Rethinking Flow States by Introducing 9 Antecedents

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Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, inventor of Flow Theory, would have been 89 on September 29, 2023.

Now, you have undoubtedly tasted the sweet nectar of flow. It’s that magical sensation when, 37 seconds into sharing an anecdote with friends, swinging a pickleball paddle, savoring a delectable meal, or simply observing a beaver’s leisurely stroll through the grass, you become one with the moment. Time? It gracefully decelerates. Your ego and selfhood? They vanish, leaving only action and awareness in harmonious convergence. The outcome? A surge of optimal performance. Don’t believe me? Watch Csikszentmihalyi’s mesmerizing TED Talk.

Picture this: A quaint dinner in Opatija, Croatia, with none other than Csikszentmihalyi himself. And when asked, what’s the quintessential measure of flow, his response was succinct: “I am experiencing intense joy.”

There’s profound wisdom in that simplicity. Flow, my friends, isn’t a mere fluke. There are at least 10 precursors to entering this elusive state — whether you call it “being in the zone,” attaining a “runner’s high,” or finding yourself “in a groove.” But here’s the kicker: You can’t interrogate someone about these nuances while they’re ensnared in flow, and scarcely afterward either.

Dissecting the 9 harbingers of flow

Three delve into internal psychology: clear goals, immediate feedback, and an ever-so-important sense of control.

Another trio explores environmental factors: the near-perfect alignment of your skills with the challenges at hand, meaningful consequences for your performance, and a fertile environment brimming with opportunities.

And finally, three more capture the social dimension: high-quality, low-maintenance communication, equal involvement from all participants, and shared objectives.

But here’s the conundrum: You can’t just tap someone on the shoulder and ask them these questions when they’re deep in the throes of their activity. Why? Because in that sacred space of flow, their very essence melds with the task at hand. Flow and mindfulness are like oil and water; they just don’t mix:

Mindfulness is typically construed as a mental practice that requires self-discipline and a commitment to trying to maintain reflective awareness of each passing moment. In contrast, flow involves intense task concentration, a loss of self-awareness, an altered sense of time, and merging of activity and awareness.

A Different Perspective on Flow

Consider flow as moments when you don’t hold back. No masks, no pretense. If you feel like grunting and sporting a “resting b-tch face,” so be it. No self-handicapping. Let failure be a possibility, even if it bruises your ego. It’s about letting your skills and strengths shine, whether they meet expectations or not. If flow is about shedding self-awareness and self-consciousness, let’s make a conscious choice to embrace it fully.

In the words of Khalil Gibran:

Do not love half lovers

Do not entertain half friends

Do not live half a life

and do not die a half death

If you choose silence, then be silent

When you speak, do so until you are finished

Do not silence yourself to say something

And do not speak to be silent

If you accept, then express it bluntly

Do not mask it

If you refuse then be clear about it

for an ambiguous refusal is but a weak acceptance

Do not accept half a solution

Do not believe half truths

Do not dream half a dream

Do not fantasize about half hopes

Half the way will get you no where

Half an idea will bear you no results

Half a life is a life you didn’t live,

A word you have not said

A smile you postponed

A love you have not had

A friendship you did not know

The half is a mere moment of inability

but you are able for you are not half a being

You are a whole that exists to live a life

not half a life.


This week, embark on an activity with your full arsenal. Choose immersion. Allow room for extremes — the possibility of soaring to the stars or crashing to the earth. Be captivated by your own words and those of others. Whether it’s a workout, a conversation, a physical encounter, an assignment, a meal, a playful moment, or simply rest, go all in.

Why? Because full immersion births those rare, precious moments that etch themselves into your very being. They dwell in your working memory, reside in your short-term memory, and eventually find a home in your long-term memory. These moments become the bedrock of who you are and who you aspire to be. So, add another layer to your identity by refusing to engage half-heartedly.

Cease fearing greatness. Unlock your hidden potential. Full immersion awaits: Embrace it, and watch as your life transforms.

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