The Psychology of the Flow Experience

What is flow, how do we achieve it, and why do so many people seek out this flow state of mind?

Psychology of the flow experience.

Inspired by the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

What is Flow?

Flow is a state of mind where we become completely immersed in something. It’s a state where we lose track of time. Our focus is invested completely and absolutely in the task that we are performing, everything else becomes out of focus and distant. During this state, a person will also often feel great pleasure and enjoyment.

What activities can you achieve a flow state?

Almost anything that requires concentration and focus. So, competing in sports, playing an intense game, writing or doing anything creative, various forms of work, reading a book, immersion in your own thoughts, visualizing, having a conversation, and even sex can be a flow experience.

The flow state and happiness

People who regularly seek out and enter the flow state tend to be the most content in life. This is connected to another article I wrote about passivity and mental health. Those who are often in the flow state have more balanced lives. To get into the flow state, you have to enjoy the activity that you are doing. Also, most of the activities that produce a flow state are productive, and being productive is linked to better mental health.

Boredom vs. Anxiety

How much challenge do you have in your life; too little, or too much? If you find yourself often being bored, you probably don’t have enough challenge in your life. If you find yourself constantly being anxious, then you might have too much challenge.

Psychology of flow chart.

If the challenge is too high, you get anxiety. If the skill it too high, you get boredom.

Getting in the flow state is about finding that balance between boredom and anxiety. The state of flow, or optimum experience, is achieved when we find that balance. However, as your skills develop, the challenge will need to be increased. This balance will lead to a more constant flow state, satisfaction and continuous improvement.

Flow & Visualizations

Some people seem to have a better ability to get into the flow state than others. Some people that were incarcerated have reported that their tolerance for their incarceration was improved by their ability to visualize, and to use their imagination to enter the flow state.

One example from the book was that someone would visualize playing 18 holes of golf every day during his incarceration. He also said that after he was released, he played the same 18 holes on the course that he visualized on. He said it was the best 18 holes he had ever played. It’s a good example of the power of the mind and visualization.

There have been several experiments conducted showing that practising via visualizations was almost as good as actually physically practising something.

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