Flow Theory (Csikszentmihalyi)
Flow theory: this article explains the Flow theory by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful positive psychology tool.
What is Flow?
“Go with the Flow” has become an established saying, but was originally invented by the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He is one of the founders of the so-called “positive psychology”.
Everything they do seems to be easy and controlled. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes that people are happiest when they are in the state of utter concentration and completely absorbed in the activity they are carrying out. This Flow is identical to the feeling of being “in the zone” or “in the groove”.
The Flow Theory of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi represents the emotional state someone can be while undertaking a task or activity.
This happens on the basis of the two weighing ratios the challenge level and the skills level that are balanced against each other. From this point he describes eight emotional states of mind someone can be in:
Comparable to a state of indifference and a lack of interest.
No interest in surroundings, dull, fatigued.
Calm or the absence of excitement.
By worrying the attention is shifted towards negativity; (imaginary) problems become bigger and solutions do not seem to exist.
By practising, skills become automations, with the risk that the skills level is higher than the challenge to perform a certain task.
May cause someone to freeze and stagnate.
By increased stimuli people respond more attentively to their environment.
Mental state in which people are completely focused on the activity or task, because of which this is carried out successfully.
Conditions within the Flow Theory
Only during a big challenge or high skill the flow can develop itself. In the centre of the Flow theory all frames of mind come together and the challenges and skills are of an average level. Depending on a number of factors, growth towards flow can be effected according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
The three most important factors in this are:
- Formulating clear objectives in relation to the tasks and the activities.
- A good balance between the challenges of the activities and the understanding of one’s own skills.
- Good interim feedback (feedback loop) and after the tasks and activities have been carried out and (timely) adjustments if necessary.
The Flow theory in practice
The Flow theory can make an excellent contribution on the work floor and it can create improvement and increase effectiveness.
- because of clear objectives work is carried out more effectively;
- because of a heightened state of concentration people are better focused on carrying out their tasks and activities;
- by developing self-confidence skills will increase;
- by understanding the positive effect of feedback it is possible to carry out a timely intervention;
- working well together and synergy create innovation;
- there is an opportunity to develop personal skills and to be stimulated by personal coaching.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation of the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow Theory or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for achieving flow?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. Basic Books.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. Jossey-Bass.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Rathunde, K. (1993). The measurement of flow in everyday life: Towards a theory of emergent motivation. In Jacobs, J.E.. Developmental perspectives on motivation. Nebraska symposium on motivation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M., Abuhamdeh, S., Elliot, A. & Nakamura, J. (2005). Handbook of Competence and Motivation. The Guilford Press.
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