Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has dedicated an entire career to interviewing world class artists, athletes, musicians, chess masters, and surgeons in an attempt to understand as exactly as possible how people felt when they most enjoyed themselves and why. Based on these accounts, Professor Csikszentmihalyi developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of “flow:” the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” Some might know this concept as “being in the zone.”
Professor Csikszentmihalyi explains that “flow activities” are those activities that fall in between a feeling of anxiety and a feeling of boredom. Too bored and a person finds the activity stale. Too anxious and a person is overly concerned that his or her abilities are inadequate for the challenge at hand. However, activities that are sufficiently challenging—more difficult than producing boredom but less complex than eliciting anxiety—produce a state of “flow.”
In order to measure whether a person is experiencing flow, Professor Csikszentmihalyi developed the “flow test.” As part of the flow test, Professor Csikszentmihalyi administers to participants electronic pagers that go off ten times every day. After the pager goes off, the participants respond to several questions.[responsive_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs”]
You can easily and cheaply replicate Csikszentmihalyi’s flow test. Simply set your cell phone to go off several times a day (e.g. 4-5) over the course of a week. Every time your cell phone goes off, use your cell phone’s notepad app to answer some of the following questions:
• How do you feel? Are you experiencing a great inner clarity—that is, knowing what needs to be done and how well you are doing it—or are you unsure how to accomplishing something?
• What are you thinking about? Are you believing that the activity is doable—that is, your skills are adequate to the task—or are you feeling a sense of boredom or anxiousness?
• What are you doing? Are you completely involved in what you’re doing—that is, completely focused and concentrated—or are you distracted and notice the time passing by?
• What is driving you? Are you being driven by intrinsic motivation—that is, whatever produces flow becomes its own reward—or are you doing something because of external factors?