Flow is a cognitive state where one is completely immersed in an activity—from painting and writing to prayer and surfboarding. It involves intense focus, creative engagement, and the loss of awareness of the self.
The process of flow was discovered and coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist. In the 1960s, Csikszentmihalyi studied the creative process and found that, when an artist was in the course of flow, they would persist at their task relentlessly, regardless of hunger or fatigue. He also found that the artist would lose interest after the project was completed, highlighting the importance of the process and not the end result.
After various interviews with poets, dancers, chess players, and others, Csikszentmihalyi wrote the book titled Flow and defined it as: “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”
Despite being associated with creative tasks, flow can also be applied to education, sports, and the workplace. One of his key points about flow is that a person needs to push oneself out of the comfort zone to induce it. In education, this can be seen in challenging assignments that lead to learning. In the area of sports, athletes are pushed to the limit to improve mastery. In the workplace, a project can leave an employee feeling that they are “in the zone.”
Put plainly, it is the joy of doing something for the sake of the doing.