Jan. 12, 2023 - To Be or Not To Be in “Flow”?

Life Coaching: To Be or Not To Be in “Flow”?

Feeling unhappy, unsatisfied, unfilled with where we are in our life?

But can we remember past experiences where we actually were happy, fulfilled, satisfied… to the point of losing track of time, of what was around us? These past experiences were “Flow” moments… and this “Flow” concept is what I’m discussing in this article.

What’s the Flow Concept?

The Flow concept was identified in the 1970s by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who researched “Happiness” and positive psychology – but don’t worry, this is not a psychology article!

In simple terms, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi discovered that, in fact, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

What Are the Principles of Flow?

Through his research, Mihály Csikszentmihalyi created a flow model representation, shown below, of the eight emotional mental states that we, human beings, go through. These emotional mental states vary depending on the situation we’re in, and the level of abilities (skills, knowledge, experience) and challenges (difficulty, complexity) we need to face to address that situation.

As available at Game Theory – Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) – Henry Anderson (wordpress.com)

For example, we feel apathy when we barely use any of our abilities and we’re barely challenged while undertaking a task. On the opposite spectrum, we’re in “Flow” when using our abilities to their maximum and, at the same time, stretching ourselves, getting outside of our comfort zone thanks to the high level of challenge required by the task at hand: we’re focused on increasing our abilities to complete the task, we ignore distractions around us… we’re happy, satisfied, fulfilled with where we are in that moment.

Then, there are the other 2 “corners” of the flow model: the relaxing state, when we’re using our abilities to their maximum but without challenging ourselves, and the anxious state, when we’re highly challenged by the task but don’t have the right skill, knowledge, experience to deal with it.

So, overall, where do we situate ourselves on this flow model?

And, most of the time, where would we like to be?

Also, where would we like to be more often, even if it’s not most of the time?

Note: This article may be about “Flow”, but it’s really up to each of us to decide where we’d like to be most of the time, and where we’d like to be more often: it doesn’t have to be in the “Flow” corner. It’s perfectly fine to be more interested by relaxation, or control, or even arousal states… (I’m assuming no one wants to be in the apathy, boredom, worry and anxiety states!).

What Do We Get Out of these “Flow” Moments?

Well, it allows us to improve our skills and knowledge, to get different experiences, to do things that are more complicated… to evolve, to progress, to move forward. And this leads to more happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment in our life.

As a consequence, we’re less bored, depressed, sad, stressed… (let’s feel free to add any other feelings that take us down, bring negative thoughts… and make us feel unhappy, unsatisfied, unfilled with where we are in our life).

How Do We Create these “Flow” Moments?

Since we’re all unique individuals, there is no “one fit all” recipe to creating “Flow” moments… but there are guidelines:

1 - Reflecting on our past “Flow” experiences:

  • When did these experiences occur?
  • What were we doing? What abilities were we using? What challenges were we facing?
  • What was is our control? What wasn’t?
  • How were we dealing with the challenges?
  • Where were we (location, environment, surroundings)?
  • With whom were we?
  • And what else can we think of when reflecting on these past experiences?

2 - Adapting these past “Flow” experiences to our present life:

  • What did we learn from reflecting on our past “Flow” experiences?
  • Which lessons can we use in our present life? How can we integrate them?
  • What goals can we set for ourselves that would include these lessons?
  • How can we stretched our actual abilities without getting overly stressed?
  • How can we recreate locations, environments, surroundings that allowed us to concentrate on the task?
  • Who could we involve, either directly or indirectly, to support us in going through a “Flow” moment?
  • And what else could we do to adapt our past “Flow” experiences to our present life?

3 - How about preparing to have more of these “Flow” moments in the long term?

Reflecting on our past “Flow” experiences is a very good exercise, but we must also be aware that the factors leading us to a “Flow” experience will evolve with time because:

  • We ourselves evolve with time, life experiences and life circumstances: our dreams, our visions and goals, our values, our strengths… and
  • What was once a stretching experience is not one anymore because we now know how to deal with the situation / carry out the task… It could even now take us to the boredom state!

So, how do we prepare to have more of these “Flow” moments in the long term?

  • How can we introduce “Flow” circumstances in each of the most important facets of our life?
  • What long-term goals can we set that would provide opportunities for such “Flow” moments?
  • What (first) steps can we take now to keep “stretching” ourselves?
  • What else can we think of to have more “Flow” experiences in the future?
  • But always remembering that we will have to adapt to how our “Flow” factors evolve!


So, are we ready to create more “Flow” experiences in our life, starting now but also thinking about the longer term?

If yes, but not quite sure what “Flow” experiences are for us? Let’s discuss this topic with someone else, such as a life coach, or someone on our “personal board of director”.

Finally, want to know more about the “Flow” concept? Check out Mihály Csikszentmihalyi’s books on the topic[1]!


[1] Such as Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience; Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention; and Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning