Create Flow Activities For Personal Success

flow activitiesA key factor for your in the marketplace and in your personal life is the ability to model Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of creating .

“Why in the world would I want to be Mihály Csíkszentmihályi?” you may ask. And what in the world are flow activities?

I’m glad you asked!

Before We Begin: A Recap

I’ve written a series of articles based on research from positive psychology on strategies that can enhance your happiness levels.

Live Happy Strategy #1: Live Life to the Full:  Enhance your well-being by cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

Live Happy Strategy #2: Optimism: Key to Success: Enhance your well-being by learning how to consistently think like an optimistic person.

Live Happy Strategy #3: Learn Two Secrets of Being Happy: Increase your level of well-being by learning contentment with who you are and what you have; and learn to tackle problems of living head effectively.

Live Happy Strategy #4: 10 Acts of Kindness To Change the World:  In this article I review one of the principles of ancient wisdom: It is in giving that we receive.  I’ve provided 10 easy and practical ideas to get you started in a lifestyle of changing the world.

Live Happy Strategy #5: Friendship Thoughts to Enhance Your Life:  You can use the strategies from this article to both solidify your current relationships and mend relationships that may have fallen into disrepair.  Relationships are one of the most essential ingredients to a happy and meaningful life.

Definition of Flow

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi was a social scientist who studied and formulated the concept of flow.

Here how Wikipedia defines the concept of flow:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.[1]According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate 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.

Hallmarks of Flow Activities

Life coach Tim LeBon wrote an excellent resource article on the concept of flow.  Summarizing Csíkszentmihályi’s research, Mr. LeBon points out that flow activities have the following characteristics:

  • You have a feeling of ecstasy: almost an out-of-body experience.
  • You feel completely involved, engaged, and concentrated/focused in the flow activity that you are doing.
  • There is challenge involved in the activity, and you feel that it will stretch your abilities, but you also feel that you can meet the challenge of the activity.
  • You experience a sense of energy and serenity while performing the activity.

Examples of Flow Activities

One of the first examples that came to me when I thought about flow activities was Eric Lidell from the classic movie, Chariots of Fire.  Eric Lidell, the main character of the movie (a true story, by the way), loved running.  He expressed the joy he felt when he would run competitively:

“I believe that God made me for a purpose….He … made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Another example of flow activities occurred to me as I recalled a recent re-make I watched of  The Karate Kid, starring Will Smith’s son, Jaden.  As we watch this 10-year-old character increasingly perfect his skills in the martial arts, we sense the joy with which he performs very difficult and demanding tasks after hours and hours of practice.

Here are some other examples of flow activities:

  • Michael Jordan playing “in the zone”, when it seemed he could miss no shots during high scoring games.
  • Champion concert violinists when they are performing an exquisite solo number.
  • An actor who is performing on stage.
  • A high school student performing in a debate.

Why Is Flow Important to Happiness?

According to positive psychology research, the more we can engage in flow activities, the more energized and happy we will feel.  When we engage in these activities, we feel challenged and energized.  We lose a focus on ourselves in service of the task at hand.

This doesn’t mean that we have to only do flow activities.  But research suggests that if we can purposefully harness the concept of flow, we will experience greater levels of well-being in our personal and professional lives.

How To Create Flow Activities In Your Life

Become Aware of Flow Activities Already In Your Life

You’ll find some helpful advice from  Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance.

You can follow the steps outlined in that article.

And you can also benefit from following a grid put together by life coach Tim LeBon.

In both your personal and your work lives, pay attention to the following criteria, and when you do different activities, both at work and outside of work, ask yourself, on a scale of 1-10, how completely does this activity meet this criteria?

    1. Losing my sense of myself (because I’m so engaged in the activity)
    2. Feeling a sense of serenity
    3. The activity is worth doing for its own sake
    4. I feel a sense of control when I am performing this activity.
    5. It’s a challenge, but I have the confidence to take the challenge on.

Once you have identified your flow activities, plan them into your week.

You can’t expect that you’ll be fully engaged  in flow activities all the time, and that every time you’re involved in one of these activities you will experience all the criteria listed above.  However, research shows that the more intentional you are at planning these activities into your life, and doing them, the more happiness, contentment, and well-being you will feel.

At work, notice the activities you engage in that you really enjoy and look forward to.  They have a “pull” factor to them.  They’re challenging, but you feel invigorated after taking them on.  On the other hand, you may havetasks that you absolutely dread.  You might even be good at them, but they bore you.  Work on taking on more projects that will allow you to put your “flow activities” to work.  You’ll find yourself performing at higher levels and producing greater results.

At home, or outside of work, take note of activities and hobbies that you feel challenge and “flow” with.  I’ve discovered a love of writing, reading good literature, and running as flow activities that center me and energize me.  What are some of your “flow” activities?  How can you plan them intentionally into your life?

Bring the Concept of Flow to Every Day “Mundane” Activities

The Bible teaches that in everything we do, we should work to bring glory to God.  The way I like to think of this is that, in every single activity I do, I can do it with an attitude of excellence, gratitude, and joy.  As I focus on thinking that I am doing this very activity to bring glory to my Creator, I am “in sync” with my Creator’s life giving energy.

The Bible teaches that God created the universe out of nothing!  God, the source of all creativity, is with me as I perform every single activity throughout my day with awareness of communing with my Creator.

I absorbed this idea most forcefully when I read The Practice of the Presence of God.

A relatively unknown priest, Brother Lawrence, wrote this classic out of a desire to cultivate a daily habit of being aware of God and His presence.  As he did this, he found that every single activity he performed, whether peeling carrots, or washing dishes, became filled with joy.

