When the work is just right. I’m jazzed. I’m thinking large, with focus, fluency, and flexibility. I lose all track of time. I lose myself in what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter who’s around — thinking and working is fun. If I’m writing, I tear through the pages with rhythm that makes music in my head. The force is with me.
That’s called flow. It’s the feeling of optimal experience.
Almost everyone has been there.
What most people don’t know is that it’s been studied and, if you understand it, you can make it happen more often. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has worked decades on the psychology of happiness, creativity, and fun, but he is most known for his study of flow, optimal experience.
. . . [in] Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi outlines his theory that people are most happy when they are in a state of flow—a Zen-like state of total oneness with the activity at hand and the situation. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great freedom, enjoyment, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.
In an interview with Wired magazine, Csikszentmihalyi . . . described 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.”
In the groove, in the zone, time slips away; action follows action naturally. It’s as if what we do is what was meant to be. It’s exhilarating.
Did you ever notice that you get in the zone when you’re perfectly prepared for a task — one you’ve been waiting for? When it’s “bring it on” kind of task, you’re likely to jump into a flow state.
Flow happens when your skills are matched to the challenge before you. If the task is too easy, you’ll be bored. If it’s too hard, you’ll have anxiety.
Match your talents with your challenge and you’re more likely to be in a flow state.
Some folks also believe that mindfulness meditation, yoga, and martial arts seem to improve a person’s capacity for flow.
Flow is an amazing feeling. Optimal experience. I was having one when I wrote this. Now you know what I mean when I say I’m jazzed. Really.
Wanna jam on an idea or two?
Liz Strauss writes at Successful Blog — where she’s often jazzed about writing and thinking curious thoughts.