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Concentrating on a task is one aspect of flow. In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. The flow state shares many characteristics with hyperfocus. However, hyperfocus is not always described in a positive light. Some examples include spending «too much» time playing video games or getting side-tracked and pleasurably absorbed by one aspect of an assignment or task to the detriment of the overall assignment. Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience.
Just as with the conditions listed above, these conditions can be independent of one another. Flow is so named because during Csíkszentmihályi’s 1975 interviews several people described their «flow» experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along. Mihaly Csikszentmihályi and his fellow researchers began researching flow after Csikszentmihályi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get «lost» in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. Thus, the origin of research on the theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihályi tried to understand this phenomenon experienced by these artists. Ideas similar to flow have been recognized throughout history and across cultures.
In any given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one’s mind can attend to only a certain dissertation of information at a time. According to Csikszentmihályi’s 2004 TED talk, that number is about «110 bits of information per second». 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 psychology things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. 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.
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Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and «depends on the ability» of the individual. 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. The purpose of this is to understand subjective experiences by estimating the time intervals that individuals spend in specific states during everyday life. The ESF is made up of 13 categorical items and 29 scaled items.
Some researchers are not satisfied with the methods mentioned above and have set out to create their own scales. The scales developed by Jackson and Eklund are the most commonly used in research, mainly because they are still consistent with Csíkszentmihályi’s definition of flow and consider flow as being both a state and a trait. Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level, according to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model. 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.
One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills.
One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand. Thus, a perceived fit of skills and task demands can be identified as the central precondition of flow experiences. In 1987, Massimini, Csíkszentmihályi and Carli published the 8-channel model of flow shown here. Antonella Delle Fave, who worked with Fausto Massimini at the University of Milan, now calls this graph the Experience Fluctuation Model. Several problems of this model have been discussed in literature. One is that it does not ensure a perceived balance between challenges and skills which is supposed to be the central precondition of flow experiences.
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