card games in which Card player, players betting (poker), wager over which poker hand, hand is best according to that specific game's rules in ways similar List of poker hands, to these rankings. While the earliest known f ...

players use the term "playing the A-game" when referring to the state of highest concentration and strategical awareness, while
pool Pool may refer to: Water pool * Swimming pool A swimming pool, swimming bath, wading pool, paddling pool, or simply pool, is a structure designed to hold water to enable Human swimming, swimming or other leisure activities. Pools can be ...
players often call the state being in "dead stroke".

In the workplace

Conditions of flow, defined as a state in which challenges and skills are equally matched, play an extremely important role in the workplace. Because flow is associated with achievement, its development could have concrete implications in increasing workplace satisfaction and accomplishment. Flow researchers, such as Csikszentmihályi, believe that certain interventions may be performed to enhance and increase flow in the workplace, through which people would gain 'intrinsic rewards that encourage persistence" and provide benefits. In his consultation work, Csikszentmihályi emphasizes finding activities and environments that are conducive to flow, and then identifying and developing personal characteristics to increase experiences of flow. Applying these methods in the workplace can improve morale by fostering a sense of greater happiness and accomplishment, which may be correlated with increased performance. In his review of Mihály Csikszentmihályi's book "Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning", Coert Visser introduces the ideas presented by Csikszentmihályi, including "good work" in which one "enjoys doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself." He then provides tools by which managers and employees can create an atmosphere that encourages good work. Some consultants suggest that the experience sampling form (EMS) method be used for individuals and teams in the workplace in order to identify how time is currently being spent, and where focus should be redirected to in order to increase flow experiences. In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihályi lays out the following three conditions: * Goals are clear * Feedback is immediate * A balance exists between opportunity and capacity Csikszentmihályi argues that with increased experiences of flow, people experience "growth towards complexity". People flourish as their achievements grow and with that comes development of increasing "emotional, cognitive, and social complexity." Creating a workplace atmosphere that allows for flow and growth, Csikszentmihályi argues, can increase the happiness and achievement of employees. An increasingly popular way of promoting greater flow in the workplace is using the " serious play" facilitation methods. Some commercial organisations have used the concept of flow in building corporate branding and identity, for example, The Floow Limited, which created its company brand from the concept.


There are, however, barriers to achieving flow in the workplace. In his chapter "Why Flow Doesn't Happen on the Job," Csikszentmihályi argues the first reason that flow does not occur is that the goals of one's job are not clear. He explains that while some tasks at work may fit into a larger, organization plan, the individual worker may not see where their individual task fits it. Second, limited feedback about one's work can reduce motivation and leaves the employee unaware of whether or not they did a good job. When there is little communication of feedback, an employee may not be assigned tasks that challenge them or seem important, which could potentially prevent an opportunity for flow. In the study "Predicting flow at work: Investigating the activities and job characteristics that predict flow states at work", Karina Nielsen and Bryan Cleal used a 9-item flow scale to examine predictors of flow at two levels: activity level (such as brainstorming, problem solving, and evaluation) and at a more stable level (such as role clarity, influence, and cognitive demands). They found that activities such as planning, problem solving, and evaluation predicted transient flow states, but that more stable job characteristics were not found to predict flow at work. This study can help us identify which task at work can be cultivated and emphasized in order to help employees experience flow on the job. In her article in ''Positive Psychology News Daily'', Kathryn Britton examines the importance of experiencing flow in the workplace beyond the individual benefits it creates. She writes, "Flow isn't just valuable to individuals; it also contributes to organizational goals. For example, frequent experiences of flow at work lead to higher productivity, innovation, and employee development (Csikszentmihályi, 1991, 2004). So finding ways to increase the frequency of flow experiences can be one way for people to work together to increase the effectiveness of their workplaces."


