Can you remember the last time you completed a task and were really “in the zone”? Positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura (Claremont Graduate University) describe this mental state as flow state. (link opens in new tab/window) Achieving flow state is about the careful balancing of skill level (low, medium, or high) with challenge level (low, medium, or high).
Those who have experienced flow state describe feeling the following characteristics:
- Intense moments of concentration
- Deep involvement in task; merging of action and awareness
- Feelings of control over one’s actions
- Thorough enjoyment of the task at hand
- Time feels like it flies by
Why it matters for education
Helping students reach flow state means helping them balance their skill levels with the appropriate level of challenge. This process can start with activities that promote self-awareness and self-understanding. When students reach this state, they will feel successful, confident, and empowered.
The research around flow state can also have a positive impact on the way educators approach deep learning and the structure of the school day(link opens in new tab/window) . While the noise and energy of a bustling classroom may be beneficial for some students, constantly shifting attention from one subject to another after brief periods of time can prevent students from reaching flow state. When time and other factors allow, offering students extended periods of time (with short movement, brain, or sensory breaks) can allow them to engage more deeply with tasks and topics.
- Help students develop self-understanding by encouraging them to explore what tasks or topics make them feel “in the zone.” Short questionnaires or reflection sheets can help promote self-awareness and self-understanding.
- Once students have determined the topics that engage them, encourage them to explore the level of challenge that feels stimulating but not frustrating.
- Mindfulness and metacognition play a big part in achieving flow state. You can help students focus on their mind and pay better attention to their attention.
- Finding one’s appropriate challenge level is a process of trial and error. Encourage students not to dwell over their failures along the way—a growth mindset is key!
- Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate
SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org
Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org
The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org