Flow (psychology)

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Flow is a concept of intrinsic motivation and describes an experience during which individuals are fully involved in what they are doing and are completely absorbed by this activity. The concept was first described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 70s and denoted to be an optimal experience. People seek such experiences because they are fun and rewarding by itself and thus called autotelic (auto=self, telos=goal). Some people are said to be more motivated in pursuing autotelic activities and are thus called "autotelics" or "autotelic personalities".

Preconditions of Flow

Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi describe three preconditions for the emergence of Flow:

  1. Balance between a person's skills and the challenges of the situation
  2. Clear goals that can be achieved
  3. Clear feedback about what has been achieved up to the present moment

Being in flow is the way that some interviewees described the subjective experience of engaging just-manageable challenges by tackling a series of goals, continuously processing feedback about progress, and adjusting action based on this feedback.

Components of Flow

Under these preconditions experience can unfold from moment to moment and people can enter a subjective state with the following characteristics:

  1. Intense concentration on what one is doing at the moment
  2. Action and awareness get merged
  3. Reflexive self-consciousness gets lost (loss of awareness of oneself)
  4. A sense that one can control one's actions (a sense that one can deal with the given situation because one knows how to respond to what happens next)
  5. Temporal experience is distorted (a sense that time has passed faster than normal)
  6. Feeling that the exercised activity is intrinsically rewarding (the end goal often is just seen an excuse for the process)
  7. People operate at full capacity

The consequences of Flow

Deep-Flow vs. Micro-Flow

External Links


  • Nakamura, J.& Csikszentmihalvi, M. (2002): The Concept of Flow. In C. R. Snyder und S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (S. 89-105). Oxford: Oxford University Press.