8 Ways To Create Flow According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Want to increase your well-being, creativity, and productivity?

If so, you might want to cultivate flow, a concept describing those moments when you’re completely absorbed in a challenging but doable task.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, considered one of the co-founders of positive psychology, was the first to identify and research flow. (If you’re not sure how to pronounce his name, here’s a phonetic guide: “Me high? Cheeks send me high!”)

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . 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”

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

The experience of flow is universal and has been reported to occur across all classes, genders, ages, and cultures, and it can be experienced during many types of activities.

If you’ve ever heard someone describe a time when their performance excelled and they were “in the zone,” they were likely describing an experience of flow. Flow occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal.

Read on to learn more about what flow is and how to cultivate it.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values and self-compassion and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students or employees.

You can download the free PDF here.

Who is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi?

Csikszentmihalyi became a happiness researcher because of the adversity he faced growing up. He was a prisoner during World War II, and he witnessed the pain and suffering of the people around him during this time. As a result, he developed a curiosity about happiness and contentment.

Csikszentmihalyi observed that many people were unable to live a life of contentment after their jobs, homes, and security were lost during the war. After the war, he took an interest in art, philosophy, and religion as a way to answer the question, What creates a life worth living?

Eventually, he stumbled upon psychology while at a ski resort in Switzerland. He attended a lecture by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who spoke of the traumatized psyches of the European people after World War II.

Csikszentmihalyi was so intrigued that he started to read Jung’s work, which in turn led him to the United States to pursue an education in psychology. He wanted to study the causes of happiness.


Finding Out What Happiness Really Is

Csikszentmihalyi’s studies led him to conclude that happiness is an internal state of being, not an external one. His popular 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is based on the premise that happiness levels can be shifted by introducing flow.

Happiness is not a rigid, unchanging state, Csikszentmihalyi has argued. On the contrary, the manifestation of happiness takes a committed effort.

Beyond each person’s set point of happiness, there is a level of happiness over which each individual has some degree of control. Through research, Csikszentmihalyi began to understand that people were their most creative, productive, and happy when they are in a state of flow.

Csikszentmihalyi interviewed athletes, musicians, and artists because he wanted to know when they experienced optimal performance levels. He was also interested in finding out how they felt during these experiences.

Csikszentmihalyi developed the term “flow state” because many of the people he interviewed described their optimal states of performance as instances when their work simply flowed out of them without much effort.

He aimed to discover what piques creativity, especially in the workplace, and how creativity can lead to productivity. He determined that flow is not only essential to a productive employee, but it is imperative for a contented one as well.

In Csikszentmihalyi’s words, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (1990).

Here’s a short video with a great explanation of flow:

Have you ever experienced flow? There are eight characteristics that this article delves into next.


The 8 Characteristics of Flow

Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:

  1. Complete concentration on the task;
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
  5. Effortlessness and ease;
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills;
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task.


Who Experiences Flow?

Interestingly, the capacity to experience flow can differ from person to person. Studies suggest that those with autotelic personalities tend to experience more flow. Such people tend to do things for their own sake rather than chasing some distant external goal. This type of personality is distinguished by certain meta-skills such as high interest in life, persistence, and low self-centeredness.

In a recent study investigating associations between flow and the five personality traits, researchers found a negative correlation between flow and neuroticism and a positive correlation between flow and conscientiousness (Ullén et al., 2012).

It can be speculated that neurotic individuals are more prone to anxiety and self-criticism, which are conditions that can disrupt a flow state. In contrast, conscientious individuals are more likely to spend time mastering challenging tasks–an important piece of the flow experience, especially in the workplace.


What Happens in the Brain During Flow?

The state of flow has rarely been investigated from a neuropsychological perspective, but it’s becoming a focus of some researchers. According to Arne Dietrich, it has been associated with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (2003).

The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions such as self-reflective consciousness, memory, temporal integration, and working memory. It’s an area that’s responsible for our conscious and explicit state of mind.

However, in a state of flow, this area is believed to temporarily down-regulate in a process called transient hypofrontality. This temporary inactivation of the prefrontal area may trigger the feelings of distortion of time, loss of self-consciousness, and loss of inner critic.