Positive experiences

Books by Csikszentmihályi suggest that enhancing the time spent in flow makes our lives more happy and successful. Flow experiences are predicted to lead to positive affect as well as to better performance. For example, delinquent behavior was reduced in adolescents after two years of enhancing flow through activities. People who have experienced flow, describe the following feelings: # Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated. # A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality. # Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing. # Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task. # A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego. # Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by the minute. # Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward. However, further empirical evidence is required to substantiate these preliminary indications, as flow researchers continue to explore the problem of how to directly investigate causal consequences of flow experiences using modern scientific instrumentation to observe the neuro-physiological correlates of the flow state.

Positive affect and life satisfaction

Flow is an innately positive experience; it is known to "produce intense feelings of enjoyment". An experience that is so enjoyable should lead to positive
affect Affect may refer to: * Affect (education) * Affect (linguistics), attitude or emotion that a speaker brings to an utterance * Affect (philosophy) * Affect (psychology), the experience of feeling or emotion ** Affect display, signs of emotion, such ...
happiness The term ''happiness'' is used in the context of Mental health, mental or emotional states, including positive or Pleasure, pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subj ...

in the long run. Also, Csikszentmihályi stated that happiness is derived from personal development and growth – and flow situations permit the experience of personal development. Several studies found that flow experiences and positive affect go hand in hand, and that challenges and skills above the individual's average foster positive affect. However, the causal processes underlying those relationships remain unclear at present.

Performance and learning

Flow experiences imply a growth principle. When one is in a flow state, they are working to master the activity at hand. To maintain that flow state, one must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches one's skills. One emerges from such a flow experience with a bit of personal growth and great "feelings of competence and efficacy". By increasing time spent in flow, intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning also increases. Flow has a documented correlation with high performance in the fields of artistic and scientific creativity, teaching, learning, and sports; Flow has been linked to persistence and achievement in activities while also helping to lower anxiety during various activities and raise self-esteem. However, evidence regarding better performance in flow situations is mixed. For sure, the association between the two is a reciprocal one. That is, flow experiences may foster better performance but, on the other hand, good performance makes flow experiences more likely. Results of a longitudinal study in the academic context indicate that the causal effect of flow on performance is only of small magnitude and the strong relationship between the two is driven by an effect of performance on flow. In the long run, flow experiences in a specific activity may lead to higher performance in that activity as flow is positively correlated with a higher subsequent motivation to perform and to perform well.


Csikszentmihályi writes about the dangers of flow himself:
...enjoyable activities that produce flow have a potentially negative effect: while they are capable of improving the quality of existence by creating order in the mind, they can become addictive, at which point the self becomes captive of a certain kind of order, and is then unwilling to cope with the ambiguities of life.
Further, he writes:
The flow experience, like everything else, is not "good" in an absolute sense. It is good only in that it has the potential to make life more rich, intense, and meaningful; it is good because it increases the strengths and complexity of the self. But whether the consequence of any particular instance of flow is good in a larger sense needs to be discussed and evaluated in terms of more inclusive social criteria.
Additional Criticisms Keller and Landhäußer (2012, p. 56) advocate for a flow intensity model because many models of flow have trouble predicting the intensity of flow experiences that can occur under various circumstances where skill and task demands fit together to produce flow. Cowley et. Al found that because self-reported flow happens after-the-fact, it doesn’t really capture the aspect of flow that happens in the moment. Furthermore, that aspect of flow is prone to change, so the self-reported experience of flow cannot be trusted as much. Cameron et al. et al. Found that there isn’t a lot of information on group flow, and this may be hindering development in managerial and theoretical contributions.

Future Directions

Cameron et al. Proposed a research program that focuses on how group flow is different from individual flow, and how group flow affects group performance. These ideas will address some of the issues in group flow research such as poor data collection and interpretation. Sridhar & Lyngdoh propose that studies should investigate how flow affects the ethical performance of sales professionals. Furthermore, there should be longitudinal studies done in various fields to understand the ethical implications of flow in sales. From their study, Chen et al. found that there needs to be more research done on how competition affects game-based learning. Linden et. Al Suggest that a neuroscientific model of flow would lead to new research questions that would guide future discoveries, experiments, and less obvious questions. Thissen et al. 2020 propose more research be down with how flow affects fiction reading in all types of readers.

