Flow has been noted by psychologists as something universal. Flow in activities was initially
written about by the psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi (pronounced ‘Cheeks Sent Me High’)
after he studied artists working. He noticed how oblivious the artists were to fatigue, plus how
strongly self-motivated they were. They didn’t even feel hunger while they were fully engaged in
Hence, flow is a state during activities which is often referred to as being ‘in the zone’. All sense of
time is lost. Psychologists note that people ‘in flow’ are fully engaged in their activity, to the point
where nothing distracts them, something which, in learning terms, means that they grow and make
steady progress towards attaining their learning goals. When a goal is reached, it is then that time is
noticed again, and often, more has gone by than seems possible.
Emotionally, flow is a rather neutral state, because the focus is completely on the task at hand.
However, the aftermath is invigorating because the person feels happy and relaxed, and this
accompanies a sense of achievement. Also, it has been shown that happy people learn better, so this
encourages further engagement in learning activities.
The Importance of Choice
Flow is more likely to happen when we are working at something that we have chosen to do.
University of Michigan psychologist Chris Peterson has argued that flow is rarely experienced by
pupils during school activities because most of their tasks lack that crucial aspect of choice.
Children will play for hours, learning and growing, oblivious to what is happening around them, but
transferring that absorption into a more formal setting is a challenge.
During home-schooling (where people have chosen to take something on to learn) getting into a
flow state should be more likely, if preparation is also followed. It is important to understand that
flow occurs when there is a good balance between skill and challenge: too little challenge and we
are bored; too much and we feel anxious, or frustrated. Teachers and students who are skilled at
judging this balance, and who can encourage, or be encouraged, about how to follow their interests
in the work, will be most likely to function at their full capacity.
With the balance right between difficulty and motivation, one method of preparing for flow is via
meditation. Meditation is a highly focused kind of attention. Developing a series of ‘meditative
activities’ (such as yoga or tai chi) before starting lessons will encourage subsequent flow. These
calming, focusing exercises can last for as little as 30 seconds, but they allow you to gather yourself
before the task at hand. Athletes accept and work on the importance of mental preparation before
they compete, so they enter ‘the zone’ when they need to. Teachers and students will also benefit
from meditation and mental preparation for the task of learning. Enjoy the experience.