When do you experience flow?

These days you see it everywhere. Shops, books and yoga studios – many carry a title including the word ‘Flow’. I find it a fascinating concept. It regularly passes the table in my conversations with HR managers and other professionals. We explore it and ask ourselves what it is and when you experience it.

What is a flow experience?

Many describe it as a moment so encompassing that you forget everything around you. Your surroundings and time itself temporarily fade into the background. Others describe it as ‘being one’, for instance being so absorbed in nature that your observation and clarity increases. Actually, almost all of us have had a moment of flow, big or small. Most of the time this experience is a positive one.

When did you experience flow?

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly has studied Flow for many years. Based on countless scientific studies and insights he wrote the bestseller ‘Flow. The classic work on how to achieve happiness’.

Mihaly describes a few conditions in which Flow is more likely to be experienced. I especially ask myself, what does that mean for your career?

A flow experience can be characterised by the following:

1 Performing a task that requires some skill. That means it requires mild concentration such as reading a book or having a good conversation.
2 It is an activity that you can finish. You know when you’re task is completed and this brings satisfaction.
3 Setting clear goals give meaning and purpose to what you are doing.
4 It is important that you receive immediate feedback on what you’ve done. This is for instance the case when you’ve given a presentation and you receive positive reactions afterwards. This greatly contributes to a sense of fulfillment.
5 Another aspect is that carrying out an activity in a concentrated manner means that your ‘daily concerns’ temporarily fade away into the background. And that can be a pleasant thing, getting away from your routine and focussing on something else.
6 When you are experiencing a feeling of flow, it may give you more sense of control about your life. Gaining insight into the activities that bring you positive experiences means you can try to consciously steer in this direction. This may contribute to an overall sense of increased wellbeing.
7 The last aspect is that your sense of time may be altered by a flow experience. This means that a few hours may pass by without you realising it!

Now you may ask yourself: is it possible to look for situations in which a flow experience is more likely to happen? Yes I believe so! And the author Mihaly thinks so too.

An example. One of my clients was totally committed to her work and employer. When tasks needed doing for which no one volunteered she was always the one taking responsibility. It was normal for her to work until the work was done, even though that meant working evenings and weekends.

Our coaching meetings brought a sense of awareness. By taking small steps she started allocating more time for other activities in the evening. She became a bit more assertive by delegating more and sometimes saying no. She freed up more time and re-discovered a hobby that she had not spent time on for a long time. She noticed that this gave her more flow experiences which gave her more energy. Also for her work.

With more knowledge and insights into what brings you flow, you can become more aware of the choices you make. And this way you increase your opportunities of moments that give you satisfaction, in other words flow experiences!


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