In an age of shortened attention spans, total immersion—also known as flow—is an increasingly enticing prospect. According to renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2004), this heightened state is also the basis of human happiness. In 1990, Csikszentmihalyi outlined this phenomenon in his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. “The best moments in our lives”, he wrote, occur “when a person’s mind or body is stretched to the limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 3).
Refined over the next decades, the concept of flow refers to the state of total immersion in an activity—be it art or sports, work or play. While experiencing flow, people often lose track of time and forget external considerations, deriving a singular satisfaction from their efforts (Cherry, 2018).
A powerful tool for wellness counsellors, flow can help build confidence, improve performance, and develop skills in a variety of activities. Here is a closer look at how wellness counsellors can use flow to help clients thrive.
All Experiences of Flow Share Essential Characteristics
Wellness counsellors, who have training in body work, can identify key attributes of flow, helping clients maximize the benefits of active immersion. While flow activities vary greatly, the experience occurs only under specific skill-testing conditions. Optimal flow arises when skills are challenged but not exceeded. If a task is too easy, people are bored or disengaged; if a task is too difficult, they become anxious or unconfident. Flow activities expand skill sets with surmountable challenges—a source of continued engagement (Boniwell, 2008).
Flow is described as a sense of deep immersion—from ‘being in the zone’ to ‘heightened consciousness’. Common flow components include unbroken concentration, serenity, loss of self-consciousness and a distorted sense of elapsed time (Cherry, 2018). Combining enjoyment with an element of challenge, flow activities may relate to work, hobbies, social activities, and athletics.
Professionals with a Diploma in Wellness Counselling Can Assist Clients Seeking Flow States
Flow affords clients confidence and skills through heightened focus. An immersive state typically improves performance in a variety of tasks—the natural result of enjoyment and personal satisfaction. Mining personal passions, flow also presents long-term benefits like greater confidence, skill, and subject-specific knowledge. Since the flow state involves the mastery of a certain challenge, it can help clients reach new heights in pursuit of greater difficulty (Cherry, 2018).
Professionals with a diploma in wellness counselling can help clients benefit from flow. From exercise to artistry, wellness counsellors can help clients break down more distant objectives into manageable—yet challenging—tasks that maximize flow. While setting these tasks, clients should establish a clear metric for success. Since the flow state is characterized by an immediate sense of satisfaction, clients must be able to feel themselves succeeding. In addition to encouraging flow in clients’ lives, wellness counsellors can achieve ‘group flow’ during sessions with clients. Group flow arises in collaborative and safe environments that push clients and counsellors toward a shared goal (Stewart, 2014).
Wellness Counsellors Can Alert Clients to the Potential Drawbacks of the Flow State
While flow is generally associated with happiness, its excesses can be harmful. As Csikszentmihalyi notes, enjoyable flow activities may produce a sense of dependency and a loss of personal control (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 62). While flow is most often experienced in constructive settings, it may also emerge in addiction-related behaviours like gambling. When taken to excess, the singularity and isolation of flow can lead to neglect in other areas of life, including family time and wellbeing (Boniwell, 2018).
Knowing the positive limits of flow is important for anyone looking to become a wellness counsellor. Wellness counsellors can help evaluate flow activities and alert their clients when they cross over into excess. With set timeframes and careful attention to physical and mental wellbeing, wellness counsellors help clients make the most of flow—and the immersiveness of personal passion.
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Boniwell, I. (2018). Living in Flow: What is it and How to Enter the Flow State? Positive Psychology. Retrieved from: http://positivepsychology.org.uk/living-in-flow/
Cherry, K. (2018). ‘Flow’ Can Help You Achieve Goals: Understanding the Psychology of Flow. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-flow-2794768.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990, 2008) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins. Retrieved from: Google Books.
Stewart, J. (2014). Positive Psychology Coaching: How Flow Appears in Coaching Sessions. School for Coaching Mastery. Retrieved from: https://www.schoolofcoachingmastery.com/coaching-blog/bid/113581/Positive-Psychology-Coaching-How-Flow-Appears-In-Coaching-Sessions
TED. (2004). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness
. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow