An Athlete and an Artist Sit Down at my Dinner Table . . .

I have been blessed with two children - well more like young adult men now - and to the naked eye they could not be more different. One is loud, with an easy laugh and and ability to connect with just about anyone and fully embraces the physicality of life. . The other lives in his head, is meticulously about his belongings and it's only his innate kindness that masks his impatience with small surface talk. However, they have both taught me more more about the concept of flow introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book by the same title than any experience I have ever had. 

One man-child is an athlete, playing in the span of one year, soccer, cross-country racing, mountain biking, ski racing, basketball, hockey, ultimate frisbee and baseball. After a game the other night, he described playing second base in baseball like this, "When I see the pitcher get set, I just get into my ready position and let my body take over". Perhaps that feels natural to some of you reading, but I promise, not once in my life have I ever thought the right thing to do was "just let my body take over". "I could play baseball every day for hours", he goes on, "and never think to look at the clock or wonder when it was going to be over". That my friend, is flow. 

The other man-child is musician, a painter and a poet. "When I paint", he says, "I put on my headphones and I relax into the canvas and sort of let the paint take over. Sometimes I dance". That my friend, is also flow. 

My one fervent wish for them is that they never lose the ability to slip so seamlessly and naturally into flow. 

But what about those of us who do find it harder. Do we just sit and wait and hope that somehow flow sneaks up and hits us over our heads? Probably not. 

For some of us it is conscious and sometimes laborious work. But I have to believe, that the more often we try, the easier it will become. 

For us, my guide to Flow is below. 

Understanding Flow

Flow is when you're fully absorbed in what you're doing. It happens when you're doing something challenging but still within your abilities. You're not too bored because it's too easy, and you're not too stressed because it's too hard. You're right in the sweet spot.

The Origins of Flow

The concept of flow was first introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who spent years studying what makes people happy. He noticed that people are happiest when they are deeply engaged in activities that they enjoy and are good at. He called this state "flow" because it feels like you're being carried along by a current.

The Elements of Flow

There are several key elements that create the experience of flow:

  • Clear Goals: Knowing what you want to achieve helps you focus.
  • Immediate Feedback: Seeing your progress lets you know if you're on the right track.
  • Balance Between Challenge and Skill: The task should be challenging but not overwhelming.
  • Deep Concentration: Being completely absorbed in the task.
  • Sense of Control: Feeling that you can handle the task.
  • Loss of Self-Consciousness: Forgetting about yourself and your worries.
  • Time Transformation: Losing track of time because you're so involved.

Finding Flow in Different Activities

Flow isn't just about playing games or sports. You can find flow in almost anything – drawing, writing, solving math problems, or even doing chores. The key is to set clear goals and get immediate feedback. If you know what you're aiming for and can see how you're doing, you're more likely to get into the flow.

Flow in Sports

Athletes often experience flow during competitions. They are completely focused on their performance, and every movement feels effortless. For example, a basketball player might be so engrossed in the game that they make every shot without thinking. This state is often called "being in the zone."

Flow in Arts and Crafts

Artists and musicians also experience flow. A painter might lose themselves in their work, forgetting to eat or sleep because they're so absorbed. A musician might be so focused on playing their instrument that they feel a deep connection with the music. This intense concentration leads to beautiful creations and a sense of fulfillment.

Flow in Learning

Students can find flow in their studies by engaging in subjects they are passionate about. When a student finds a challenging math problem or a fascinating history lesson, they can become completely immersed. This not only makes learning enjoyable but also enhances understanding and retention of the material.

Flow in Everyday Tasks

Even mundane tasks like cleaning or organizing can lead to flow. For example, if you set a goal to organize your room and focus on the task, you might find yourself completely absorbed. The satisfaction of seeing a clean and organized space can be incredibly rewarding.

The Benefits of Flow

When you're in flow, you're not just having fun but you're also growing and it is this growth that Csikszentmihalyi says is so key to happiness. Flow pushes you to stretch your skills and learn new things. It makes you feel happier and more satisfied with life. Plus, it's great for your mental health because it helps you focus and forget about your worries.

Personal Growth

Flow helps you improve your skills and expand your abilities. When you're in flow, you're constantly pushing yourself to do better. This continuous improvement leads to personal growth and development. For example, a musician might practice a difficult piece until they can play it perfectly, which improves their overall skill.

Happiness and Satisfaction

Csikszentmihalyi found that people are happiest when they're in flow. It's not about being rich or famous; it's about doing activities that challenge you and match your skills. When you're in flow, you feel a sense of control and accomplishment. You’re not thinking about the past or the future – you're fully present in the moment.

Mental Health Benefits

Flow is also beneficial for mental health. It helps you focus and forget about your worries. When you're in flow, you're not thinking about your problems or stressing about the future. This break from stress and anxiety can improve your overall well-being.

How to Create Flow

You don't have to wait for special moments to experience flow. You can create it in your daily routine. Whether you're studying, practicing an instrument, or even cleaning your room, you can find flow by following these steps:

Set Clear Goals

Know what you want to achieve. Clear goals give you direction and help you focus on the task at hand. For example, if you're practicing a sport, set a goal to improve a specific skill. If you're studying, set a goal to understand a particular concept.

