Ever experienced that sensation of ‘being in the moment’, of getting in the ‘zone’, or totally ‘going with the flow’?
What is Flow?
Flow is a term coined by positive psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. Positive psychology is a branch of psychology which addresses those experiences in life which can improve our well-being and sense of self, it provides insight into the experience which can benefit us, rather than focussing of the detrimental side of mental illness. Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi was interested in optimal experience, and understanding and effecting those positive experiences.
Have you ever experienced flow?
Playing sports, dancing, reading, playing an instrument and listening to music are just a few of the types of activity that can induce this flow experience. Csikszentimalyi began analysing the experiences of sportsmen, dancers, musicians, chess players and rock climbers to understand this experience. He conducted interviews to get an understanding of this subjective experience.
Characteristics of flow
- Challenge/skill balance – Flow experiences typically involve some kind of challenge, in sports this is clear, the challenge to win, in other activities such as dancing, it could be the challenge of perfecting ones technique, however, there also needs to be a balance of skill. If the challenge is above ones skill level, flow would not be present, on the other hand, if it is too easy one might get bored.
- Clear goals and feedback – Most instances of flow include clear goals and feedback such as in climbing, the goal; to reach the top, the feedback; that one is not falling.
- Control – This relates to one’s skill, there needs to be the possibility of control, or at least the lack of worry over failure.
- Merging of action and awareness – this happens when ones actions become automatic and spontaneous, that you are aware of the actions you are performing, you are simply performing them.
- Concentration on the task at hand – In order for the action to become automatic one needs to be totally focussed on the task, this is often described as a focus on the present moment, where there is no past, no future, just now.
- Loss of self-consciousness – This focussing of attention also means that one no longer considered those everyday concerns, there is a lack of doubt and insecurity.
- The transformation of time – many experience an altered sense of time during flow experiences, hours can pass in minutes, or seconds slow down to minutes.
- The Autotelic Experience – The autotelic experience is one that is intrinsically rewarding, where the doing of it is enjoyment enough. Though there may be external factors, it is not the money, or the prestige or recognition that motivates, but the personal sense of achievement and joy.
Flow and Dance
Flow is often experienced among dancers, my research focusses mainly on dance improvisation, where a dancer may be involved in task based exercises and free movement. Here, the skill involved is creating something new, without relying on taught dance steps. However, it could be argued that there are no clear goals or feedback within dance improvisation. My research however, suggests there is a fundamental reflexive awareness of when the known is becoming a stereotype and relies on the performers own tacit bodily knowledge, or ‘know-how’ to effect a continual feedback loop to the dancer in the task of creativity. Though in flow you may experience a loss of self-consciousness it does not mean that you lose your sense of self or bodily awareness Often this instead becomes heightened within dance; you experience an attunement to the muscles in the body, your breathing, and the dance through your body.
Preparing for Flow
I am also interested in those activities which can prepare the body and mind for such a flow experience. My research suggests that holistic activities which address the mind and body as a connected whole can aid these experiences. This relates to the characteristic of action and awareness merging and can be found in activities such a yoga where the mind and body work in unison to aid the release of tension and stress. A focussing of attention and loss of self-consciousness can also be found in mindful activities like that of meditation, where one focusses on clearing ones mind of the mundane niggling thoughts. This can often be quite hard to achieve at first, but the aim is not to stop thinking, but to allow the thoughts to move through ones consciousness without taking any judgement over them or holding onto them