Moreover, the inhibition of the prefrontal lobe may enable the implicit mind to take over, allowing more brain areas to communicate freely and engage in a creative process (Dietrich, 2004). In other research, it’s been hypothesized that the flow state is related to the brain’s dopamine reward circuitry since curiosity is highly amplified during flow (Gruber, Gelman, & Ranganath, 2014).


How to Achieve Flow

It’s important to note that one can’t experience flow if distractions disrupt the experience (Nakamura et al., 2009). Thus, to experience this state, one has to stay away from the attention-robbers common in a modern fast-paced life. A first step would be to turn off your smartphone when seeking flow.

Also, the balance of perceived challenges and skills are important factors in flow (Nakamura et al., 2009). On the one hand, when a challenge is bigger than one’s level of skills, one becomes anxious and stressed. On the other hand, when the level of skill exceeds the size of the challenge, one becomes bored and distracted.

Since the experience of this state is just in the middle, the balance is essential.

“Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand”

(Nakamura et al., 2009).

The experience of flow in everyday life is an important component of creativity and well-being. Indeed, it can be described as a key aspect of eudaimonia, or self-actualization, in an individual. Since it is intrinsically rewarding, the more you practice it, the more you seek to replicate these experiences, which help lead to a fully engaged and happy life.


Don’t Flow Alone

In one study, researchers from St. Bonaventure University asked students to participate in activities that would induce flow either in a team or by themselves (Walker, 2008).

Students rated flow to be more enjoyable when in a team rather than when they were alone. Students also found it more joyful if the team members were able to talk to one another. This finding was replicated even when skill level and challenge were equal (Walker, 2008).

A final study found that being in an interdependent group while experiencing flow is more enjoyable than one that is not (Walker, 2008). So, if you want to get more enjoyment out of flow, try engaging in activities together.

This echoes psychologist Christopher Peterson’s conclusion that positive psychology can be summed up in three words: “Other people matter.”


What is The Motivation Behind Your Flow State?

Most conscious actions require motivation, and there are two basic motivation types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation is when you do something because you love it. Csikszentmihalyi said the highest intrinsic motivation is a flow state where self-consciousness is lost, one surrenders completely to the moment, and time means nothing (2013). Think of a competent musician playing without thinking, or a surfer catching a great wave and riding it with joy.

Extrinsic motivation is when your motivation to succeed is controlled externally. That includes doing something to avoid getting into trouble or working hard to earn more money. That type of motivation is short-lived. A good kind of extrinsic motivation is when you are practicing to get better but you still need a tutor or teacher to validate your efforts.


Using Images To Boost Confidence And Flow

Psychologists Koehn et al. (2013) conducted research into different performance contexts and the production of the flow state, looking specifically at the way imagery and confidence levels interact to create flow.

Participants completed imagery and confidence measures before undertaking a field test. Measuring the performance of a tennis groundstroke, the researchers found a significant interaction between imagery and confidence (Koehn et al., 2013).

Koehn and colleagues were able to demonstrate positive associations between imagery, confidence and the inducement of a flow state, which in turn predicts increased performance (2013). In essence, the conduction of a flow state is seen to significantly increase performance levels in a given external task (Koehn et al., 2013).


TED Talk On Flow: The Secret To Happiness

We leave you with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 2004 TED Talk, which has more than 5 million views (and counting).

We’d love to hear from you. How often do you experience flow, and what type of activities lead to this experience?

Drop us a comment below or continue reading about the kind of activities that induce flow here.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Positive Psychology Exercises for free.


  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The psychology of happiness: The classic work on how to achieve happiness. London, UK: Rider.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2004). Flow, the secret to happiness [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Random House.
  • Dietrich, A. (2003). Functional neuroanatomy of altered states of consciousness: The transient hypofrontality hypothesis. Consciousness and Cognition12(2), 231-256.
  • Dietrich, A. (2004). Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow. Consciousness and Cognition13(4), 746-761.
  • Gruber, M. J., Gelman, B. D., & Ranganath, C. (2014). States of curiosity modulate hippocampus-dependent learning via the dopaminergic circuit. Neuron84(2), 486-496.
  • Koehn, S., Morris, T., & Watt, A. P. (2013). Flow state in self-paced and externally-paced performance contexts: An examination of the flow model. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 14(6), 787-795.
  • Lickerman, A. (21 April 2013). How to reset your happiness set point: The surprising truth about what science says makes us happier in the long term. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201304/how-reset-your-happiness-set-point.
  • Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow theory and research. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology, 195-206.
  • Ullén, F., de Manzano, Ö., Almeida, R., Magnusson, P. K., Pedersen, N. L., Nakamura, J., … & Madison, G. (2012). Proneness for psychological flow in everyday life: Associations with personality and intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences52(2), 167-172.
  • Walker, C. J. (2010) Experiencing flow: Is doing it together better than doing it alone? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 5-11.


