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Have you ever experienced a state of flow? Have you ever been so immersed or absorbed in an activity that you have lost track of time…life just fades away, and nothing else matters in that moment except the task at hand? If so, you have experienced “flow” – the optimal state of enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. 

Flow theory was first introduced in 1970 by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Csikszentmihalyi is best known for his research and work in the study of happiness and creativity. He is the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology.  

I have been obsessed with Csikszentmihalyi’s work for a long time. (Yes, I am a bit of a psychology nerd.) I was first introduced to his work in university and I go back to his books and studies often. 

Csikszentmihalyi set out to answer the question – “What is enjoyment?” – and found that artists (among other high achieving and passionate individuals) had the answer. 

When we engage in an activity that we enjoy and pursue it for its own merit (not for fame or money), we become motivated by the QUALITY of the experience. 

True enjoyment comes from intense experiences that involve both CHALLENGE and RISK. That’s right…enjoyment and happiness comes from activities that bring us pleasure, but involve work. This is why watching TV doesn’t fulfill us or give us immense satisfaction. It lacks whole body engagement. Flow typically comes from work, not free time.

Many people describe flow as being “in the zone” or “in the groove”. Research has shown that people are the happiest and most creative when they are in a state of flow. The whole being is engaged and an individual’s skill and capacity are being stretched and used to their utmost ability. 

Peak performance is inspired by a state of flow.

So, how does one achieve a state of flow? Csikszentmihalyi outlines nine components to achieving a state of flow or optimal experience. 

  1. Challenge-skill balance
  2. Awareness-action connection
  3. Clarity of goals
  4. Immediate and unambiguous feedback
  5. Concentration
  6. Paradox of control
  7. Transformation of time
  8. Loss of self-consciousness
  9. Autotelic (intrinsically rewarding) experience

The key component to achieving flow is the balance between challenge and skill. A state of flow cannot be achieved if the level of challenge (the task) does not match the skill level of the performer. If the challenge is too difficult, the result is frustration and anxiety. If the challenge is too easy, the result is apathy and boredom. 

At Donais Studios, our artist-educators are constantly working to find the perfect balance between challenge and skill for our students. We want our students to feel challenged and their capacity stretched, while balancing their skill level and individual goals. We strive to create an environment that is a safe space to take risks, and connects awareness with action. Our strongest desire is that our students will find true enjoyment in the arts and an intrinsic motivation to pursue their passions beyond their lesson or class. We want you to find a state of FLOW. 

In a voice lesson recently my student sang through one of her pieces and when the song ended she looked at me with a surprised, almost dazed look on her face. My first question was, “How did that feel?” We were working on a new advanced vocal technique, which she had just executed brilliantly for the first time. She looked at me and said, “That was a total out of body experience. It was like I wasn’t singing. I was listening and watching someone else sing.” She had just experienced a flow state. The level of challenge was in perfect balance with her skill level and she was able to truly immerse herself in the experience to achieve peak performance. Gold.  

Being in a state of flow is like being carried away by the current of a flowing river. Get lost in your art. Lose track of time. Let your ego go and become fully immersed in your art. 

Tomorrow we will be sending out registration details for our summer private lessons program. I encourage you to come work with us this summer and find your highest level of creativity and fulfillment. Come and discover The Artist Within

Wishing you much happiness and creativity.


Andrea “in the zone” Donais


Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-87589-261-2
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092820-4

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row. ISBN 0-06-092043-2

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi

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