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Flow

I am fascinated with the concept of flow. For those unfamiliar with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work in positive psychology, I recommend doing a quick Wikipedia search on “flow (psychology).” In short, flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

I’m especially interested in flow as it applies to the concept of time, which suggests that although we measure the passage of time in an orderly, linear, discreet, quantitative system, we experience the passage of time in a much more fluid, subjective fashion. When I’m “in the zone,” whether it’s on a walk or immersed in a knitting project or sucked into a particularly engaging computer game, the experience of time passing is very fluid to me. We’ve all had experiences that seemed to drag on forever (dental appointments, for me) and we’ve all experienced the old adage “time flies when you’re having fun.” That, to me, is an example of the fluidity of time.

During those times I experience flow, it is almost a bell curve-like process. For example, during my half-marathon training walk this afternoon, for the first mile I was sore, stiff, slow and looking for a reason to stop walking. My thoughts were generally along the lines of “I’m tired. It’s hot. My back hurts. I’m bored with my workout music. I don’t have anyone to talk to or walk with. Six and a half miles is a long way. This is taking too long.” Then, somewhere around the second mile/lap, I started warming up, settling into a rhythm and getting into the zone. I began focusing on my technique, enjoying my workout music, thinking about solutions to a few problems I’ve been facing recently, and generally not minding the physical discomforts of walking fast outside. As a result, I experienced a state of flow during Miles 2-5. Somewhere around the fifth mile, however, I started being more aware of the time that had elapsed and came back to the present. My noticed how long I’d been walking, how tired my feet felt, how dry my mouth felt, and a host of other small discomforts that disrupted my state of flow.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts and feelings on flow, especially how and when you experience it. If you’re interested in learning more about flow, I highly recommend my friend Sam Spurlin and his blog at http://www.samspurlin.com/. We is currently studying Positive Psychology and is one of my favorite writers/thinkers on the subject.