What our readers think

  1. David T

    Just wanted to leave a word of appreciation for this post since it was one of the first things I read on this subject and led me to Mihaly’s TED talk, book, and many other studies about flow. We even subsequently named our community Flow Club in honor of the shared pursuit of the state of flow: https://www.flow.club. Thanks Mike, Nicole, the Positive Psychology community, and of course the late and great Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

  2. Jessica

    I’m wondering if the variables to reach a state of flow depend more or less on the person? Like an adrenaline junkie or someone with adhd, or other Neurodivergent (I might have spelled that wrong)

    • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

      Hi Jessica,

      Great question! Yes, it is absolutely the case that different activities will produce flow states for different people. For instance, while one person may enter a flow state while gardening, another may do so while drawing or running a marathon. The key is to find an activity that the individual is passionate about and finds enjoyable.

      The important thing, once the right activity has been found, is that it must be challenging enough to require the individual to stretch their skill level just beyond their current capabilities. So for an adrenaline junkie who has, say, skydived several times before — this activity may not petrify them in quite the same way it would a skydiving beginner. Rather, their focus might shift to self-set challenges surrounding how they glide and fall through the air, thereby producing flow.

      Regarding flow and neuro-divergence, you may find this article by Hupfeld et al. (2019) about ADHD and the experience of hyperfocus (similar to flow) an interesting read.

      – Nicole | Community Manager

      • Aisha bedair

        Hi, Iam wondering if we can measure psyckological flow on students with 12-14 years , which scale can use ?

        • Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.

          Hi Aisha,

          I’m struggling to find scales that have been validated for use with this age group. However, one idea might be to use an approach similar to Inal and Cagiltay (2007) by taking a more general scale and administering it using an interview format. That way, you have a chance to ensure the respondent is fully understanding the meaning of the statements before responding.

          I hope this helps!

          – Nicole | Community Manager

  3. Art Marr

    Flow Experience Explained in 2 minutes

    It has recently been scientifically demonstrated (link below) that reward uncertainty or novelty can improve the sensory experience of high value reward. In other words, popcorn actually tastes better when we are watching exciting movies, and tastes worse when we are watching paint dry. This is due to what are called dopamine-opioid interactions, or the fact that the dopamine activity (elicited by positive novel events, and responsible for a state of arousal, but not pleasure) interacts with our pleasures (as reflected by opioid activity), and can actually stimulate opioid activity, which is reflected in self-reports of greater pleasure.

    Opioid release occurs when we are consuming food and drink, but it also occurs when our musculature is in a state of inactivity or rest, which is why relaxation feels good. Thus it follows that any behaviors which have a lot of positive reward uncertainty (creating art, climbing mountains, etc.) will stimulate naturally occurring opioid activity in concurrent resting states, with subsequent self-reports of high arousal and pleasure, which precisely describes all flow experiences. In other words, flow is simply opioid-dopamine interactions due to pursuing positive novel events during a state of rest. Furthermore, as dopamine release scales with the salience of the activity, so will the resulting flow experience. We also see this for flow experiences, where the pleasure and arousal scales with the importance of the task. Thus a rock climber who is risking his life would have a more intense experience than if he were attached to tether that would break his fall.

    A longer explanation from affective neuroscience is provided on pp. 80-85 the open-source book on the psychology of rest linked below, as well as a simple procedure on pp. 47-49 for flow. The book is based on the work of the distinguished affective neuroscientist Kent Berridge, who was kind to review for accuracy and endorse the work.

