Flow

In positive psychology, there is a concept called “flow” which was created by University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is a state of deep focus, known colloquially as being “in the zone.”

More precisely, Csikszentmihalyi identifies flow by asking, “Do you ever get involved in something so deeply that nothing else seems to matter and you lose track of time?”

Now, being something of a skeptic and contrarian, I’m automatically suspicious of anything that has “positive” in the title. And somewhat similarly, when I first heard about “flow” I thought it was ridiculous. I’m used to the hectic world of working life: managing more tasks than are humanly possible to complete while people constantly interrupt with questions. It’s not orderly, but it’s still possible to get a lot done and finish the day with one’s sanity intact.

I’ve been having a different experience since I started school. I certainly have plenty of work to do, but there are fewer interruptions. I come in, start my work, and don’t move again for hours. I’ve gotten out of the habit of constantly tabbing over to Facebook or email – at the end of the day, I find I have a lot of catching up with the outside world to do.

I have almost missed class or nearly forgotten to go home because I’m so focused on what I’m working on.

I guess this is flow.

Csikszentmihalyi makes the bold claim that “it is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life.” I’m hardly ready to go that far, but it’s certainly an interesting state. And there’s something particularly satisfying about accomplishing a task from a state of flow.

But the state is not without it’s drawbacks. Most obvious are the possible health effects: I’ve got from a life of hectic running around to one of entirely sitting. But more fundamentally, I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the idea of losing time. I don’t want time to simply slip passed me while I focus on my work: I’d rather be aware of each moment.

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