If you are looking to understand flow, we have put together a comprehensive introduction to flow that outlines the past five decades of flow research.

9 Dimensions to Flow

In one of the largest psychology studies ever conducted, spanning over twenty years, Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi found that when people felt their best and performed their best they were in a state of 'flow'.

Csikszentimihalyi continues to research flow until today, and outlines much of his original work in his renowned book, “Flow: Beyond boredom and anxiety”.

Csikszentimihalyi’s research has proven robust across culture, gender and activity and still underpins how scientists measure low today.

Csikszentimihalyi’s research found that the low state experience was comprised of nine key dimensions:

1. Challenge-skills balance

Flow requires an equal balance between the skill level and the challenge. If the challenge is too demanding, we get frustrated. If it is too easy, we get bored. In a flow experience, we feel engaged by the challenge, but not overwhelmed.

2. Action-awareness merging

We are often aware of and thinking about something that has happened, or might happen, in another time or place. But in flow, we are completely absorbed in the task at hand.

3. Clear Goals

In many everyday situations, there are contradictory demands and it is sometimes quite unclear what should occupy our attention. However, in a flow experience, we have a clear purpose and good grasp of what to do next.

4. Unambiguous feedback

Direct and immediate feedback is continuously present so that we are able to constantly adjust our reactions to meet the current demands. When we are in flow, we know how well we are doing, all the time.

5. Concentration on the task at hand

High levels of concentration narrows our attention excluding any unnecessary distractions. Because we are absorbed in the activity, we are only aware of what is relevant to the task at hand, and we do not think about unrelated things.

6. Sense of control

An absolute sense of personal control exists, as if we are able to do anything we want to do.

7. Loss of self-consciousness

A lack of awareness of bodily needs as self-consciousness disappears. We often spend a lot of mental energy monitoring how we appear to others. In a flow state, we are too involved in the activity to care about protecting our ego.

6. Sense of control

An absolute sense of personal control exists, as if we are able to do anything we want to do.

8. Transformation of time

A distorted sense of time occurs. Time either slows down or flies by when we are completely engaged in the moment.

9. Autotelic experience

Flow is an intrinsically rewarding activity; the activity becomes autotelic, an end in itself, done for its own sake.

Over two decades Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi conducted a diverse number of research projects to understand how people find happiness, creativity, and meaning in their actions. Whilst examining his participants he observed that their most absorbed and favoured moments, which brought unrivalled emerging motivation, occurred when their thoughts and actions 'flowed'. This optimal state of being was summarised into the above nine descriptive dimensions of the experience; the first three often referred to as the pre-conditions to flow.

“Optimal experience is something that you make happen.”
Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi
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