    Rauwolf, P., et al. (2021) Reward uncertainty – as a ‘psychological salt’- can alter the sensory experience and consumption of high-value rewards in young healthy adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (prepub)


    Berridge Lab, University of Michigan https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/berridge-lab/

  4. Vladimir Drkulec

    I have experienced flow when playing chess, dancing, at a party, in karate class, in aikido class, in a fight when attacked by two people, in tense situations where a fight seemed imminent, while out in nature, when walking. The compression or expansion of time seemed to happen so that you perceived yourself to be moving slow as molasses while the other people around you were moving even slower. In one case, I played a chess game that lasted almost 13 hours and was barely conscious of the passage of time. Only when the game was over did I realize that I had skipped lunch and was well past the dinner hour.

  5. Bret Bernhoft

    Flow State is an excellent example of human potential, and what’s possible when the individual integrates intentionality into their life. What I mean to say is that, in my opinion, the real value of flow is as an indicator of having reached a new peak or state of consciousness.

    This article does a nice job of touching on that. Especially concerning motivation, which is at the heart of intentionality to a large extent.

    • LaoTzu

      You missing the point. Flow is not about maximizing performance or reaching peak ability. Flow is about enjoying what you are doing so much that you annihilate your ego, annihilate your sense of time and you are one with your action.

      • Mike Oppland

        Fair point. It can also be argued that the state of “ego annihilation” that you are referring to also tends to be the state where performance is maximized. As a basketball player, I was playing the best when I was in a flow state -not focused on my ego, not focused on time, only focused on the task at hand. I believe your point strengthens the idea of a true flow state.

        • Mihaly

          Can you only enjoy playing ball games when you’re playing “at your best” and presumably winning? Sounds like you’re way short of destroying your ego.
          Think about it, if you need to be pumped up in competitive challenges you’re probably just ODing on adrenaline anyway, so you will be able to jump a bit higher and bounce the ball better.

      • Ursula Lampron

        Yes exactly!

  6. Vinesh Sukumaran

    I’ve found that flow tends to happen quite naturally when you do something that you love.
    This could mean an activity that you love doing like playing the guitar or reading or working out. It could also mean that you get to experience more and more periods of flow if you are doing a job that you love or are chasing a dream and are engaged in it.
    Here’s something that I spoke about a few weeks ago that highlights this exact point and why it’s important to not wait to do what you love


      I work at Amazon, making my rate is very critical, also to not be off task… Getting all my supplies in order so I can be more productive in processing returns I try to make it a flow process. ( ie. Kaizen)

