What is Flow?

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

What is flow? Finding Optimal Experience

Flow is a concept coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Through observation and research, Mihaly studied people who excelled in activities like art, sport and employment. Mihaly found they tended to enter a particular state of consciousness called FLOW in which they achieved an optimal experience.

In his search for happiness, Mihaly identified that being in the state of consciousness of flow made an experience genuinely satisfying. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.


The experience of flow involves being totally absorbed in an activity that you are engaged in. You are so focused, you do not notice time pass.

In order to create a state of flow, the level of challenge must increase as the your level of skill increases and vice versa. New challenges allow the development of new skills. It allows the enjoyment of discovery and mastery. Flow helps you find optimal experiences and optimal experiences help you find flow.


Let flow ripple through your life.

What are the Eight Characteristics of Flow?

  1. Goals: We engage in activities with clear goals.

  2. Feedback: Feedback is immediate.

  3. Challenge: The challenge we face is balanced against our skill level.

  4. Hyper-focus: We are not distracted and our attention is focussed.

  5. Mindfulness: We live in the moment

  6. Absorbed: We lose awareness of ourselves as we become completely immersed in an activity. We are on the edge of control.

  7. Self-transcendence: We are so focussed we lose a sense of self and  self-consciousness, We transcend beyond self.

  8. Distortion of time: Our sense of time is distorted.

The Flow Paradox: Work and Play

We grow up learning that work is unpleasant, and play is meaningless. Children learn to feel bored when they define something as work. On the other hand children enjoy play but learn it is meaningless and pointless. 


This view or work and play is a problem. Why shouldn't we enjoy both work and play and live a more fulfilling life? Work can provide opportunities for growth and enjoyment. 


Work tends to provide structure, challenges, and purpose. Exactly the elements we need to experience flow.

Home, on the other hand, can be unstructured. Individuals in their home environment can lose their motivation. They also risk spending excessive time engaged in meaningless activities like watching television, gaming or social media.


Prior to the development of the internet, people used to engage in more active and creative pursuits like arts, hobbies, music, cooking sewing, and reading. It is these active pursuits that involve flow that lead to a sense of mastery that are important for experiencing a satisfying and fulfilling life.

A person who has developed an autotelic personality tends to find flow in both work and play.

What is an autotelic personality? Meaning and Purpose

An autotelic personality is achieved when we learn to derive meaning and purpose from within. People with autotelic personalities tend to find flow in everyday experiences. 

Individuals who have an autotelic personality tend to share four characteristics. Autotelic individuals tend to find meaning and purpose by:

  1. Setting goals: They tend to set goals to be achieved or beaten.

  2. Being mindful: Attention is under control. They live in the moment and notice everything, processing information in a fresh way. 

  3. Participating dynamically: They become immersed in an activity. While they remain objective and detached, they are connected through attending to what happens and react appropriately. They engage in dynamic participation.

  4. Engaging: They learn to enjoy what they are doing which produces high energy and satisfaction.​


To develop an autotelic personality, we just have to engage in these practices and find flow on a regular basis.

The Danger of Flow: The Importance of a Balanced Life

Flow can result in a positive addiction. Like everything, flow in life must be balanced. We must maintain a balanced life.


Finding flow solely in work, or in one activity can be at the expense of other aspects of your life. Work, for instance, can become addictive and engaging in too much work can lead to you becoming a workaholic at the expense of a balanced life that includes spending time with family and friends and in recreational activities.


Any flow activity can become addictive. To manage this, it is important to diversify. It is important not to become dependent on one flow activity. To achieve a balanced life it is important to have flow activities in work and outside of work.


Ensuring a balanced life also helps when you retire from work. It is important to enjoy family time and engage in your local community and recreational activities.

Flow and Solitude: How to Overcome Loneliness

The experience of loneliness is a modern social epidemic. The truth is, however, we can be surrounded by many people and feel alone or we can be by ourselves and not feel alone. 


if you are not comfortable being by yourself, you cannot truly engage in meaningful and healthy relationships.​ Sadly, some people are so uncomfortable being alone that they would rather engage with people who might not be good for them. They might also engage in unhealthy and potentially self-destructive coping activities like: random sex, gambling, smoking, drinking alcohol or substance abuse.

It is important to learn to engage your own company. Date yourself! Do things for yourself that you might otherwise do for a new partner. This can include activities like: finding a hobby, meditating, exercise, art, craft, reading, and so on.

Learn to spend time on your own. Learn to enjoy solitude. 

If you would like to learn how to overcome loneliness book an appointment online or call us on 02 6061 1144.

Flow, Relationships and Intimacy: Avoiding Relationship Breakdown

To optimise relationship and avoid a relationship breakdown, we need to apply the principles of flow. Deeper connections with others can be enjoyed when we approach others with flow.

When we connect more deeply with others, we achieve a deeper sense of intimacy. When we achieve better intimacy with others, we learn to appreciate the importance of sharing and reciprocity.

If we fail to develop intimacy in our relationships, we can become power-hungry, overachievers wrapped up in material success. We risk overinvesting in our own perceived needs and material ‘success’. Material 'success' then becomes an obstacle to achieving flow and an enriching life.

Meaningful connections with others improves our quality of life.

Flow and Family

Why do separation rates for couples increase when people are in their forties and fifties?


