THE FLOW MODEL
“Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos … when we are left alone, with no demands on attention, the basic order of the mind reveals itself. Entropy is “the normal state of consciousness – a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable”. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990
“The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. “Optimal experience, where flow is realized, is thus something we make happen (in fact make possible)“ – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that when people’s minds were in flow, they experience real (authentic) satisfaction. In this state, the person is completely absorbed by the activity. When they are in this experience, people feel powerful, awake, an effortless feeling of control, disengaged from their conscious state (still aware of themselves, however rather than through the ego, they are experiencing things through the unconscious), and that their skills are functioning optimally. In Maslow’s footsteps, Mihaly maintains that happiness is not achieved that easily. The person has to prepare themselves, and even develop the conditions, by specifying challenges that should be neither too demanding nor too simple.
For example, consider that you are skiing down a double black diamond slope of a mountain. You are high in the clouds and the view is breathtaking. You have skied down this slope before, but you did not feel fully in control – until now! In your every move you feel that you are in the zone, moving with precision and control. Your movements are frozen in time; you can feel every sound in your bones, including your breath. In these moments you may feel that you are at one with the mountain and all that surrounds you. All the skiing classes, all that exercise and effort are paying off now as you are prepared to traverse the challenges of the slope. This is the experience of a lifetime!
This type of experience can happen in a variety of different activities. Think of a time where you felt you were in the zone similar to the skiing experience outlines above. Maybe you worked on a hard project and accomplished it; maybe through a form of artistic expression; maybe a conversation with a friend that satisfied you mentally and emotionally. In these moments, your mind is so completely absorbed by the activity that you forget yourself, and with an increased awareness of the “here and now” you can almost effortlessly experience your actions. This experimental state became the research focus for years of the very meticulous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and with the purpose of defining this experience by an objective condition; he gave it the name “flow“.
“…..They concentrate their attention on a limited stimulus field, forget personal problems, lose their sense of time and of themselves, feel competent and in control, and have a sense of harmony and union with their surroundings… they cease to worry about whether the activity will be productive or whether it will be rewarded… they gave entered a state of flow (they enter the flow mental state)”
In a world where “serious” work may be regarded necessarily unpleasant but enables us to earn a good living; sooner or later we all enter a period in where we have the desire to make our lives more meaningful. Whether we are front-line workers, white-collar managers, or CEO’s of multinational companies, we may find ourselves trying to resist a state of boredom, anxiety and alienation/loneliness to find more meaning in our daily lives. While the dominant environment/culture pursues money, prestige, and constant pleasure, some people pursue meaning and simple satisfaction. Some become curious about the source of unhappiness, lack of meaning, motivation and dissatisfaction, but they cannot find the answer themselves. According to the FLOW model, a life beyond boredom and anxiety is possible.
FLOW: A focused action of which the individual is aware while remaining unaware of that awareness. Here, motivation comes from within the person (intrinsic motivation). The FLOW Model shows how we can ensure daily flow by increasing intrinsic motivation.
Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model recognizes eight emotional mental states:
- Apathy – no interest, the person is apathetic to the subject and situation
- Boredom – no interest in the situation, bored, and maybe run-down
- Relaxation – calmness or lack of excitement
- Worry – focus with worry is negative; (fantasy) problems grow and are viewed as having no solution
- Control – the feeling of dominance. Automatizing skills by practicing; the activity is currently hard but the person feels that they have a command of the situation (risk: the person’s skill is higher than the difficulty of the situation)
- Anxiety – could be the reason for someone freezing or shutting down
- Arousal – with the reinforcement of arousal, the person approaches their surroundings more attentively
- Flow – the mental state that ensures the person focusing completely on the task or activity – generally results in the action being completed successfully
In the process of experiencing and completing a new task/activity, dependent on the perceived difficulty level and the person’s skill/ability, this model demonstrates the emotional state that the person is experiencing.
For example, providing the task is easy and does not require a lot of skill means we probably show an apathetic tendency towards the task. However, if the difficulty level of a task is high and the person does not feel that they are sufficiently competent, this can bring out anxiety and worry. In order to find balance and increase our performance, we need a difficulty level that attracts our interest, we believe is important, and feel that we have the capacity to do it. This feeling brings us to flow.
The state of FLOW can be seen in people who masterwork life, art, sports or a hobby. From the outside it seems like they are doing the task with great ease, however, if you look at it from within, they have completely devoted themselves to what they are doing.