  7. Art Marr

    Why the Flow Model is Illogical
    On the surface, the graphical representation of the flow channel is simple to understand. Just plot your moment-to-moment challenge against your moment to moment skill, and voila, you can predict what your emotions are going to be. For any task, the problem is that although demand moves up or down dependent upon the exigencies of the moment, skill should be relatively stable during or within the performance, and only change, and for the most part gradually between performances. Thus, one may accomplish a task that from moment to moment varies in demand, but the skills brought to that task are the same regardless of demand. What this means is that for any one-performance set, skill is not a variable, but a constant. That is, one cannot adjust skill against demand during performance because skill can only change negligibly during performance, or in other words does not move. Thus, for performance that requires any skill set, the only variable that can be manipulated is demand. For moment to moment behavior the adjustable variable that elicits flow is demand and demand alone. But that leaves us with figuring out what demand exactly is.
    A demand may be defined as simple response-outcome contingency. Thus, if you do X, Y will occur or not occur. It is thus inferred that demand entails a fully predictable means-end relationship or expectancy. But the inference that the act-outcome expectancy is always fully predictable is not true. Although a response-outcome is fully predictable when skill overmatches demand, as demand rises to match and surpass skill, uncertainty in the prediction of a performance outcome also rises. At first, the uncertainty is positive, and reaches its highest level when a skill matches the level of demand. This represents a ‘touch and go’ experience wherein every move most likely will result in a positive outcome in a calm or non-stressed state. It is here that many individuals report euphoric flow like states. Passing that, the moment-to-moment uncertainty of a bad outcome increases, along with a corresponding rise in tension and anxiety.
    Momentary positive uncertainty as a logical function of the moment to moment variance occurring when demand matches skill does not translate into a predictor for flow, and is ignored in Csikszentmihalyi’s model because uncertainty by implication does not elicit affect. Rather, affect is imputed to metaphorical concepts of immersion, involvement, and focused attention that are not grounded to any specific neurological processes. However, the fact that act-outcome discrepancy in relaxed states alone has been correlated with specific neuro-chemical changes in the brain that map to euphoric, involved, timeless , or immersive states, namely the co-activation of dopamine and opioid systems due to continuous positive act/outcome discrepancy and relaxation, narrows the cause of flow to abstract elements of perception rather than metaphorical aspects of performance. These abstract perceptual elements denote information and can easily be defined and be reliably mapped to behavior.
    A final perceptual aspect of demand that correlates with the elicitation of dopamine is the importance of the result or goal of behavior. Specifically, dopaminergic systems are activated by the in tandem perception of discrepancy and the predicted utility or value of result of a response contingency. The flow model maps behavior to demand and skill, but not only is skill fixed, so is the importance of the goal state that predicates demand. However, the relative importance of the goal state correlates with the intensity of affect. For example, representing a task that matches his skills, a rock climber calmly ascending a difficult cliff would be euphoric if the moment to moment result was high, namely avoiding a fatal fall, but would be far less so if he was attached to a tether, and would suffer only an injury to his pride is he were to slip. Finally, the flow experience correlates also with a state of relaxation and the concomitant activation of opioid systems along with a dopamine induced arousal state that together impart a feeling of euphoria, which would also be predicted as choices in flow are singular and clear and therefore avoid perseverative cognition. It is the sense of relaxation induced pleasure and a feeling of attentive arousal that constitutes the flow experience.
    This interpretation is based on the work of the distinguished neuroscientist Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan, a leading theorist on emotion and incentive motivation, who was kind to vet the work for accuracy and endorse the finished manuscript.
    Berridge’s Site
    I offer a more detailed theoretical explanation in pp. 47-52, and pp 82-86 of my open source book on the neuroscience of resting states, ‘The Book of Rest’, linked below.

  8. Allen

    I agree with him that intense concentration (flow) is exhilarating. I know those feelings when it comes to meditative practice with music and intense focus during my other hobby, billiards.
    I do disagree with a couple of points. We live in a small house that is cluttered (we are both musicians), needs repair, and can barely afford repairs, let alone another house (at least $200000 in our are to move up). Our house is as if it is jinxed with surprise problems over the years. We are making plans to get out of it. A bigger house would relieve a lot of stress because we would have a place for necessities. And thus – happiness (I realize all things need repair).
    Secondly, my wife and I have always enjoyed time together watching TV. However- it’s not the usual mind-numbing, idiotic sitcoms or predictable dramas from network TV. We watch complex mysteries and/or documentaries that challenge our minds.
    Regardless – I enjoyed this article.

  9. deezina

    Two points I would like to mention about this state of mind when I experience it:
    1) A particular topic or problem becomes an obsession, sometimes for days or even weeks
    2) The ability to critique what you are doing goes away
    I don’t know whether these are separate personality traits, but if they are consistent with the flow experience, then I wonder if it is something positive.

    • cordelia

      Yes, I experienced both this points too. And it is good, that I found your comment below this article. Every thing has it’s “dark” side (not because it is bad, but we just don’t see it), state of flow also has one and our experience is from there. So that’s why I don’t accept positive psychology as whole concept – because it pays attention only to the “lightened” side of things. But of life consists of balance between two this sides.

  10. Arockiam Singarayar

    Dear Sir,
    I liked reading the “FLOW”. I do experience flow when I am playing tennis, reading about Positive Psychology, playing with children, doing a longer meditation (two to three hours), watching and walking amidst green garden/wood.
    However, it is my reservation: what if one has skills level less than required to complete a task…..at the thought of ‘i would not be able to complete’ one would give up trying and hence totally lose any chance of encountering flow (a partial flow!) or the consequent happiness. Would it mean that those who do not have skills matching the task at hand are excluded from experiencing happiness? In the same line of thought, it is hard for me to separate ‘intrinsic motivation’ from ‘extrinsic motivation’ in real life. Also theoretically these two kinds of motivation may be justified in writing (only in some limited and convenient examples). I shall be happy to read more and learn more. Of course, with critical curiosity. Thanks.

