What does being ‘in flow’ mean, and how to achieve it?

Finally… the post about ‘flow’ that I have promised to a few of you for a number of weeks now…

What does being 'in flow' mean, and how to achieve it - Flows comes when skill meets the challenge   //   www.zestebiz.com

I was trying to work out why this was such a hard post to write… I think it’s because I was trying too hard to make it ‘factual’ and based on research I’d done instead of my own experience and understanding of flow.

I came across a great post this morning, which reminded me to simply write what I am passionate about instead of what I think I should be writing.

This quote in particular struck me:

   Our life experiences and our hearts create the lens through which we view the world… and what a gift to show future generations what life looks like through my lens. – The Photographer Within

So here is my take on ‘flow’ and being ‘in flow’ based on my life experiences and what I have read over the years including Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book titled Flow – a tough read, but well worth it.

What does being ‘in flow’ mean?

Mihaly’s TEDx talk about the same topic is a great synopsis of the book and gives a few definitions of being ‘in flow’ including Australian Olympic Skater, Susan Jackson talking about ‘flow’ in Figure Skating…

   It was just one of those programs that clicked. I mean everything went right, everything felt good… it’s just such a rush, like you feel it could go on and on, like you don’t want to stop because it’s going so well. It’s almost as though you don’t have to think, it’s like everything goes automatically without thinking… it’s like you’re on automatic pilot, so you don’t have any thoughts. You hear the music but you’re not aware that you’re hearing it, because it’s a part of it all.”

In order to experience these periods of being ‘in flow’ Mihaly’s studies have found, with plenty of great examples in his book, that the following eight major components need to be in place:

  1. We confront tasks we have a chance of completing;
  2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing;
  3. The task has clear goals;
  4. The task provides immediate feedback;
  5. One acts with deep, but effortless involvement, that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life;
  6. One exercises a sense of control over their actions;
  7. Concern for the self disappears, yet, paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over; and
  8. The sense of duration of time is altered.

My take on ‘flow’, through my lens…

On a more simple level though, I’ve personally experienced flow when the challenge of a task matches (or slightly exceeds) my skills. Yes the other components are equally important, but I think the essence of ‘flow’ is summarised by this diagram below.

What does being 'in flow' mean, and how to achieve it - Flows comes when skill meets the challenge   //   www.zestebiz.comMihaly uses a more detailed diagram in his TEDx talk to demonstrate different feelings and emotions when the amount of perceived skill vs the perceived challenge change slightly.

But, keeping things simple and using the diagram above, when the challenge matches the skill level (approximately), this is most likely to result in an individual experiencing ‘flow’.

When the challenge exceeds the skill level it is likely that anxiety and self doubt will start to emerge and cloud the individual’s thoughts impacting their performance and hence their ability to experience moments of being ‘in flow’.

Conversely, when the skill level exceeds the challenge, it is more than likely that an individual will quickly become bored with the task at hand and less like to experience being ‘in flow’.

My study into ‘finding flow’

I did a great real-life experiment on myself back in 2011 on ‘finding flow’.

Three times a day (at the same times each day) I would stop and note down what activity I was doing, the skill level I believed I had and the level of challenge I perceived in the task I was doing at that moment. I also recorded how I felt and whether I thought I was in a state of ‘flow’ or not.

Generally, if I was experiencing ‘flow’ it would be a few moments before I noticed the alert I’d set up to remind me to document the above.

After collecting about three months of data (fairly diligently, or not haha! Perhaps sporadically would be a better choice of word), not only did I confirm this theory of a state of ‘flow’ resulting from the perceived challenge matching the perceived skill, but I started to realise I was experiencing ‘flow’ in situations where similar characteristics were at play.

Perhaps it was heightened perception, as around the same time I started doing more work with my top five strengths, but I noticed that I was more likely to experience ‘flow’ when working with others or when I was doing investigative or creative work that required problem solving if I was working by myself.

All three of these qualities: leadership, creativity and curiosity are in my top five strengths.

Mihaly’s TEDx Talk on ‘Flow, the secret to Happiness’

For a more in depth understanding of ‘flow’ I’d definitely recommend you check out Mihaly’s TEDx talk:


Have you ever experienced being in a state of ‘flow’? Please share your experience and what you noticed about it in the comments 🙂



6 thoughts on “What does being ‘in flow’ mean, and how to achieve it?

  1. Thanks Kylah for this clear explanation of flow. it gave me a different way to think about it, but one that I know makes perfect sense.

    For me the times when I feel most in the flow are either when physically immersing myself in something creative, like singing, acting or dancing – where you feel your whole being is focusing on something almost outside of your ‘normal’ self. Or when focusing on something at an intellectual level, like thinking through a theory or writing.
    Kathryn Bryant recently posted…7 Top Mindfulness Quotes and what they revealMy Profile

    1. Thanks for sharing Kathryn. Yes I’ve noticed I’m often in flow when doing something creative. Perhaps it’s that requirement to use the left brain, as well as the right brain which so many of us default to in day-to-day living. I find I’m often in flow when I’m ready a great book, so would agree with your second point too. Now I just need to focus on creating more of these creative and/or intellectual opportunities in my life 🙂

      For me, I know being around people is also stimulating and in certain circumstances results in periods of flow, so I have to be mindful of this working from home.

  2. I love the flow, when it comes… it’s a pretty special place to be. I just wish I could stop distracting myself with facebook, I don’t know why I’m sabotaging my flow when I write… thanks for a great post x
    Kris recently posted…Say helloooo to healthMy Profile

    1. Facebook is a huge distraction Kris! I find when I’m disciplined and only go on facebook for a specific purpose (which always ends up in being distracted further) and only check it a couple of times a day, I’m far more productive. I haven’t been that disciplined lately though and I always seem to be on facebook “checking” something 😉 Good luck avoiding the distractions more effectively!

    1. It was a fantastic exercise Rhonda! Some things I noted made sense and I think I was aware of what activities increased the likelihood of being in flow for me.

      But others that perhaps I knew more on a subconscious level, became more obvious. Simple things like spending time with family and friends. I don’t think I appreciated how important this was for me to help balance out my life and improve productivity and motivation in other aspects.

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