Enjoy the Flow

Waters flow around rocks

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of “optimal experience” have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).


Csikszentmihalyi’s experiments showed the most enjoyable moments, for those engaged in the experiment, when they were in the flow, was during work activities. This may appear to contradict a long-held belief that we enjoy our leisure more than our work; when in fact it isn’t about work versus leisure, its about doing things in both our work and leisure that stretch and challenge ourselves, that offer us opportunities to do the best we can do and be the best we can be. This research offers us a framework for defining the things we will do in our lives.

What is flow? It is that point or phase where you are ‘in the zone’, where all is going smoothly, where you are enjoying yourself, where you are at your maximum proficiency and effectiveness, when you are applying everything you have learned to that moment and when that moment is propelling you forward to an even more enjoyable level in the future.

Artists and creatives feel it when they are engrossed in converting a concept to reality. Every note of music falls at the right moment, in perfect harmony, every stroke of a paint brush or pencil opens up new possibilities for creating something special and every cut of a sculpture unveils new shapes and form.

Being in the flow is not restricted to creative people. Surgeons, engineers, scientists, kindergarten teachers and business people can all experience those moments when everything is in synch. Neither is the experience restricted to work activities. Many of us play sport, engage in artistic endeavours, even tend to our gardens, outside of work. These activities can provide us with flow.

The flow is that point where your heart sings with the sheet joy and pleasure from what it is you are doing. When that smile is as wide as your face and cannot be wiped away by anything. When you feel an overwhelming urge to punch the air and yell ‘yes’!

Csikszentmihalyi’s experiment doesn’t suggest our work activities are more important to us than our leisure activities; it does suggest that where we are doing the things that really rock our boat, that matter to us, that are important, that we enjoy doing, whether they be work or leisure activities, we are more likely to get greater personal enjoyment from doing them. In turn this may lead to less stress and and improved lifestyle.

The lesson is clear, whether it be your work or your leisure, do things that you want to do with your heart, do them well, enjoy the process and benefit from the flow. If you are not feeling the joy, the excitement, the pleasure in anything you are doing; then stop doing it, and follow your heart.

I’m John Coxon, for the past two decades I have been advising and guiding boards and management in nonprofit organisations. Today I specialise in providing management teams with assessment tools that enable them to make informed decisions, improve resource allocation and be more effective. Email me for a free, no-obligation discussion via Zoom.

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