  11. art marr

    Affective Neuroscience and the Flow Experience: A different explanation
    In affective neuroscience, incentives embody affective states that reflect attentive arousal as mediated by dopamine systems, and pleasure, as mediated by opioid systems. The nerve cells or nuclei of both systems are proximally located in the mid-brain and can activate each other. For example, looking forward to a pleasure accentuates the pleasure, and a pleasurable experience perks up attentive arousal.
    Dopamine release can occur as a phasic or intermittent response, as when our attention ebbs and flows as a function or our momentary fluctuating interest and boredom. It also occurs as a tonic or sustained response in order to maintain a baseline level of alertness that allows us to go about our lives. Opioid release occurs as a phasic response when we sample our daily pleasures, but it also may be a tonic response, but only when the covert musculature is in an inactive or relaxed state. When an individual is tense or anxious, tonic opioid activity is suppressed. This makes evolutionary sense, as resting conserves an animal’s caloric resources, and animals in the wild sustain their survivability through the dual incentive of alertness for predators while at a pleasurable state of rest. (As your lounging cat would attest, if it could speak).
    From these facts, certain predictions about behavior may be made that conform with empiric reality. For example, peak or flow experiences that reflect heightened attentive arousal and pleasure only occur when an individual is both relaxed and is aroused by highly interesting or salient behavior (e.g. creativity, sporting events). This observation can also be practically confirmed (or falsified!). Simply attain a continuous resting state (mindfulness protocols are best for this) and couple it with imminent or actual behavior that is meaningful or salient, and the more salient, the greater the effect. Dopaminergic activity scales with the salience of goal states, which in turn stimulates opioid systems, and the resulting ecstatic experience becomes in a certain sense addictive.
    For a more detailed explanation see pp.47-52, 82-86 on the linked treatise on the psychology of resting and flow states. I am also at the site doctormezmer for a more impolite take on psychology.

    • Eric M Colona

      The assumption that the chemicals preceed the thoughts negates the possibility of self-direction and assumes causality when only correlation exists.

  12. Omer Admani

    When I am doing Mathematics (or Writing), I become completely oblivious to my surroundings. I cannot eat or sleep. I cannot let the matter at hand go. Particularly, if it is a problem that is engaging. When I stop doing it, a minute later I restart out of compulsion.
    I don’t experience “group flow”. I hate being part of groups precisely because I only function under the state of flow. My attention is so focused, laser like, that it becomes hard to interact with people. I usually ignore them or get annoyed with them when I am at work. It is like going in a trance.
    This is the reason why I also underperform on exams. If I get stuck on a question, there is no letting it go. As you said, time flies. I end up devoting half the time of the exam on that question. Because, I always believe I can solve it and that I am close to the solution. Sometimes, begrudgingly, then, I have to let the question go. By that time, I have messed up the exam or compromised my score.
    Great article, though.

  13. Zoltan Buzady

    great contribution and compilation. Here is Prof. Csikszentmihalyi’s OFFICIAL Flow-promoting Leadership Development Program and #SeriosGame: http://www.fligby.com and http://www.flowleadership.org
    dr. Zoltan Buzady, Director, Leadership & Flow Global Research Network.

  14. Janes

    Awesome article.
    My question is this, can you constantly be in a state of flow 24/7. If it’s not possible, could you please explain why same as it is possible
    Secondly can you have a spiritual awaking at the same time as having a gamma awaking.

    • Sweet_migo

      I don’t know if you’ll ever read this but spiritual teachers through the ages speak about the loss of self. This is now often referred to as “ego death.” Eckhart Tolle speaks almost solely on this topic in his book “The power of now.” It’s all about living in the moment and losing thoughts of the future and past. I would highly recommend it.

    • MJG

      Without going into detail, I know that a person can be in a flow like state for 3 days. All day.
      I’m also familiar with being in flow, not all day long, but much of it, for a period of three months. (That’s working on a programming project, planned in detail, so can be created again, obviously with a different project!)

