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  • Writer's pictureMatt Babb

The Flow State - The Key To Happiness

Maybe the single most useful thing I've ever learned for finding peace, joy, and contentment

What is the 'Flow State'?

To put it simply, The Flow State (also known as being "In The Zone") is the balance between skill and difficulty. But what most people don't know is that it's also the key to happiness. Coined by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this state has been the explicit subject of study by both positive psychologists and performance psychologists for decades.

Despite its power and potency, the Flow State is actually remarkably common. The Flow State is a normal and natural psychological phenomenon that emerges when someone is in alignment with the principles listed below, and is often accompanied by varying degrees of timelessness, exuberance, and bliss (not to mention rapid learning and creative breakthrough).

Everyday activities that are known to increase the chances of eliciting this experience are:


-martial arts

-intensive exercise

-performing or listening to music

-creating art

-deep meditation

-sexual climax

​Many people are surprised to learn that the Flow State, in all of its profundity, can be achieved at any time during any activity, as long as the proper conditions are set. One does not need to be flying down a mountain, to be half-covered in paint, or to be laughing raucously with friends to get in the zone. It is a learnable skill that can be activated at will once the principles are internalized.

The Principles of Flow

1. Complete concentration on the task

2. Clarity of goals and immediate feedback

3. The transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down)

4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding ('autotelic')

5. Effortlessness and ease

6. There is a balance between challenge and your skills

7. Action and awareness are merged (loss of self-conscious rumination)

8. There is a feeling of control over the task

The Flow Channel

As you can see, the model is remarkably simple. Tasks can be simply described as requiring some degree of skill, and our relative capacities can be assessed depending on the emotion we feel during the activity. If a task is too easy relative to the skills that we have, then we will feel boredom. If the task is too demanding, we will feel stress and discomfort. But when we strike the balance, we enter the 'Flow Channel'. And you'll know it when you find it.

The 'Flow Channel' is the perfect balance balance between skill and difficulty. As mentioned above, it is characterized by a supremely focused and capable mind, a sense of timelessness, the feeling of intrinsic reward, a loss of self-consciousness, and a pronounced feeling of control over oneself and the situation.

As you can see in the image above, there is also a sub-zone inside the Flow Channel called the "optimal zone", comparable to the "Zone of Proximal Development", which is a psychological state theorized by developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the mid-20th century. At this edge, one feels all of the above sensations in keeping with the Flow State, but in a more pronounced and yet precarious position. It's just below the zone of stress and discomfort, so slipping over that edge is more likely than slipping under it. That being said, it is the exact spot one wants to be in for rapid learning and for outperforming oneself in previous sessions of the activity.

How can the Flow State serve you?

We have yet to discover the limits of the human mind, especially when it is honed to a high degree of skill and mastery. It has been proven through research and through countless personal accounts that entering the Flow State regularly and deliberately produces a healthy, flexible, and ever-increasingly sharp mind that can meet challenges and perfect art forms at impressive speeds. [1] [2] [3] This is especially true when paired with regular mindfulness. [4]

Getting there is straightforward. All it takes is practice and a solid understanding of the abstract principles involved. Once there, the magic happens by itself, and your conscious mind turns up to monitor feedback, to keep parameters optimal, and to enjoy the ride!

If you'd like to dive deeper into how the Flow State can apply directly to you and your endeavors, please feel free to schedule your first free session via the Contact page on my website. In sessions, we will learn and utilize the above principles and apply them to whatever area you are wanting to improve.

Thanks for reading!

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