When are you in the zone?

Episode 22 in Part 2 of our Introduction series: Getting to know yourself.

Habits:  Be curious | Stretch

Skills:  Passion | Self-awareness

Description:  In this episode, we introduce Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow, a state similar to that athletes often describe as being 'in the zone'. We investigate the seven conditions believed to be needed to reach a flow state.

How this lesson might be discussed with your child

This episode introduces the concept of flow, as defined by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. 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."

Flow allows us to concentrate for longer, and perform at our best. Csikszentmihalyi and colleague Owen Schaffer outline 7 Conditions For Flow to be achieved:

  1. Knowing what to do

  2. Know how to do it

  3. Knowing how well you are doing

  4. Knowing where to go (for help)

  5. High perceived challenges (but not too high)

  6. High perceived skills

  7. Freedom from distractions

These 7 conditions might be considered in the overall instruction of students, as the conditions required for optimal learning. Is there a way that you can work with your child to help them create these 7 conditions?

In considering Flow, possible questions for discussion may include:

  • Do you believe flow is important to achieve positive outcomes? Why/Why not?

  • What benefits do you think you might get from being in a flow state?

  • Do you think you've ever been in a flow state? If yes, for how long? What were you doing? How did you feel?

  • How do you think you could create more flow in your life?

  • When you think about the 7 conditions for flow, which do you think is the most difficult to achieve? Why?

  • What strategies could you apply to improve your ability to get in a flow state?

Some specific discussion points

Discussion of any literary works, historical figures, or current events featuring prominent individuals offers an opportunity to discuss individuals who demonstrate high levels of flow in their work. This is relatively easy to identify in sports stars (such as Michael Jordan, Steffi Graf, Wayne Gretzky or Mia Hamm - who we named in the video), but are there other areas where people get into flow? Can you get into flow as a brilliant chef? What about an artist, actor, musician, politician, businessman or surgeon?

Some possible questions may include:

  • When you think of flow, who comes to mind first? Why them?

  • Do you think of that person as happy? Why/Why not?

  • What benefits has this person received by being able to get into a flow state?

  • What is it about flow that you think might help people to succeed?

  • How do you think flow relates to self-control?

  • How do you think flow relates to perfect practice?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, or gives you a sense of meaning, joy or passion." — Terry Orlick

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • What do you think Terry Orlick means by 'human excellence'?

  • How do you think this quote relates to the concept of 'Flow'?

  • Do you have a 'pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, or gives you a sense of meaning, joy or passion?

  • If you do, do you find that you are better at it than many other things? Why/Why not?

  • Do you think you have to be passionate immediately for something, or can you create or grow your passion?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow, The Secret to Happiness


Or you might like to read:

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, 1990.

Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.
by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, 1996.  

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life
by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, 1998.