Flow is “a state of deep focus that occurs when people engage in challenging tasks that demand intense concentration and commitment. Flow occurs when a person’s skill level is perfectly balanced to the challenge level of a task that has clear goals and provides immediate feedback.”
So says Mihayl Csikszentmihalyi, professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago.
In a state of flow, you are completely involved in and focused on the activity at hand. You feel the confidence that comes from knowing you have the skills required for a certain task. You have just the right balance of skill and challenge: enough skill to avoid being anxious about failure, but enough challenge to excite you and force you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. In a state of flow you also feel a sense of timelessness, focusing on the moment at hand and being almost unaware of time’s passing. In a state of flow, your motivation is intrinsic, not forced. The activity itself is enjoyed simply for its own sake.
Flow is not self-conscious. In fact, in a state of flow you forget about yourself, and how you appear to others and what they think of you. In it you rise above your own ego.
Spending time in a state of flow enriches your life greatly. It is where you feel most productive, using your best talents and producing great work efficiently. Life is about more than work, and flow is too. So you might enter a state of flow not just in your work, but in your relationships, your hobbies, or your social activities.
One thing to remember about flow is that it always comes accompanied by a challenge. To feel its joy, you must have challenge in your life. If you don’t, you will never feel the energy and excitement of flow, you will just feel boredom.
Entrepreneurs understand the state of flow, perhaps better than anyone else. However, they don’t know the state of flow so well because they are somehow better at reaching it. They know it so well simply because they seek out challenge in their lives. They crave challenge, and they require a healthy dose of it on a regular basis. They are not comfortable with routine, they need to continually push their limits and reach for higher goals. In the process, they improve their skill levels too, because improving a skill is not about repeating something you are already good at, it is about allowing complexity into your life and learning how to adapt your skill to it quickly.
The endless quest for challenge is what sets those with an entrepreneurial spirit apart. They aren’t content leaving things the way they are. By their very nature, they must challenge themselves, their work, and their surroundings.
When you are that eager to accept challenge, you can’t help but live a life filled with flow. It is an energizing and joyful way to live, using your skills and your talents to their fullest on a daily basis. Csikszentmihalyi compares it to the feeling of a musician, where “every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Csikszentmihalyi suggests that people can live richer, happier lives by seeking out challenges each day so they can experience flow more often. He believes these flow experiences provide a flash of intense living that balances out the anxiety and boredom of a typical day.
But if you’re an entrepreneur at heart, you don’t need a world-famous psychology professor to tell you challenge brings richness to life. You already know the satisfaction that comes from having to tap into your talents and dig deeper into your skill set. Longing for that satisfaction, and seeking it out by taking on bigger and bigger challenges, is a trait all those with the entrepreneurial spirit share.