  15. Birgit

    I personally find it much harder to get into a state of flow when I am with other people because I have to focus on them… I don’t know how many students were being asked in that research… It depends on your personality I guess. I’d say I am rather introverted and to get into a real state of Flow I just need to be on my own. Also if you yre a bit of an “empath” I guess you just get to distracted by others people energy… At University I hated group work… I am just not as productive. It’s good to meet up and discuss the outcomes but that’s about it.

  16. David Holden


  17. Calaen

    I am starting to experience flow on a daily basis if I set out to experience it

    • Maria

      This article was very useful. It got me to the point of understanding apathy and positiveness.

  18. mitch

    This is a really good article I’ve to learn new stuff about the Flow States and added to my knowledge. I was really wanted to dig more about flow states and I also found more interesting topics about it here in C Wilson (Meloncellihttps://www.cwilsonmeloncelli.com/flow-blog-2/) and I love it.

  19. GianPaolo DiCocco

    “Flow, the secret to happiness.” Keep in mind that there are many secrets to happiness, not just “flow.” The key to becoming an authority in any field, especially psychology, is to just make things up that sound great and present them dogmatically or with determination. That’s pretty much it. If you have the authoritative backbone, you’ll be well known in psychology. That’s how I will approach my psychology education.

    • Dr G

      There is truth in what you say. A key to success in and out of academia is to find a word (and thus a sub-field) you can own. “Flow” is a winner. Zimbardo did it with “Shyness.” Take a peek at many recent one-word self-help book titles. Good luck to you. See you at the top.

  20. Matt Wilson

    Mike, thanks for a well written article on a very interesting topic. I can attest to flow as I am a tragic mountain bike rider. When I am in the flow, it is an absolute blessing. When I am not in the flow it is a chore and/or I usually crash. Having walked away from a fairly nasty situation late last year, I am now ensuring that I balance my skills (for what they are worth) and the challenge presented by the terrain/conditions. As a result I am enjoying my mountain bike sessions and crashing far less.

  21. Albany

    Thank you for writing this article and providing the TED Talk. I hate to admit that I stopped a 1/3 of the way through his book because there is a lot of material to digest. However, from what I read and what I took away from it is valuable to me or anyone else striving to achieve a state of flow and overall happiness. I will pick it up and try reading it again, but I did greatly appreciate your breakdown of it here.

  22. mirella jaber

    Steve Larkin, then you are one of the few blessed ones. My daughter who is an architect has been making her way into this craft, and now I understand, for the same reasons.
    Maybe it’s time that we, collectively, step out of the biblical “original sin” frame of mind, to finally grow up and assume our godly status.

    • Colin

      Stepping out of the ‘original sin’ framework is to step out of reality…

  23. Ste4ve Larkin

    I am a potter. I have to be careful when I go into my studio, because I lose all track off time….like it does not exist. That would be OK, except there are other things I have to do in a day.

  24. Jackie Trottmann

    Thank you for this thorough post on Flow! I believe Flow goes even deeper in a spiritual sense – when you are doing what you love, people and resources flow into your life as well. That’s where the help from others comes in. We certainly need more flow in the work place with so many people disengaged. I’m aspiring to live my life in Flow, it’s where joy is found too. Thanks again!

    • Lynn W

      This is so true! The synchronicities happen effortlessly, you meet the right people at the fight time for the right project. If I’m around a lot of negative people, talk or disruption it’s a grind. Like navigating your way through quicksand.

  25. Dr. zoltan Buzady

    I also recommend Running Flow (book) by Csikszentmihalyi!

  26. Nasrin

    I got interested in flow just recently. This article made me rethink my understanding of the concept. Thank you

  27. sarah

    Hi,thank you so much because of this article.
    I really enjoyed to read it and felt “flow”.
    also, when I painting, reading, taking photo, dancing and writing, I feel “flow”.

  28. Corri

    I realize this is an older post, however, I am looking for which book and what page number of the quote you used, “Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand.” I would like to use it for an article. I have looked over the book and cannot find it.
    Can anyone help and respond? thanks

  29. ANNE

    Great explanation and read. Are there tools and/or exercises that can be done to enhance your flow state times or is it a matter of spending more time doing what you love? Agree entirely that smartphones need to go. I’d like a dumb phone!

