Going with the ‘Flow’

The key factor for every competitor is to be in a state of harmony whereby the body and mind are working synergistically. These psychological processes may contribute to a state of performance known as “flow”. Flow is known as a “positive psychological state that is, when an individual becomes totally absorbed in the task, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and emotions” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 995). Csikszentmihalyi, (1975)(i), identified that the concept of flow is a ”self-surpassing dimension of human experience”, and proposed nine dimensions of flow. It is thought that this state lifts experience from the ordinary to optimal physical and mental functioning. Flow is valued as a harmonious experience where mind and body work together effortlessly leaving the person feeling that something special has occurred.

Flow is thought to be a source of motivation for many individuals undertaking physical activity and is believed to elevate an experience to higher levels of enjoyment and achievement. Jackson et al. (1998)[ii] suggested that experiencing flow frequently involved the athlete in a specific activity and promoted the desire to perform the activity for its own sake. The activity becomes autotelic; the reason for participating is grounded in the process of involvement in the activity and not attaining goals that are external to the activity. As flow is unique to the individual, the level and type of experience while in a flow state depends on the individual. It can be seen to involve particular characteristics creating a very positive state of consciousness and leading to an enjoyable, intrinsically rewarding experience.

Deci and Ryan (1985, 1998)[iii], found that when people are highly interested in what they are doing, flow is likely to occur more often. Certain flow dimensions are more relevant to sport than others. Jackson (1996), found support for Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) dimensions. The nine fundamental dimensions that describe flow are: – Challenge – Skill balance, this refers to the sense of balance that is achieved by the perceived demands of the sport and the skills of the athlete. Action-awareness merging, this refers to the body and mind fusing into one. The activity feels spontaneous and automatic. Clear goals, this refers to the athlete’s ability to know exactly what they are going to do. Goals direct action and provide the focus. Unambiguous feedback, refers to the feedback within the activity that allows the athlete to remain connected with what they are doing and in control of where they are going. Concentration on task at hand, refers to the athlete’s focus on the challenges that are faced by the athlete. A sense of Control, refers to the ability to take control of the situation without any conscious effort. Loss of Self-Consciousness, refers to the athletes concern for oneself disappearing while engaging in the activity. Flow frees the individual from self-concern and self-doubt. Transformation of time, is an experience of the distortion of time. Autotelic experience, the athlete experiences enjoyment that is intrinsically rewarding.

Jackson reported that 97% of the flow state descriptor themes were classified into one of nine dimensions. Symeon et al. (2000)[iv] suggested that it is important that all the dimensions should be active for the flow experience to be activated. Further, the degree of experience of each dimension is not experienced to the same extent when participating in physical activity. Reaching optimal performance levels and discovering the balance between the body and mind seems imperative for the performance to peak.

[i] Csikszentmihalyi and Nakamura, (1989). In Jackson, S.A. (1998). Psychological

Correlates of Flow in Sport. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 358-378.

[ii] Jackson, Susan A. & Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1999). Flow in Sports: The Keys to Optimal Experiences and Performances. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Publishers.

[iii] Deci and Ryan, (1985). In Jackson, S.A.(1998). Psychological Correlates of Flow in Sport. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 358-378.

[iv] Symeon P. V., Karageorghis, C.I., Terry, P.C. (2000). Hierarchical confirmatory factor analysis of the Flow State Scale in exercise. Journal of Sport Science, 18, 815-823.