Be Creative, Be Productive, Be Happy: Flow State’s Modern Role

Creativity is delightfully malleable; it can be formed, adapted, reformed and even achieved if you have the right state of mind.

Picture playing an instrument, running a race, or writing a novel. Imagine being so immersed and involved in this activity that you are, as described by a leading composer, “in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist.”

This feeling is defined as ‘flow state,’ a term coined by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s used to describe the “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best,” and as the most productive and creative level of human mentality possible, it can result in increased levels of happiness.

When you enter flow state, time becomes elastic. Hours feel like minutes, and you’re hardly conscious of the task at hand yet hyper-focused. You are in control and absorbed. Goals are clear, actions are autonomous, and your sense of individuality slips away.

You’re at your peak level of performance.

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that flow state is “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.”

There are eight component states necessary to achieve flow:

  • Challenge-skill balance: the challenge should be manageable, however, you should also be able to use the challenge to achieve new skill. If the challenge is too difficult, it will be frustrating. If it is too easy, it will be boring. A perfect balance between challenge and skill must be sought in order to achieve flow state.
  • Clarity of goals.
  • Immediate and unambiguous feedback: whether it’s from an outside source or internally, the impact of your actions should be measurable. A wrong note tells a musician they need to correct themselves.
  • Concentration on the task at hand: your focus and concentration must be on a single task.
  • The paradox of control: you can control without controlling. Activities are automatic, fluid, and effortless, yet every action is done with purpose.
  • Transformation of time: the perception of time is altered during a flow state.
  • Loss of self-consciousness: when experiencing flow state one often loses the feeling of being an individual and by proxy any self-consciousness experienced by the individual self.
  • Autotelic experience: activities involved with flow state are done for an intrinsic reward, as opposed to an external one.

While it’s not necessary for all of these factors to be present in order to achieve flow, they’re the ones that are most commonly associated with the state of mind. In his book Finding Flow, Csikszentmihalyi states that flow happens “when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges. 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.”

Research shows that flow state contributes positively to overall life satisfaction and happiness. Prevailers already know that creativity and contentment go hand in hand, and getting into the flow – no matter what your activity – helps foster both personal and professional successes.

Colleen Christison