How do you intend to plan for flow activities in your life this week?  How can you bring an extraordinary attitude to the “mundane” activities in your life, so that you can practice the concept of flow on a more regular basis?

If you liked this article, please share it on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook! 

photo credit: joeszilagyi



  1. says

    Hi Steve, I always love to read about ways to be more positive. I live by a quote from Abraham Lincoln: You are about as happy as you make up your mind to be. Thanks for sharing the 5 Live Happy Strategies. A great reminder to always look for the bright side in everything you do.
    Karin Boode@SocialTraffic recently posted…How important is social proof?My Profile

    • says

      Karin, thanks for stopping by! It’s interesting that, although he struggled with clinical depression for much of his life, our former President knew the importance of developing an optimistic mindset.

  2. says

    Great article Steve!

    It is very interesting to know that we have the capability to bring more ‘flow’ in our life and ‘flourish’. It is almost a science, a skill which can be learnt. Some months ago I read the book ‘flourishing’ of Maureen Gaffney also has written about the subject. The conclusions are alike: to be in the ‘flow’ can be learnt.

    Thanks for sharing
    marc van der Linden recently posted…how to apply the law of reflectionMy Profile

    • says

      Marc, thanks for the reference to that book. I’ll have to add that book, Flourishing, to my “To Be Read” list of personal development books. Thank you for your comment.

  3. says

    You’ve shared a very helpful post and for that I am grateful that you did. Thank you so much for teaching something that will serve as a big help in my life from this day forward.

  4. says

    In a flow activity, it is as if time ceases to have any meaning at all. Hours can pass by while you are completely absorbed in a healthy way with what you are doing. Flow activities are engaging at a soul level, so that when we are doing these things that speak to the very core of our being we are becoming more of who we truly are.

    Living this way on a daily basis can seem almost impossible for someone who has never realized they have experienced this. But when they do, and realize what has happened, their lives are never the same again.
    Michael recently posted…The Yellow HouseMy Profile

  5. says

    Hi Steve:

    I love this concept of “flow activities.” I have never heard it called that before but I am familiar with the concept of doing things that bring you joy. This is so important for us to do. If we don’t we can easily go through life mindlessly and miss out on so many great things.

    Kevin Martineau recently posted…Decluttering lifeMy Profile

    • says

      That is so true Kevin. We could certainly miss a lot of opportunities as we go through our life if we do not learn and apply this concept as early as now.
      Candice Michelle recently posted…חג פוריםMy Profile

    • says

      Kevin, so true! We who tend to be very goal oriented can really forget to enjoy the small moments of life. That’s why Now is called the Present! It’s a gift :)

  6. says

    (note – Your block of ads cuts off some of your article’s words… in Chrome. I am not sure if it is happening in other browsers, but I just noticed that)

    In other words… that flow is that what leads us to be more passionate about what we do. What you are passionate about, is also what brings you joy.
    Nile recently posted…Has Blogging Become A Chore to You?My Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Nile, I hope that my ‘ads’ won’t get in the way of the reading. Yes: Flow is that which we experience when we are so engaged in an activity that it demands our full attention and makes time seem to a) stand still or b) fly by.

  7. says

    Very interesting reading. I have never heard of this “Flow”. So it is like putting your heart and soul in what you do?

    I guess if you really like what you do you can do that. Now, I believe that the results from such action would be amazing since you would be pretty much becoming part of whatever you are doing instead of just seeing something happen…. but, the truth is that there are very little things that I like doing that much in to and that I believe are worth that effort and that attention.

    Maybe there are other things that we need to change first. lol My goal now is to start doing thing that I like doing more and more, because let’s be real, the things that you are the most productive at, are the thing that you like doing. I hope eventually I reach my goal and then I will find that Flow in the things I do.
    Cynthia @Insanity Workout Review recently posted…Insanity Workout – Day 2 – Plyometric Cardio CircuitMy Profile

    • says

      Cynthia, I believe you’ve got the idea :) It’s interesting to see that you’re talking about the P90X and related programs. I went through it once last year, and it was a great experience!
      Steve-Personal Success Factors recently posted…Live Life To The Full!My Profile

  8. says

    Wow, a lot of really great information packed into this article Stephen. I’m very familiar with the feeling of a flow activity – for me it’s anytime I’m creating a visual. My background is in art and it is still the one thing that makes me completely lose track of the world around me!
    marquita herald recently posted…The Journey from Near Extinction to Cultural RenaissanceMy Profile

  9. says

    Hi Steve,

    Truly enjoyed reading your article. For me, being aware of my main goals has always kept in a state of flow no matter what the day-to-day activities bring in. I also do a little bit of yoga and meditation in the morning before I start my day which helps me reach this state easier. Thanks again for sharing!


  10. says

    Interesting! I’ve experienced the “flow” activities, and always loved being so deeply involved in something. But it’s been a little disconcerting too, to realize that I can’t always tear myself away from the activity to do something as mundane as get a drink of water, or stand up and just move, much as I’d like to schedule a break every hour!

    However, I love those times when something is “flowing” and I’m actually accomplishing what I set out to do. You know, the most challenging thing for me is to actually get started in an activity. Once I’m started, there’s a chance it will move into the “flow” area.

    In the evenings I try to think ahead and figure out what most needs to be done the next day, but then in the morning I ask God to direct my time that day. Keeps me from stressing out because I haven’t finished everything I want to do, but also gives me the chance to chill out and just enjoy what I’m doing at any present time.
    Pastor Sherry recently posted…Spiritual Life: Surprise PackagesMy Profile

  11. Jeffrey T. Sooey says

    Great read and very inspirational. I loved reading about flow activities and how it can be related to our happiness. The activities we engage in may make us feel energized and give us a feeling of fulfillment. Thanks for sharing!

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