  30. Arthur J. Marr

    Good site!! Correct in every way, and even affective neuroscience confirms the importance of flow.
    Indeed, flow is very, very important, indeed it is more important than meditation or mindfulness. However, those in flow ARE in relaxed states, however, they are also in a dopamine induced state of high attentive arousal. The resulting combination results in a state of bliss of flow.
    Here is my explanation of flow from affective neuroscience again from an earlier post rephrased a little.
    Individuals who engage in tasks in which they perceive a consistent and high degree of present and anticipated novel and positive outcomes or ‘meaning’ (e.g. sporting events, creative activity, doing productive work) commonly report a feeling of high alertness and arousal that may be construed to be due to the activation of mid-brain dopamine systems. However, a significant subset of these individuals also report a feeling of pleasure that is characteristic of opioid release, but these reports occur only in non-stressed situations when the musculature is relaxed. Since relaxation engages opioid systems in the brain, and because opioid and dopamine systems stimulate each other, the resulting blissful states require the simultaneous engagement of resting protocols and meaningful cognitive states, behaviors that are very easily achieved. In this way, which engages both resting protocols and an active sense of meaning, both dopamine and opioid release can be increased in the brain, and provide a level of deep rest, pleasure, or bliss that can effectively mitigate stress and anxiety. This is what the ‘flow state’ is. P73-p77 of the following free little book presents this argument in much greater detail

  31. Anika

    Loved this Seph!!! Flow so easily and simply explained!

  32. Arthur J. Marr

    Dr. C. describes flow from a ‘top down’ perspective, or from metaphors of daily experience. Below is a ‘bottoms up’ perspective that derives flow from affective neuroscience. It doesn’t invalidate what Dr. C. says, but complements and informs it.
    To wit, highly meaningful or challenging behaviors elicit the activity of mid-brain dopamine systems, which cause a feeling of aroused alertness, but not pleasure. Because an individual performing highly meaningful or challenging activities is not engaged in perseverative thinking (rumination, worry, or distraction), relaxation also occurs, which in turn raises opioid levels in the brain. It is the combined interaction of both systems that elicits the state of euphoria that is flow, as opioid and dopamine systems mutually enhance or ‘bootstrap’ each other in the brain. This ‘bottoms up’ perspective is ultimately much simpler than Dr. C’s often convoluted perspective, and suggests procedures for eliciting flow that are much simpler too.
    A much more detailed analysis of the flow experience is found on pages 71-74 of the following treatise on affective states and rest, which is of course free.

  33. Seph Fontane Pennock

    This post has been updated on the 16th of December 2016. It has been made more extensive and more external links and resources have been added. Please enjoy!

  34. Renata Grudic

    Nice quick explanation of flow. As an educator I love seeing students when they are engaged in their learning. You actually get to witness flow happening right in front of you 🙂 Last year we trialled teaching and explaining the notion of flow to a group of Year 10 boys, using surfing, music and gamification as examples. They got the idea very quickly. When then continued to discuss what contributes to flow … and interstingly enough … one student asked if we should be in flow at all times. That lead to further discussions 🙂 Thanks for sharing Steph.

  35. Sandip Roy

    Short and sweet, Seph! Loved this quick read! Carry on, mate!

  36. Marcus Sneed

    Each human is divergent from the other. So, of course, achieving flow is variable upon the persons interests. The key ingredient, I believe, is comfort-ability. Achieving flow is entirely dependent upon the variables of the situation itself.
    I do concur, participating in “flow” among individuals who enjoy taking part in an action as a collective “is better than going at it alone.” In continuation, I find it much more enjoyable to confabulate with friends who share that same ideology when debating on a team.
    Equally important is our motivation that drives us to achieve “flow”.
    I conclude that “flow” can be achieved regardless of motivation, whether it be intrinsic or extrinsic only determines the laboriousness of transition into “flow”.
    In conclusion, we are all different, when coupled with a collective that is partaking in an activity that we enjoy,achieving flow with be significantly more enjoyable. Individuals will feel significantly more rewarded when “becoming lost” as a collective than if the individual were to practice the activity alone, regardless of the presiding motivations to achieve this state of mind.

    • Seph Fontane Pennock

      Thank you for your insightful comment Marcus! You have an interesting take on the flow state 🙂


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