flow

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Named by […]

In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields (and has an especially big recognition in occupational therapy), though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions.[1] Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as being in the zone.

According to Csikszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task,[2] although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Flow has many of the same characteristics as (the positive aspects of) hyperfocus. However, hyperfocus is not always described in a positive light. Some examples include spending “too much” time playing video games or getting side-tracked and pleasurably absorbed by one aspect of an assignment or task to the detriment of the overall assignment. In some cases, hyperfocus can “capture” a person, perhaps causing them to appear unfocused or to start several projects, but complete few.

Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.[3]

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience. Additionally, psychology expert, Kendra Cherry, has mentioned three other components that Csíkszentmihályi lists as being a part of the flow experience:[4]

  1. “Immediate feedback” [4]
  2. Feeling that you have the potential to succeed
  3. Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible

Just as with the conditions listed above, these conditions can be independent of one another.

A flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is most likely to occur when one is wholeheartedly performing a task or activity for intrinsic purposes.[7][11] Passive activities like taking a bath or even watching TV usually do not elicit flow experiences as individuals have to actively do something to enter a flow state.[12][13] While the activities that induce flow may vary and be multifaceted, Csikszentmihályi asserts that the experience of flow is similar despite the activity.[14]

Flow theory postulates three conditions that have to be met to achieve a flow state:

  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task.[15]
  2. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state.[15]
  3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.[15]

However, it was argued that the antecedent factors of flow are interrelated, as a perceived balance between challenges and skills requires that one knows what he or she has to do (clear goals) and how successful he or she is in doing it (immediate feedback). Thus, a perceived fit of skills and task demands can be identified as the central precondition of flow experiences.[16]

In 1987, Massimini, Csíkszentmihályi and Carli published the 8-channel model of flow shown here.[17] Antonella Delle Fave, who worked with Fausto Massimini at the University of Milan, now calls this graph the Experience Fluctuation Model.[18] The Experience Fluctuation Model depicts the channels of experience that result from different levels of perceived challenges and perceived skills. This graph illustrates one further aspect of flow: it is more likely to occur when the activity at hand is a higher-than-average challenge (above the center point) and the individual has above-average skills (to the right of the center point).[7] The center of this graph (where the sectors meet) represents one’s average levels of challenge and skill across all activities an individual performs during their daily life. The further from the center an experience is, the greater the intensity of that state of being (whether it is flow or anxiety or boredom or relaxation).[11]

Several problems of this model have been discussed in literature.[16][19] One is, that it does not ensure a perceived balance between challenges and skills which is supposed to be the central precondition of flow experiences. Individuals with a low average level of skills and a high average level of challenges (or the other way round) do not necessarily experience a fit between skills and challenges when both are above their individual average.[20] In addition, one study found that low challenge situations which were surpassed by skill were associated with enjoyment, relaxation, and happiness, which, they claim, is contrary to flow theory.[21]

Schaffer (2013) proposed 7 flow conditions:

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you are doing
  4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
  5. High perceived challenges
  6. High perceived skills
  7. Freedom from distractions[22]

Schaffer also published a measure, the Flow Condition Questionnaire (FCQ), to measure each of these 7 flow conditions for any given task or activity.[22]

 

VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS)

Classification of strengths Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective Courage: bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality[3] The VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS), formerly known as the “Values in Action […]

Classification of strengths

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective
  2. Courage: bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
  4. Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership
  5. Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality[3]

The VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS), formerly known as the “Values in Action Inventory,” is a psychological assessment measure designed to identify an individual’s profile of character strengths. It was created by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, well-known researchers in the field of positive psychology, in order to operationalize theirCharacter Strengths and Virtues Handbook (CSV).[1] The CSV is the positive psychology counterpart to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used in traditional psychology.[1] Unlike the DSM, which scientifically categorizes human deficits and disorders, the CSV classifies positive human strengths.[2] Moreover, the CSV is centered on helping people recognize and build upon their strengths. This aligned with the overall goal of the positive psychology movement, which aims to make people’s lives more fulfilling, rather than simply treating mental illness.[2] Notably, the VIA-IS is the tool by which people can identify their own positive strengths and learn how to capitalize on them.[2]

As a relatively new field of research, positive psychology lacked a common vocabulary for discussing measurable positive traits before 2004.[1] Traditional psychology benefited from the creation of DSM, as it provided researchers and clinicians with the same set of language from which they could talk about the negative. As a first step in remedying this disparity between tradition and positive psychology, Peterson and Seligman set out to identify, organize and measure character.

Peterson & Seligman began by defining the notion of character as traits that are possessed by an individual and are stable over time, but can still be impacted by setting and thus are subject to change.[1] The researchers then started the process of identifying character strengths and virtues by brainstorming with a group of noted positive psychology scholars. Then, Peterson & Seligman examined ancient cultures (including their religions, politics, education and philosophies) for information about how people in the past construed human virtue. The researchers looked for virtues that were present across cultures and time. Six core virtues emerged from their analysis: courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence and wisdom.

Next, Peterson and Seligman proposed a model of classification which includes horizontal and vertical components. The hierarchical system is modeled after the Linnaean classification of species, which ranges from a specific species to more general and broad categories. The scientists stated the six core values are the broadest category and are, “core characteristics valued by moral philosophers and religious thinkers” (p. 13).[1] Peterson and Seligman then moved down the hierarchy to identifying character strengths, which are, “the psychological processes or mechanisms that define the virtues” (p. 13).[1]

The researchers began the process of identifying individual character strengths by brainstorming with a group of noted positive psychology scholars.[1] This exercise generated a list of human strengths, which were helpful when consulting with Gallup Organization. Peterson and Seligman then performed an exhaustive literature search for work that directly addresses good character in the domains of, “psychiatry, youth development, philosophy and psychology” (p. 15). Some individuals who influenced Peterson and Seligman’s choice of strengths include: Abraham Maslow, Erik Erikson, Ellen Greenberger, Marie Jahoda, Carol Ryff, Michael Cawley, Howard Gardner, Shalom Schwartz. In an effort to leave no stone unturned, the researchers also looked for virtue-laden messages in popular culture. For example, the researchers examined Hallmark greeting cards, personal ads, graffiti, bumper stickers and profiles of Pokémon characters.

