“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.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (founder of the psychological concept of FLOW)

FLOW is when a person’s concentration is so intense that there is no attention remaining for irrelevant thoughts or worry. Self-consciousness disappears and the sense of time alters. Any activity that produces such experience is so fulfilling that people are willing to do it for its own sake, without need for extrinsic reward and despite risk.

There are the categories of “games” we have here on this earth (according to Roger Callois)  that provide a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality.

Agonistic: competition, these games are designed to actualize potential. (i.e., chess, sports)

Aleatory: games of chance, illusion of controlling the future.  (i.e., slot machines)

Vertigo: transforms the way that reality is perceived; alter consciousness. (i.e., spinning until your dizzy, roller coasters, or hallucinogens)

Mimicry: feel as though one is more than what one is through fantasy, pretense, disguise. (i.e., role playing, acting)

Some individuals don’t need to be doing anything particularly special to experience FLOW; these people have what’s called an “autotelic personality.” These are the ones who are able to achieve FLOW in everyday moments. In fact, they can achieve FLOW even when life is ugly and painful. Autotelic people can survive some seriously tough times (the concept of FLOW was created by a man who was imprisoned as a child during WWII and discovered that playing chess in prison made all the suffering fade away from his consciousness) and come through those bitter circumstances even stronger, healthier, and even flourishing.

The autotelic personality is characterized by non-self-conscious individualism (people who are happily themselves without too much self-focus) and a strongly directed purpose that is not self-seeking. Autotelic people tend to be intrinsically motivated and because they are not overly self-focused they have enough psychic energy free to observe and analyze their surroundings objectively. This allows them to discover new opportunities for fulfillment.

Csikszentmihalyi gives us some pointers for how to develop the autotelic personality traits in ourselves and others:

  1. Set goals that provide clear and instant feedback
  2. Become immersed in that particular activity
  3. Be mindful, be present, pay attention to what’s happening in the moment
  4. Learn to enjoy what’s happening in the moment
  5. Match skills to the challenge (not too frustrating or too easy; FLOW is achieved when skills are well-matched to the challenge at hand. It should be difficult but attainable with focused, practiced effort)

The autotelic individual can enter a state of FLOW more easily than everybody else. But everybody else can enter FLOW. It’s more difficult for people with learning disabilities, though, like ADD because of the concentration problem. But, if these individuals can find a FLOW activity in a distraction-free environment, then it will do wonders for their mental health and happiness.

Entering into FLOW promotes higher levels of performance and new states of consciousness. It transforms the self by making it more complex.

So, it’s really good to enter into FLOW. For everyone. And it can happen…

  • when having a really engaging conversation with friends…you know…those excellent conversations where you’ve had to pee for the past 45 minutes but you just don’t want to get up and go to the bathroom because you’re so interested in what you’re discussing.
  • when playing any of those above mentioned games (sports, dance, drama, art)
  • when you’re running, baking, painting, writing, singing, or doing anything that you love

So, one way to combat stress in your life is to make time to find FLOW. Identify the activities that create a FLOW state for you and do that.

How do you experience FLOW?

for more on FLOW, you can view this TED Talk

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29 Responses to FLOW

  1. jessica says:

    that was a tiny scream, because I love this so much.
    it was a tiny little scream of joy, to be specific.
    but FLOW–I never knew the word for it, but I know this thing, I think.
    I think that FLOW has kept me alive over the past nine months or so.
    And it happens when yes, I enter into very connected conversations. Or when I dance. Or write. Or play music. Or write music. Or excersize (I cannot for the life of me figure out how to spell that word right now; I’ve tried ten different ways and all of them result in the dreaded squiggly line of failure. Oh well, moving on). Or go somewhere beautiful.

    And also, may I just add:
    The autotelic individual is also a very good friend. I know this because you are one.

  2. jessica says:

    p.s. why isn’t this called:

    livin’thedream.com ????

  3. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Jessic! And–hahahaha about livin’thedream.com. That made me laugh out loud. And yes, I believe that you experience FLOW quite frequently. I think that YOU have an autotelic personality! Maybe that’s one reason why we get along so well. Maybe we’re both just two girls who wanna have a good time, have a good time, have a good time! Ha.

  4. jessica says:

    I think you nailed it with that last observation, linds.

  5. mom says:

    this is great information lindsay….i think you and i were recently talking about flow….i particuarly go to the “flow” place when i hear music i like….i play it loud…and honestly i feel like i AM the music …or when i do word puzzles….and i also think watching a t.v. show i like will do this…thanks for writing a blog…i will read it every morning…

  6. mom says:

    i like the blog title…is there a reason for the title…?

    • collin says:

      I chose the name for this blog. This is how I explained it to Lindsay when I gave it to her.

      “I chose the name twirling leaf because I think that it fits you and how I imagine you will use this site. There are few things in nature that I find more beautiful than a colorful leaf floating on the breeze. It moves elegantly in a way that nobody can predict and it brings beauty where there was only open space. It is on a journey. You can’t look at a leaf and know exactly where it is going, but you can be mesmerized by its grace as it travels to its destination.

      I am drawn to many of those same qualities in you. You live with excitement, elegance, and grace. You make this world so much better than it ever could be without you. Also, you are on an incredible journey and, while we can’t be sure where that will land us at this point in time, it is clear that you are moving through life with unsurpassed beauty.

      I hope that you enjoy documenting your journey through life here and I look forward to the beauty that will fill this open space.”

  7. Sare says:

    Linds!!! i am SO happy that you have started this beautiful blog!!! you are such a beautiful and intelligent person and it is so great to read your thoughts! im so glad that were friends and i am so proud of you for all of your hard work and determination to accomplish your dreams!!! you are amazing!!!

  8. judy says:

    Hey Linds! Now I see what you needed the tree for! I love the blog.
    I like the terminology. I know how satisfying it is to feel that “flow” in creative ways, and relational ways. I love my morning cup of coffee with God! I also know all too well the frustration that comes at times when the chaos in my head keeps me scattering!

  9. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the comments, friends and family! Collin is working to install a plug-in that will allow me to reply to each comment directly. Until then, I will reply here:

    You certainly DO experience FLOW! You made many FLOW experiences in my life, and yes, many involved music. Some examples I remember: driving in the convertible with the music blaring, headed wherever…or dancing in the house or the backyard.
    Also, Twirling Leaf is a name that Collin created. He made me this blog for my birthday. I’ll let him explain the inspiration.

    You are so encouraging, Sare! Thanks for always being such a supportive friend.

    I was so touched and surprised to see my tiny tree here on this blog. And yes, focused time with God is a FLOW category of it’s own, I think.

  10. mers says:


  11. mom says:

    just an added note here but wow! what woman wouldn’t love to read what
    collin wrote to you about the blog title….i love that guy for cherishing
    you so much…

  12. jason says:

    Love it, Linds! And yes, I love the FLOW. Just absolutely love it.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Love it! I can’t wait to read more. Makes me want to go back to grad school.

  14. Jes says:

    love the blog linds! Oh how I need the FLOW in a major way right now in my life!

  15. Heather says:

    My FLOW is when I create things with my hands… Knitting really takes me there… I feel so relaxed and connected at the sane time…

  16. Chris says:

    Linds, your blog is great! Thanks so much for introducing me to the autotelic personality and the concept of FLOW!

    • Lindsay says:

      Hi Chris! Thanks for reading! I’m glad that you enjoyed learning about those things. Learning about FLOW was so fun for me because it gave name and shape to a concept that I just took for granted and didn’t really understand fully. I’m glad you appreciated it too!

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