Our Growth, Stagnation and Flow zones
Daily we all deal with various activities. Some of them are simple and easy or familiar. We have repeated them many times, and they have become “automatic”. They are not difficult for us, so they can often cause boredom. Dealing with them may feel comfortable but we soon lose our interest as we do never leave our comfort zone, which also happens to be our stagnation zone.
Some others are new to us, therefore unknown, or they may be familiar but tough. These move us out of our comfort zone and usually cause discomfort, anxiety or fear. But these are the ones that help us evolve. That’s where our growth zone is.
There are some others whose difficulty is almost matching our level of skill.
The mental state of Flow
We have all been involved in an activity in which we have experienced a state of intense concentration and total commitment. During these activities we feel that we are very capable and in complete control of the situation. Our skills operate to the fullest. The sense of time as well as any negative emotions disappear, and we are overwhelmed by a wonderful sense of transcendence. Whenever we have experienced this situation we are in a state of flow.
The phenomenon of flow has first been referenced by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1990. He describes the mental state of a person in flow as “being completely absorbed in an activity for the activity itself and only. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought inevitably follows the preceding, as if playing Jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”.
The Optimal experience – as Csikszentmihalyi named this mental state – usually occurs if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. “Optimal experience, where flow is realized, is thus something we make happen”.
Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model recognizes eight emotional mental states:
- Apathy– no interest, the person is apathetic to the subject and situation
- Boredom– no interest in the situation, bored, and maybe run-down
- Relaxation– calmness or lack of excitement
- Worry– focus with worry, problems grow and are viewed as having no solution
- Control–feelings of dominance. Automatizing skills by practice; the activity is currently hard but the person feels that they have a command of the situation
- Anxiety– could be the reason for someone freezing or shutting down
- Arousal– with the reinforcement of arousal, the person approaches their surroundings more attentively
- Flow– the mental state that ensures the person focusing completely on the task or activity – generally results in the action being completed successfully
The state of FLOW can be seen in people who masterwork life, art, sports or a hobby. From the outside it may seem like they are doing the task with great ease, however, if you look at it from within, they have completely devoted themselves to what they are doing in order to achieve this level of skill.
Our Attention and Order in Mind
The best state of our inner experience happens when there is order in our minds. The prerequisite for this to happen is that our psychic energy, or otherwise our attention, is invested in realistic goals and our skills match our choices for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order to a person’s consciousness, because he must concentrate on the task at hand and forget about everything else. These times when one struggles to overcome various challenges are the happiest of his life. Thus, a person who has gained control over his mental energy and has invested in consciously chosen goals can only grow into a higher being.
Flow, then, is the mental state of a person who performs an activity in which they are completely absorbed, live the experience of being fully involved, with a sense of active concentration and complete immersion, while enjoying the whole process.
Note that it is not simply the balance between task difficulty and skill level which causes flow, but the balance in higher levels of difficulty and skill. In lower levels even when balance exists, we may be in a state of apathy or lack of interest.
Characteristics of Flow
We have all had flow experiences, therefore it is not difficult to recognize some of their characteristics:
- Clear, specific, demanding but feasible goals.
- High concentration on the present moment and in the actual activity, with no room in mind for any other information
- Activities are intrinsically rewarding
- Sense of tranquility. Actions and awareness are merged
- Transformation of time. Usually, time passes much faster than expected
- Immediate feedback on the progress
- A sense of balance between the task difficulty and our skill level. Feelings of assertiveness and self-confidence
- Sense of adequate control over the activity, with no worries about failure
- Losing awareness of physical needs
Theoretically, athletes and artists are more likely than others to have flow experiences. However, flow can be hiding in simple everyday activities like housekeeping or in reading a good book.
Electronic games is probably the most characteristic examples, as they have been designed to lead to flow. This is the main reason they cause strong addiction to teenagers and adults.
The following skills can help us achieve a state of flow:
- interest in life
- low ego