After identifying dozens of ‘candidate strengths’, the researchers needed to find a way to further refine their list. Therefore, Peterson & Seligman developed a list of 10 criteria (e.g., strengths must contribute to a sense of a fulfilling life, must be intrinsically valuable) to help them select the final 24 strengths for the CSV (see CSV for complete list of criteria). Approximately half of the strengths included in the CSV meet all 10 criteria, and half do not.[1] By looking for similarities between candidate strengths, the researchers distributed 24 character strengths between six virtue categories. Only after creating this a priori organization of traits, the researchers performed, “an exploratory factor analysis of scale scores using varimax rotation,” (p. 632) from which five factors emerged.[1] Peterson & Seligman state that they are not as concerned with how the 24 strengths are grouped into virtue clusters because, in the end, these traits are mixed together to form the character of a person.

Only 3 studies have checked the factor structure of the CSV, on which the VIA-IS is based.[1][9][10]

Using a second order factor analysis, Macdonald & colleagues (2008) found that the 24 strengths did not fit into the 6 higher order virtues model proposed in the CSV. None of the clusters of characters strengths that they found resembled the structure of the 6 virtue clusters of strengths. The researchers noted that many of the VIA character strengths cross-loaded onto multiple factors. Rather, the strengths were best represented by a one and four factor model. A one factor model would mean that the strengths are best accounted for by, “one overarching factor,” such as a global trait of character (p. 797).[9] A four factor model more closely resembles the ‘Big Five’ model of personality. The character strengths in the four factor model could be organized into the following four groups: Niceness, Positivity, Intellect and Conscientiousness.

Peterson and Seligman (2004) conducted a factor analysis and found that a five factor model, rather than their 6 hierarchical virtues model, best organized the strengths. Their study, however, did not include five of the character strengths in the results of their analysis. The researchers most likely did this because their results were plagued by the problem of strengths cross-loading on to multiple factors, similar to what occurred in Macdonald and colleagues (2008) study.[10] Clearly, empirical evidence casts doubt on the link proposed by Peterson & Seligman (2004) between the 24 strengths and associated 6 higher order virtues.

Brdar & Kashdan (2009) used more precise statistical tools to build upon the findings of the two earlier studies. They found that a four factor model (Interpersonal Strengths, Vitality, Fortitude and Cautiousness) explained 60% of the variance. One large, overarching factor explained 50% of the variance. The four factors found by Brdar and Kashdan (2009) are similar to the four factors found by Macdonald and colleagues (2008). Once again, the Brdar and Kashdan found that the 24 strengths did not fall into the 6 higher order virtues proposed by Peterson and Seligman (2004). The correlations found between many of the strengths demonstrates that each strength is not distinct, which contradicts the claims made by the creators of the VIA-IS.

Caution should be taken in interpreting the results from these three studies as their samples differ in age and country of origin.[10]

happiness and positive thinking

The Science of Character (8 mins) explores the neuroscience and social science that proves that we can shape who we are, and who we want to be. The film was part of the global Character Day 2015 (Sept 18). Millions of people … Continue reading

The Science of Character (8 mins) explores the neuroscience and social science that proves that we can shape who we are, and who we want to be. The film was part of the global Character Day 2015 (Sept 18). Millions of people participated in the day, with screenings in over 6700 classrooms, schools and organizations, a global online Q&A, and online discussion materials to catalyze deeper conversations about character development.

Published on Jun 23, 2013

Most of us think we know what would make us happy and that our only problem is getting it. But research in psychology, behavioral economics, and cognitive neuroscience shows that people are not very good at predicting what will make them happy, how happy it will make them, and how long that happiness will last. One reason for this is that our cultures provide us with both wisdom and myth about the true sources of human happiness.


Uploaded on Dec 17, 2008

http://www.ted.com Dan Gilbert presents research and data from his exploration of happiness — sharing some surprising tests and experiments that you can also try on yourself.


Published on Mar 13, 2013

Oliver Burkeman, winner of the Foreign Press Association Young Journalist of the Year Award, explores “happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking” in his best-selling book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Burkeman says “For a civilization so fixated on achieving happiness, we seem remarkably incompetent at the task. Self-help books don’t seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth — even if you can get it — doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life and work often seem to bring as much stress as joy. We can’t even agree on what ‘happiness’ means”.

Oliver Burkeman seeks answers from an unusual collection of people — experimental psychologists and Buddhists, terrorism experts, spiritual teachers, business consultants, philosophers — who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. They argue that ‘positive thinking’ and relentless optimism aren’t the solution, but part of the problem. And that there is an alternative, ‘negative path’ to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty — those things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought provoking, counterintuitive and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is a celebration of the power of negative thinking.

New York based Burkeman, is a regular contributor to The Guardian. His work has also appeared in Esquire, Elle, GQ, the Observer and the New Republic. He holds a degree in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University.

Happiness

Authentic Happiness is the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology, a branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive … Continue reading

Authentic Happiness is the homepage of Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology, a branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.

This website has more than 2 million users from around the world, and you are welcome to use all of the resources available here for free.

The best place to start is by learning more about the latest theory and initiatives in positive psychology, by taking one of our well-being questionnaires, or by checking out recent presentations and selected media.