Some Secret Wisdom About Mindfulness and the State of “Flow”
In personal development and self-improvement, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.
Much of my work, including the study of Flow, is based on applied game theory, a system for making wise decisions in group interactions. It might be helpful before we explore Flow in greater detail if we begin with a short introduction to the basics of game theory. Below is an article (a 6-minute read) as well as a more in-depth video embedded in the article. Both were created so they would be understood by a 12-year-old.
The Best Introduction to Game Theory, Simple and Easy to Understand — Written for a 12-Year-Old
Q. Lewis, what is the meaning of game theory?
Now let’s go deeper into Flow. This experience of unique hyper-focusing was named by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, who with others began researching flow after Csikszentmihályi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. These artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water, and even sleep. The theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihályi tried to understand the phenomenon experienced by these artists. Flow was so named because during 1975 interviews several people described their “flow” experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along.
For the most part (except for basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain, which are innate), people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on.
However, when one is in the flow state, they are completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. According to Csikszentmihályi, this occurs because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated.
The flow state has been described by Csikszentmihályi as the “optimal experience” in that one gets to a level of high gratification from the experience. Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and “depends on the ability” of the individual. One’s capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals leads not only to the optimal experience but also to a sense of life satisfaction overall.
There are three common ways to measure flow experiences: the flow questionnaire (FQ), the experience sampling method (ESM), and the “standardized scales of the componential approach.”
Games and gaming and applied game theory
Flow in games and gaming has been linked to the laws of learning as part of the explanation for why learning-games (the use of games to introduce material, improve understanding, or increase retention) have the potential to be effective. In particular, flow is intrinsically motivating, which is part of the law of readiness. The condition of feedback, required for flow, is associated with the feedback aspects of the law of exercise. This is exhibited in well-designed games, in particular, where players perform at the edge of their competency as they are guided by clear goals and feedback. The positive emotions associated with Flow are associated with the law of effect. The intense experiences of being in a state of flow are directly associated with the law of intensity. Thus, the experience of gaming can be so engaging and motivating as it meets many of the laws of learning, which are inextricably connected to creating flow.
In games often much can be achieved thematically through an imbalance between challenge level and skill level. Horror games often keep challenges significantly above the player’s level of competency in order to foster a continuous feeling of anxiety. Conversely, so-called “relaxation games” keep the level of challenges significantly below the player’s competency level, in order to achieve an opposite effect. The video game Flow was designed as part of Jenova Chen’s master’s thesis for exploring the design decisions that allow players to achieve the flow state, by adjusting the difficulty dynamically during play.
It improves performance; calling the phenomenon “TV trance”, a 1981 Byte article discussed how “the best seem to enter a trance where they play but don’t pay attention to the details of the game”.The primary goal of games is to create entertainment through intrinsic motivation which is related to flow; that is, without intrinsic motivation, it is virtually impossible to establish flow. Through the balance of skill and challenge the player’s brain is aroused, with attention engaged and motivation high. Thus, the use of flow in games helps foster an enjoyable experience which in turn increases motivation and draws players to continue playing. As such, game designers strive to integrate flow principles into their projects. Overall, the experience of play is fluid and is intrinsically psychologically rewarding independent of scores or in-game successes in the flow state.
There are many ways to go into this state. A good place to begin the process is to play the video game Tetris. Really experiencing Flow will expand your intuition and mank you a more creative and innovative thinker.
A flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is most likely to occur when one is wholeheartedly performing a task or activity for intrinsic purposes. Passive activities like taking a bath or even watching TV usually do not elicit flow experiences as individuals have to actively do something to enter a flow state. While the activities that induce flow may vary and be multifaceted, Csikszentmihályi asserts that the experience of flow is similar despite the activity.
There is even a Flow questionnaire (FQ). The FQ requires individuals to identify definitions of flow and situations in which they believe that they have experienced flow, followed by a section that asks them to evaluate their personal experiences in these flow-inducing situations. The FQ identifies flow as multiple constructs, therefore allowing the results to be used to estimate differences in the likelihood of experiencing flow across a variety of factors. Another strength of the FQ is that it does not assume that everyone’s flow experiences are the same. Because of this, the FQ is the ideal measure for estimating the prevalence of flow. However, the FQ has some weaknesses that more recent methods have set out to address. The FQ does not allow for measurement of the intensity of flow during specific activities. This method also does not measure the influence of the ratio of challenge to skill on the flow state.
Here is a link to an online Flow Questionnaire:
Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for knowledge, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory. His website is AskLewis.com
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