See also

Absorption (psychology)Absorption is a disposition or personality trait in which a person becomes absorbed in their mental imagery, particularly Fantasy (psychology), fantasy. This trait thus correlates highly with a fantasy prone personality, fantasy-prone personality. Th ...
Altered state of consciousness An altered state of consciousness (ASC), also called altered state of mind or mind alteration, is any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking state. By 1892, the expression was in use in relation to hypnosis File ...
Autotelic An autotelic is someone or something that has a purpose in, and not apart from, itself. Origin The word "autotelic" derives from the Ancient Greek, Greek ''αὐτοτελής'' (''autotelēs''), formed from ''αὐτός'' (''autos'', "self") an ...
Boreout Boredom boreout syndrome is a psychological disorder that causes physical illness, mainly caused by mental underload at the workplace due to lack of either adequate quantitative or qualitative workload. One reason for bore-out could be that the in ...

Hypnosis Hypnosis is a human condition involving focused attention Attention is the behavioral and cognitive process Cognition () refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experie ...

Hypomania Hypomania (literally "under mania Mania, also known as manic syndrome, is a mental Mental may refer to: * of or relating to the mind Films * Mental (2012 film), ''Mental'' (2012 film), an Australian comedy-drama * Mental (2016 film), ''Menta ...
Imagination Imagination is the ability to produce and simulate novel objects, sensations, and ideas in the mind The mind is the set of faculties responsible for mental Phenomenon, phenomena. Often the term is also identified with the phenomena themselves. ...

Mindfulness Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one's attention in the present moment without evaluation,Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review, by Ruth A. Baer, available at http://www.wisebrain.or ...
Ovsiankina effect The Ovsiankina effect is the tendency to pick up an interrupted action again when it has still not been achieved. It is named after its researcher, Maria Ovsiankina Maria Arsenjevna Rickers-Ovsiankina (1898–1993) was a Russian-German-American ps ...
Peak experience A peak experience is an altered state of consciousness An altered state of consciousness (ASC), also called altered state of mind or mind alteration, is any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking state. By 1892, the exp ...
Play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity) Play is a range of Motivation#Incentive theories: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, intrinsically motivated activities done for recreational pleasure and enjoyment. Play is commonly associated w ...
Prayer Prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication. In the narrow sense, the term refers to an act of supplication or intercession directed towards a deity or a deified an ...

Samadhi ''Samadhi'' ( sa, समाधि), in Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religion Indian religions, sometimes also termed Dharmic religions or Indic religions, are the religions that originated in the Indian subcontinent. These r ...

Trance Trance is a state of semi-consciousness in which a person is not self-aware and is either altogether unresponsive to external stimuli (but nevertheless capable of pursuing and realizing an aim) or is selectively responsive in following the dir ...

* Narrative transportation *
Wu wei ''Wu wei'' () is a concept literally meaning "inexertion", "inaction", or "effortless action". ''Wu wei'' emerged in the Spring and Autumn period, and from Confucianism, to become an important concept in Chinese statecraft and Taoism, and was m ...




* * (a popular exposition emphasizing technique) * * * * *

External links

"Living in the Flow"
* {{YouTube, fXIeFJCqsPs, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow; presentation at the February, 2004
TED conference TED Conferences LLC (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an American media organization that posts talks online for free distribution under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". TED was conceived by Richard Saul Wurman, who co-founded it with H ...

Schaffer, Owen (2013), Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow
Attention Educational psychology Interest (psychology)
Positive psychology {{Cat main, Positive psychology Clinical psychology Personal development Popular psychology Psychological schools Self-care ...
Problem solving