March 3 2017

Focus on the zone

Sharon Garro MAPS
By Psychologist, Redirection Psychology

Moments of pure absorption in your work provide powerful insights that help to boost your wellbeing and performance

Have you ever gone with the flow? It might seem a shallow question, but psychologists have linked the concept to wellbeing and achievement.

Flow refers to those times when we experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement in life. The term was coined by renowned psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and will be familiar to any athlete who has achieved the feeling of being totally “in the zone”.

How to achieve flow

Flow can be attained by any of us and it doesn’t necessarily require us to engage in adrenaline-rush activities.  Some people experience flow when playing the piano, or studying, gardening or even knitting.

Psychologists have worked out that we feel flow when we are totally engaged in an activity and feel both adequately challenged and sufficiently skilled to meet that challenge.  In those moments, we are so absorbed in the activity we lose track of time.

When we are under-challenged to our skill level, we experience boredom and flow eludes us. When we are over-challenged, we experience anxiety.

Csíkszentmihályi found that the more time we spend doing activities in which we experience flow, the greater wellbeing we will experience.  This makes sense, as we are giving ourselves opportunity to feel positive emotions, positive engagement and a sense of accomplishment. Flow also helps us work out ways to improve in an activity.

Focus on flow at school

This concept is especially useful for students and teachers.  When a student feels anxious about their learning, it may be a time to take a step back and see how their skill level can be increased. This might be through building their short-term memory, having someone further explain some concepts or just take having them spend time practicing.

The television personality Todd Sampson gave a powerful example of this approach in the ABC TV series Redesign my Brain. He developed his skill level in order to complete a tightrope walk across two skyscrapers in Sydney.

At first, his anxiety and fear levels were literally sky high, but over three months he developed his skills in tightrope walking, mindfulness and managing his fear levels in order to complete the task.  It was truly amazing to watch.

Most of us have no desire to walk a tightrope between two buildings. But focussing on flow can help us improve our wellbeing and do better in the achievements that matter to us.