Find the Right Challenge

Pick something that's challenging but doable. The task should be difficult enough to keep you engaged but not so hard that it becomes frustrating. For example, if you're learning to play the guitar, choose a song that's slightly above your current skill level.


Get rid of distractions and concentrate on the task. Turn off your phone, find a quiet place, and give your full attention to what you're doing. For example, if you're writing an essay, find a quiet spot and set a timer to work uninterrupted for a certain period.

Get Feedback

Check how you're doing and adjust as needed. Immediate feedback helps you see your progress and make necessary adjustments. For example, if you're painting, step back occasionally to see how your work looks from a distance.

Flow in Education

Flow can be a powerful tool in education. When students experience flow, they are more engaged and motivated to learn. Teachers can create flow experiences in the classroom by designing activities that are challenging, enjoyable, and provide immediate feedback.

Engaging Lessons

Teachers can make lessons more engaging by incorporating elements that students find interesting. For example, a history lesson can become a storytelling session, making historical events come alive. Using multimedia resources like videos and interactive activities can also capture students' attention.

Challenging Tasks

Teachers should design tasks that are appropriately challenging for their students. Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of individual students ensures that each student is working at their optimal level. This might involve offering more advanced problems to high-achieving students while providing additional support to those who need it.

Immediate Feedback

Providing immediate feedback helps students understand their progress and areas for improvement. Teachers can use quizzes, interactive activities, and one-on-one conferences to give timely feedback. This helps students stay on track and make necessary adjustments.

Flow in the Workplace

Flow can also enhance productivity and job satisfaction in the workplace. When employees experience flow, they are more focused, creative, and motivated. Employers can create a flow-friendly environment by setting clear goals, providing challenging tasks, and offering immediate feedback.

Clear Goals

Employers should set clear and achievable goals for their employees. Clear goals give employees direction and purpose. For example, a sales team might have specific targets to meet each month. Clear goals help employees stay focused and motivated.

Challenging Tasks

Employees are more likely to experience flow when they are given tasks that challenge their skills. Employers should match tasks to employees' abilities and provide opportunities for growth. For example, a graphic designer might be given a challenging project that allows them to showcase their creativity.

Immediate Feedback

Providing immediate feedback helps employees see their progress and make necessary adjustments. Regular check-ins, performance reviews, and constructive feedback sessions can help employees stay on track and improve their performance.

Flow and Technology

Technology can both enhance and hinder flow. On one hand, technology offers tools and resources that can facilitate flow experiences. On the other hand, it can also be a source of distraction. Finding a balance is key to leveraging technology for flow.

Enhancing Flow with Technology

Technology can enhance flow by providing tools that support creativity and productivity. For example, graphic design software allows artists to create complex designs with ease. Educational apps can make learning more interactive and engaging.

Avoiding Distractions

While technology can be a powerful tool, it's also a major source of distraction. Notifications, social media, and endless browsing can interrupt flow. To maintain focus, it's important to set boundaries and limit distractions. For example, turning off notifications during work or study sessions can help you stay focused.

Flow in Relationships

Flow isn't limited to individual activities – it can also be experienced in relationships. Engaging in meaningful conversations, shared hobbies, and collaborative projects can create flow experiences in social settings.

Meaningful Conversations

Having deep, meaningful conversations can lead to flow. When you're fully engaged in a conversation, listening intently, and sharing your thoughts, you can experience a sense of connection and fulfillment. This can strengthen your relationships and create a sense of intimacy.

Shared Hobbies

Participating in shared hobbies with friends or family can also create flow. Whether it's playing a sport, cooking a meal, or working on a DIY project, doing activities together can be enjoyable and fulfilling. These shared experiences can strengthen your bonds and create lasting memories.

Collaborative Projects

Working on collaborative projects can lead to flow experiences. Whether it's a school project, a work assignment, or a community service activity, collaborating with others can be challenging and rewarding. It allows you to combine your skills and creativity with others to achieve a common goal.

Overcoming Obstacles to Flow

While flow is a desirable state, it can be challenging to achieve. Various obstacles can hinder flow, including distractions, lack of motivation, stress, and external pressures. Overcoming these obstacles requires conscious effort and strategies to create an environment conducive to flow.

Managing Distractions

In today's fast-paced world, distractions are everywhere. Notifications from phones, social media, and constant interruptions can pull you out of flow. Here are some strategies to manage distractions:

  1. Create a Focused Environment: Find a quiet place to work or study. Use noise-canceling headphones if needed.
  2. Limit Technology Use: Turn off notifications and set specific times for checking your phone or social media.
  3. Set Boundaries: Let others know when you need uninterrupted time. Use tools like "Do Not Disturb" signs or apps that block distracting websites.

