If you’ve ever become lost in an activity—playing video games, running, or making art—you’ve noticed that you become completely immersed in the present moment, rising to the challenge of the experience without becoming bored, frustrated, or tired. Thoughts about the past, future, and even the self melt away. Time seems to fly by. You’re in the zone.
This is the flow state, first described by late Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s. Researchers have been chasing the concept ever since, trying to figure out how and why we enter the flow state and how we can get more of this inherently rewarding experience in our everyday lives, in both work and play.
Flow is not only an enjoyable state, it is also seen as personally meaningful. “When the self loses itself in a transcendent purpose—whether to write great poetry, craft beautiful furniture, understand the motions of galaxies, or help children be happier—the self becomes largely invulnerable to the fears and setbacks of ordinary existence,” said Csikszentmihalyi in a 1995 interview. Flow is also associated with an improved performance in certain situations.