Aspects of Play: Flow Research (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

The state of flow is a state upon which an individual is fixated on a particular task. This is achieved when the task in question provides a stimulating challenge for the individual that corresponds to their own skill level when performing said task. When this state is achieved, material and humanly desires become perceptively irrelevant to the individual as they become self consumed with their focus on the task at hand. Flow can be instigated by doing various tasks, from video games to doing the dishes, it is all dependant on the participants level of focus and attenuation with the task.


The image above is the diagram used by Csikszentmihalyi to visually express the dynamics of flow theory. Flow itself is merely an aspect of the diagram, but is seen as the ‘sweet spot’. To achieve flow, as the diagram shows, is the way of having a challenge high enough to encompass your own personal skill level. Anxiety, Worry and Apathy are the states designated on this diagram that govern the player being responsible for their own unhappiness with the task, because their own skill level is too low. Arousal and Boredom govern the mid way point to flow, as Boredom circumvents the individual needing more a challenge and Arousal indicates the need for a higher skill level. Relaxation and Control are on the more ‘happier’ scale of things, which have the player in the driving seat and the challenge being adequate or not enough. Flow thus comes after these and is designated to be the equilibrium between a high skill level, meeting a challenge worthy of it.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are many ways in which we feel flow. Though we might not feel all of them at the same time for flow to occur, they are factors upon which that can happen. These are;

  1. Goals clearly set out that, whilst provide a considerable challenge, are achievable in the eyes of the individual.
  2. Strong concentration and focused attention.
  3. The activity is intrinsically rewarding.
  4. Feelings of serenity; a loss of feelings and self-consciousness.
  5. Timelessness; a distorted sense of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time and passing.
  6. Immediate feedback.
  7. Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
  8. Feelings of personal control over the situation and the outcome.
  9. Lack of awareness of physical needs.
  10. Complete focus on the activity itself.

Also, for those interested, a great TED talk by Mihaly on flow being the secret to happiness;

Cherry, K. 2013. Flow – The Psychology of Flow. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 24 October 2013].


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