Boosting Motivation

Lack of motivation can prevent you from entering flow. To boost your motivation, try these tips:

  1. Set Personal Goals: Make your tasks meaningful by setting personal goals. Understand why the task is important to you.
  2. Break Tasks into Smaller Steps: Large tasks can be overwhelming. Break them down into smaller, manageable steps to make them less daunting.
  3. Reward Yourself: Give yourself small rewards for completing tasks. This can create a positive association with the activity.

Managing Stress

Stress and anxiety can disrupt flow. Learning to manage stress can help you stay focused and enter flow more easily:

  1. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can help reduce stress.
  2. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can improve your overall well-being and reduce stress.
  3. Seek Support: Talk to friends, family, or a professional if you're feeling overwhelmed. Support from others can help you manage stress.

Handling External Pressures

External pressures, such as deadlines and expectations, can interfere with flow. Here's how to handle them:

  1. Prioritize Tasks: Focus on the most important tasks first. Use tools like to-do lists and planners to stay organized.
  2. Communicate Clearly: Let others know your limits and negotiate deadlines if possible. Clear communication can reduce pressure.
  3. Focus on the Process: Instead of worrying about the outcome, focus on the process of doing the task. Enjoying the journey can make the task more enjoyable.

Flow and Creativity

Flow is closely linked to creativity. When you're in flow, your mind is free to explore new ideas and make connections. This state of heightened creativity can lead to innovative solutions and artistic breakthroughs.

Creative Activities

Engaging in creative activities can help you find flow. Here are some examples:

  1. Writing: Whether it's fiction, poetry, or journaling, writing allows you to express your thoughts and ideas.
  2. Drawing and Painting: Visual arts provide a way to explore your creativity through colors, shapes, and forms.
  3. Music: Playing an instrument or composing music can be a deeply immersive experience.

Encouraging Creativity

To encourage creativity and flow, try these strategies:

  1. Create a Stimulating Environment: Surround yourself with inspiring objects, colors, and sounds.
  2. Set Aside Time for Creativity: Dedicate regular time for creative activities. Consistency can help you enter flow more easily.
  3. Experiment and Take Risks: Don't be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. Creativity often involves stepping outside your comfort zone.

Flow and Personal Fulfillment

Flow is not just about productivity and creativity; it's also about finding personal fulfillment. When you regularly experience flow, you feel more connected to your passions and purpose in life.

Discovering Your Passions

Finding activities that you are passionate about is key to experiencing flow. Here are some ways to discover your passions:

  1. Reflect on Your Interests: Think about what activities you enjoy and why. Consider what makes you feel most alive.
  2. Try New Things: Experiment with different hobbies and activities. You might discover new interests that lead to flow.
  3. Listen to Your Intuition: Pay attention to what activities feel most fulfilling and exciting to you.

Integrating Flow into Daily Life

Integrating flow into your daily life can lead to greater happiness and fulfillment. Here are some tips:

  1. Make Time for Flow Activities: Prioritize activities that bring you into flow. Schedule them into your day.
  2. Balance Work and Play: Find a balance between work responsibilities and activities you enjoy. Both are important for a fulfilling life.
  3. Cultivate Mindfulness: Practice being present in the moment. Mindfulness can help you focus and enter flow more easily.

The Future of Flow

As our understanding of flow continues to grow, it has the potential to transform various aspects of society, from education and work to mental health and personal fulfillment.

Flow in Education

Future educational systems can incorporate flow principles to enhance learning and student engagement. Personalized learning, interactive technology, and creative teaching methods can help students experience flow more frequently.

Flow in the Workplace

The future workplace can be designed to promote flow by creating environments that support focus, creativity, and collaboration. Flexible work arrangements, innovative office designs, and supportive leadership can help employees achieve flow.

Flow and Mental Health

Flow has the potential to improve mental health by providing an effective way to manage stress, anxiety, and depression. Future mental health treatments could incorporate flow-based therapies and activities to help individuals achieve well-being.

Flow and Technology

Advancements in technology can further enhance flow experiences. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies can create immersive and personalized flow experiences in various fields.

Flow is about finding joy and satisfaction in what you do. It’s about being fully engaged and enjoying the journey, not just the destination. By understanding and creating flow in your life, you can be happier, more productive, and more fulfilled. Whether you're playing sports, creating art, studying, working, or simply spending time with loved ones, flow can enrich your experiences and enhance your quality of life.


Appendix A: Flow Checklist

Use this checklist to identify activities that can help you achieve flow:

  1. Is the activity challenging but achievable?
  2. Does the activity have clear goals?
  3. Can you get immediate feedback on your progress?
  4. Do you feel a sense of control over the activity?
  5. Does the activity allow you to concentrate deeply?
  6. Do you lose track of time while doing the activity?
  7. Do you feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from the activity?

Appendix B: Flow Resources

Here are some resources to help you learn more about flow and how to incorporate it into your life:

  1. Books:

    • "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    • "Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
    • "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance" by Steven Kotler
  2. Websites:

By integrating these principles into your daily life, you can create a fulfilling and meaningful existence. Flow is not just a concept; it's a way of living that brings out the best in you.

Back to blog