The 8 Elements of Flow

Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick–sent–meehayee) describes eight components of the flow-experience. The first three are basic prerequisites; the other five address the subjective experience during activity in flow.

1. Clarity of goals and immediate feedback

…as seen in many sports or the arts. A tennis player knows exactly what is required in order to win a game. The rules are clear. In every action, success or failure is immediately perceived. Sports and the arts are therefore classic flow-activities.

2. A high level of concentration on a limited field

This allows a person's consciousness to delve deeply into the activity. In contrast, there are often chaotic and contradictory demands in daily life which may cause confusion and dissatisfaction.

3. Balance between skills and challenge

The difficulty of a task has to provide the right degree of challenge to a person’s ability. A too difficult piece of music will leave a musician frustrated and disappointed, a too easy one leads to boredom and routine. So flow occurs in range between ‘too much’ and ‘too little’.

The relationship between requirements and capabilities

4. The feeling of control

Characteristic for flow is the feeling of heightened control over one’s actions. The expression ‘control’ is easily misunderstood. It can put many people off by its association with compulsive domination or nervous attention. Control in flow has none of these qualities. It is a state of security and relaxation with the complete absence of worry: the paradox known in Zen Buddhism as ‘control without controlling’.

5. Effortlessness

Flow involves flexibility and ease; everything works harmoniously and effortlessly. A tennis match or a solo performance on stage may look strenuous from the outside; yet, if in fact the player is in flow, he or she does not experience any particular strain. The activity runs smoothly, guided by an inner logic. All necessary decisions arise spontaneously from the demands of the activity without any deliberate reflection.

6. An altered perception of time

In a deep flow-state, one’s normal perception of time is on hold. Time can either feel condensed - two hours feel like ten minutes, or expanded - seconds feel like minutes. That is why the flow-mode is called ‘timeless’.

7. The melting together of action and consciousness

Complete involvement creates a state in which there is no room for worry, fear, distraction or self-conscious rumination. Performers do not feel separated from their actions; they are one with their performance. This feeling of unity can expand to a person’s surroundings (nature) as well as to a whole group of people working together (team flow).

8. The autotelic quality of flow-experiences: IROI

From Greek autos – self and telos – goal. Not only achieving the goal of an activity is rewarding but the activity in itself is fulfilling. Flow is therefore “Immediate Return on Investment”.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play. Jossey-Bass
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. HarperCollins
Good Business. Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning. Viking
Creativity. Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. HarperCollins
The Evolving Self. A Psychology for the Third Millenium. HarperCollins