What are the characteristics of flow?

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Ronald Siegel
Psychology
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, distinguished professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., found that flow experiences (experiences of being fully involved in an activity) have several common characteristics.

You lose awareness of time. You aren't watching the clock, and hours can pass like minutes. As filmmaker George Lucas puts it, talent is "a combination of something you love a great deal and something you can lose yourself in—something that you can start at 9 o'clock, look up from your work and it's 10 o'clock at night."

You aren't thinking about yourself. You aren't focused on your comfort, and you aren't wondering how you look or how your actions will be perceived by others. Your awareness of yourself is only in relation to the activity itself, such as your fingers on a piano keyboard, or the way you position a knife to cut vegetables, or the balance of your body parts as you ski or surf.

You aren't interrupted by extraneous thoughts. You aren't thinking about such mundane matters as your shopping list or what to wear tomorrow.

You have clear goals at each moment but aren't focused on the goal line. Although you may be working toward an ultimate goal, such as earning a graduate degree, making a wedding cake, or winning a chess tournament, that goal is not your primary motivation. Rather, you find the activity itself to be rewarding—mastering or explaining a line of thinking in your academic work, creating tiers of beautiful icing, or visualizing your way out of a sticky chess situation.

You are active. Flow activities aren't passive, and you have some control over what you are doing.

You work effortlessly. Flow activities require effort (usually more effort than involved in typical daily experience). Although you may be working harder than usual, at flow moments everything is "clicking" and feels almost effortless.

You would like to repeat the experience. Flow is intrinsically rewarding, something you would like to replicate. In a study, presented at the Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium, researchers reported that 60% of people hiking the full length of the Appalachian Trail reported experiencing flow, usually on a daily basis, and more than 80% expressed a desire to hike the trail again.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.