Have you ever been so deeply engaged in a task, hobby, or activity that you completely lost track of time? Maybe you even forgot about your physical needs, like eating or using the bathroom. Psychologists have dubbed this experience as “Flow”.

It was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Ukrainian psychologist, who studied and identified this state of engagement as the effortless immersion in an activity. He has even described the achievement of Flow as the key to happiness (see this video for a great introduction). In fact, research has shown that Flow has a number of benefits, including increased motivation for engaging in the activity again as well as obtaining new skills or knowledge related to the area, improved performance, and a heightened sense of competency.

  • Finding our Flow, however, can at times feel like a struggle. Here are some conditions that can help lead to an experience of Flow:
  • Ensuring you have a clear set of goals for the activity of involvement
  • Having clear and immediate feedback so as to allow for an adjustment of performance
  • Balancing perceived skill or ability with the perceived challenge

The final point is especially important, as perceiving the challenge level as too high while the skill level is perceived as too low can lead to a state of anxiety, or, inversely, having too minimal a challenge while feeling highly skilled can lead to boredom.

Challenge vs. SkillNot sure if you’ve experienced Flow? Common conditions of Flow include a high degree of effortless concentration, feelings of elation, losing one’s self in the task (i.e., gross absorption in the activity, a lack of self-consciousness, decreased sense of bodily needs, a distorted sense of time), and feeling intrinsically rewarded. Of course, it’s not necessarily that all tasks of an activity will produce Flow, but rather that certain preferred or challenging tasks will result in this state.

Finding your Flow in career can result in work-days that go by in the blink of an eye, feeling confident and competent in your role, and an increase in overall job satisfaction. If you’re feeling stuck, unmotivated, or burnt-out, it could be helpful to meet with a career counsellor to identify the cause of these feelings, and strategize which areas to shift in order to reconnect with or discover your Flow. Perhaps developing new skills, a change in activities, or more practice within an area is all it will take to get you into Flow and closer to overall well-being.

Nicole Pesta
Registered Provisional Psychologist
Calgary Career Counselling