Flow: What is it and how do I get some?

Have you ever picked up a book and became so engrossed that hours passed before you took a break?

Have you ever grabbed a coffee with an old friend and then suddenly noticed hours have gone by?

Wikipedia defines this as, “In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.”

Essentially it means when you are so engrossed in an activity that you do not know how much time has passed.

If you want to see flow, sit down in a room of children who are given the space to play and the time to explore. Children are experts at immersing themselves in play and losing a sense of time while being ultra focused on developing a storyline, building a city, or painting.

This past weekend I spent a few days at a lake with some neighbors. I observed many instances of flow during those two days. I watched children play for hours on floats, kayaks, and water toys. When given the opportunity to cover me with sunscreen, my 4-year-old neighbor spent at least 20 minutes ‘painting my legs’. One group of children sat in the middle of the floor building with legos while another group hung out on the swings chatting. These children were deep in ‘flow’.

While researching more about flow, which is well documented by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I ran across an article titled How School Stole Your Flow by Dan Sanchez. He discusses what many early childhood teachers have known for years. Play is the work of children. It is how they learn, grow, and figure things out. Sadly, many schools have taken anything that looks like play away from the children. Essentially these schools are giving the message that time that is spent playing is time that could be spent learning.

From How School Stole Your Flow, “For the school-minded, any activity freely chosen by the child, no matter how growth-inducing, is considered ‘mere play’ in the denigrated sense. An activity is only deemed ‘work’ and ‘learning’ if it is involuntary and assigned by adults. This trains the child to mentally associate work and learning with compulsion and obligation. Growth-oriented activities are thus drained of all their charm for the child.”

My challenge to you is to think about how you create opportunities for your students and your own children to get into a state of ‘flow’. Need some ideas? Check out Creative Kids: 7 Ways to Teach Flow



How School Stole Your Flow

Creative Kids Learn to Flow

Creative Kids: 7 Ways to Teach Flow

9 Steps to Achieving Flow (and Happiness) in your Work