Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychology professor who immigrated to the United States in 1956 at the age of 22. He is best known for his concept of flow and its relation to happiness and creativity. Flow has been generally described by many people as an intrinsic motivation where people are completely focused on a situation or task at hand. Csikszentmihalyi writes prolifically having published 120 articles and books or book chapters across all kinds of psychology topics. He is widely considered to be one of the motivating forces behind positive psychology given his focus on creativity and happiness. Csikszentmihalyi often mentions the roots of positive psychology going back to Aristotle.
Flow is a state a person enters which is akin to completely encompassing motivation and attention to what they are doing. Each person can experience flow under different circumstances and tasks and in fact the tasks that I personally experience flow under may be very different from the tasks that would make another person experience the same level of flow. Csikszentmihalyi (2008) wrote “the common characteristics of optimal experience: a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound, action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing.”
Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi (2001) identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.
1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
2. merging of action and awareness
3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
5. a distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
Csikszentmihalyi began to study flow after noticing artists who got so enveloped in their work they lost track of time and even meals as they dove into their work. Since then Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow has been highly influential within the study of motivation but also in the field of positive psychology.
The concept of flow has been studied and acknowledged in so many different areas of motivation that it’s almost impossible to not discover some of Csikszentmihalyi’s work mentioned within areas of study inside of motivation. Part of this may be that many of us have experienced what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow and have drawn significant fulfillment from the experience as well as learned and improved skills during those moments. I think we are drawn to the very positive nature of the feelings associated with it and it rings true in our minds with regards to self-actualization and becoming the best version of what we are supposed to be. Some part of the positive feedback of flow tells us we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing.
Ultimately motivation is measured by performance on tasks and here we find that flow has a...