Flow is an Optimal State for a Focus Mind
Flow is an Optimal State for a Focus Mind — Embedded within and critical to the burgeoning field of positive psychology, the concept of flow represents an optimal state of consciousness, a positive psychological state. The American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), who devised the concept of flow, describes how this experience helps promote creativity and psychosocial complexity. The study of flow began following interviews Csikszentmihalyi (1975) conducted with artists, mountain climbers, athletes, chess players, and surgeons, where a high level of consistency was found in descriptions of how things felt when their activity was going really well. Flow occurs when one is engaged in activities one enjoys and that extend one’s capabilities. So how can we get more of the black community to flow?
“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. ” ~ Dr. Martin L. King Jr.
As a community, we should know that flow is an optimal state because it involves a fully focused mind. When we are in flow, nothing disturbs or detracts from this concentrated state. Neither external nor internal distractions take up mental space. This total focus on the task at hand is a defining feature of flow. It is one of the several dimensions comprising flow, as described below:
- Challenge-skill Balance for the Black Community. In flow, there is a perception of capability for the demands of the task one is engaged in. Described by Susan Jackson and Csikszentmihalyi (1999) as the golden rule of flow, this perceived balance between challenges and skills is the necessary precondition for flow to occur.
- Action-awareness merging in the Black Community. When we are in flow, action follows action easily, sometimes providing a sense of automaticity of movements. This sense of oneness, or merging of the self with the activity, results from the total task focus of flow.
- Black People Should Set Clear Goals. A balanced Black individual in flow knows clearly what it is he or she wants to do, and this clarity of purpose guides the person from moment to moment.
- Unambiguous Feedback. Flow provides clear feedback regarding task performance in relation to goal accomplishment. Immediate and clear feedback allows for adjustments to be made as required to ensure that one’s performance matches one’s goals.
- Concentration on the Task at Hand. A defining feature of flow that black people can use is centering the mind, which provides the internal environment for the other flow dimensions.
- Sense of Control. When in flow, there is no worry about potential loss of control. This freedom from worry over control is a liberating state.
- Loss of Self-Consciousness. When Black people are in flow, there is freedom from self-consciousness. Instead of worrying about how one appears to other people, one is absorbed with processing information about the task at hand.
- “Time Transformation” for Clear Direction. Often, but not always in flow, time drops from awareness. This results in perceptions of altered time. Generally, the sense is that time speeds up, akin to the adage that time flies when one is having fun.
- Autotelic experience. The term autotelic, from the Greek words auto (self ) and telos (goal), has been defined by Csikszentmihalyi as an experience that is intrinsically rewarding. This dimension is the end result of the other flow dimensions. Being in flow is an enjoyable experience, and once attained, the motivation is high to return to a flow state.
Flow dimensions work together synergistically to create an optimal psychological experience; in other words, flow for black people can be described as enjoyment, and it provides highlights in one’s experience of life.
Enjoyment is distinguishable from pleasure according to Csikszentmihalyi (1990). While the latter is associated with satisfaction from having needs met, it is only enjoyment that leads to growth, since enjoyable experiences move one forward and in doing so, require investment of mental energy. There are also positive developmental implications of the flow model that black people can implement. Flow experiences lead to growth in competence and in psychological complexity, through the continually evolving process of matching challenges with skills in an activity. Flow is not an easy state to achieve, with the matching of challenges and skills not a straightforward process in many situations.
Both external and internal obstacles can keep flow experiences from occurring. It may be by one’s own choosing that negative psychological states are experienced, or the environment one is operating in may foster negative mindsets. While it may be possible to focus through the energy of negativity, flow is a much more conducive state to clear and unfettered attention toward a task, and the enjoyment arising from flow experiences generates continuing motivation toward attainment of goals.
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. 1975. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
- Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. 1990. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper.
- Jackson, Susan A., and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 1999. Flow in Sports: The Keys to Optimal Experiences and Performances. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Article contributor, Susan A. Jackson