Unfortunately, many people in relationships, over time developed their own interests. They do not make an effort to spend time with each other, share interests and invest in connection. People miss the importance of family life. They do not realise how rewarding and enjoyable it is.


We must invest in the family. It is about quality and quantity of time invested. We need to understand each family members needs and goals and help them experience opportunities to satisfy them. 


Relationships and needs change with time. We need to reinvent the relationship and maintain fun and quality in the relationship. When we do not do this families dissolve.

We all need individual care and support. We also need to learn to compromise. Share each other’s interests. Ensure shared experiences. While teenagers do need to differentiate from the family, we also need to aim to maintain some level of connection through common activities and shared experiences.

Flow and Friendship

Invest in your friends for no other reason than they have intrinsic value. You appreciate who they are. It is not a relationship of benefit.


Develop common goals when deciding on activities. Exchange thoughts and feelings and encourage deeper growth producing experiences. Share stimulating communication about thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Treat others as shared members of our community, not as competitors or people who are to be taken advantage of.

Work is such a significant part of our life, it is important to enjoy it. To enjoy work we have to be engaged. Engagement is not just associated with higher personal satisfaction but greater productivity and less absenteeism. So how do we find engagement in work?

We are engaged in work when we find value and meaning in the work we do. This can be achieved through flow. Meaningful, engaging work allows us to rise to challenges and experience positive growth in our skills and well-being. 

Workplaces can promote flow and engagement in work through:

  • Ensuring employees have a healthy life balance and supporting their wellbeing,

  • Creating environments that promote engagement, and

  • Through satisfying  employee's basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

These outcomes can be achieved through:

  • Promoting a good employee-role match,

  • Providing flexible working conditions, 

  • Conducting regular individual coaching sessions to identify employee needs,

  • Fostering a culture of acceptance, teamwork, support, and shared goals,

  • Providing learning and development opportunities for growth, and 

  • Linking the employees activities to the organisations outcomes with particular emphasis on each individuals employees personal values.

More specifically flow can be better achieved at work when the nine principles of flow, mentioned earlier, are promoted:

  1. Presence of clear goals,

  2. Availability of immediate feedback,

  3. Matching challenges with personal skills,

  4. Merging action and awareness,

  5. Focused attention and concentration on the task at hand,

  6. Perception of control over the situation,

  7. Loss of self-consciousness,

  8. Absorption so intense that it alters the sense of time, and

  9. Intrinsic motivation and autonomous initiative (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990).

Variety and Challenge

If you want to enjoy work, you need to find engagement. in your job. There are two ways to achieve engagement:

  1. Seek variety and new opportunities in your work. Diversify your skills and gain new experiences. If this is not possible, then

  2. Find new challenges in jobs that appear monotonous. If you have to undertake routine activities, use creativity and imagination to make a routine job more interesting.

Learning to enjoy and successfully complete tasks, even master them, can result in recognition and promotion. Aim to not only meet your personal needs in the job but invest effort in the organisation for which you work. Healthy organisations are more likely to promote individuals who are invested in their work and look for innovative ways to improve organisational outcomes. 

Also work on your relationship with your boss and colleagues. This requires skill. How do you act to earn respect and maintain integrity?

Workplace Relations

Communication is the key. Learn to achieve your personal goals and meet your needs while meeting the goals and needs of your manager and colleagues. Teamwork and collaboration are essential for a positive workplace culture and enhance workplace experiences, engagement and productivity.

Flow, Stress and Burnout

If there is too much stress, then that can lead to burnout. 


When we experience strain, we might, or might not, experience stress. This depends on our response to the situation and how we interpret strain.

How do we use flow to manage stress?

When we experience a situation posing strain we should:

  • Lose self-consciousness,

  • Look at the situation objectively,

  • Understand the problem, and

  • Find solutions.

Everyone wants to know how to stop overthinking. Psychic entropy is best described where you are stuck in a pattern of repeated thoughts with no resolution. It might otherwise be referred to as dwelling, rumination or obsessing. Psychic entropy is like a vortex in the mind dragging everything down. A vicious downward spiral. It is important to learn how to stop overthinking.


An endless cycle of negative thoughts undermines our mental health. Our brains can waste energy on negative thoughts, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, isolation, and rumination. Psychic entropy can prevent us from effectively managing complex thoughts, reduce our capacity to problem solve and result in feeling overwhelmed easily. We end up feeling confused, frozen, unmotivated and mentally impotent.

Techniques to address and resolve psychic entropy include:

  • Distraction,

  • Mindfulness,

  • Socialising and connection with others,

  • Flow activities,

  • Establishing meaning and purpose, and

  • Psychological counselling​

If you would like to learn to stop overthinking then book an appointment online or call 02 6061 1144.

Engagement and Motivation: How to Overcome Procrastination

How do we overcome procrastination? How do we engage and motivate individuals at work?

Managers need to identify blocks preventing employees from working.

  • Do they have enough support to achieve their potential?

  • Is there enough challenge for them?


When an individual has the right challenge, their internal motivation will be triggered.

To engage and motivate employees:

  • Set clear goals and provide regular feedback. Ensure team members know when they do a job well so they can obtain satisfaction from what they have achieved.

  • Limit distractions. Minimise distractions so team members can focus on the task at hand.


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