May 6, 2020 · 3 min read
The Psychology of Flow
In this blog post we talk about the mental state flow which was an inspiration for Flow’s app name. We’ll look into the psychology of flow, its central aspects, and how our app can help you achieve this highly productive mental state by utilizing the pomodoro technique and by preventing distractions.
To answer this question, it’s important to understand what flow means first. Psycholigists refer to flow as a mental state in which one is completely immersed in an activity. Flow is technically defined as an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best. Athletes often refer to it as being “in the zone”.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, considered one of the co-founders of positive psychology, was the first to identify and research the psychology of flow. He describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Who experiences flow?
Flow is not something only restricted to elite athletes. Flow occurs in different ways for different people. Some might experience flow while engaging in a sport such as climbing, soccer, dancing, running, or hiking. Others experience flow while engaged in a more mental and creative activity such as designing, drawing, writing, and programming.
What are the benefits of flow?
In a Swedish study on classical pianists from 2010, the musicians who entered flow exhibited deepened breathing and slowed heart rates. Not only this, but even the facial muscles that enable us to smile were activated. More and more studies show that flow comes with a wide variety of psychological and physical benefits. For example, flow is associated with subjective well-being, satisfaction with life, and general happiness. At work, it’s linked to productivity and motivation. Flow can also lead to learning and skill development.
How does it feel to experience flow?
Csíkszentmihályi defined ten characteristics that usually come with the experience of flow. While many of these factors may accompany this mental state, it is not necessary to experience all of them for flow to occur:
- Complete focus on the task
- Clarity of goals, reward in mind, and immediate feedback
- Timelessness (feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time passing)
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding
- Effortlessness and ease
- Balance between challenge and skills
- Actions and awareness are merged, feeling less self-conscious
- There is a feeling of control over the task
How to achieve flow?
According to psychologist Jeanne Nakamura, an important factor of achieving flow “is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand.” Csíkszentmihályi explains in his book how flow is likely to occur when an individual is faced with a task that has clear goals that require specific responses.
It’s important to note that one can’t experience flow if distractions disrupt the experience. To experience this state of flow, one has to stay away from the distractions common in our modern fast-paced life. A first step would be to turn off the smartphone. When you have to work on your Mac, Flow’s Blocking List makes it easy to just block out the unwanted attention-robbers.
How the pomodoro timer method aligns with the psychology of flow.
The use of the pomodoro technique is probably one of the greatest yet simplest ways to help you achieve flow. You’re more likely to sustain your focus and get into the highly efficient mental state of flow if you remove distractions for 20 minutes straight. The pomodoro technique provides exactly that. But most important of all, the pomodoro technique helps conquer the biggest mental barrier – getting started.
The pomodoro technique helps you to achieve flow in 3 main ways:
- Getting started
- Resisting distractions and keeping focus
- Predefined short breaks to rest
In one of our upcoming blog posts we’ll have a closer look at the pomodoro timer technique and its incredible use in achieving the flow state and in being more productive. If you want to read more about productivity and other Flow related subjects, let us know in the comments. Follow Flow on Twitter (@flow__app) to get notified about our latest blog posts and development progress.
Csikszentmihalyi, M.; Abuhamdeh, S. & Nakamura, J. (2005), Flow, in Elliot, A., Handbook of Competence and Motivation, New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 598–698.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997) Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. Basic Books, New York.
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.
Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1975), Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow theory and research. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology, 195-206.
De Manzano, O.; Theorell, T.; Harmat, L. & Ullén, F. (2010). The psychophysiology of flow during piano playing. In Emotion, Washington D.C., 301-11.
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