Bringing FLOW To Our Students

Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times — although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.  ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has researched the concept of Flow for nearly five decades. The important role that Flow contributes to adult work and daily living is also necessary for learners and education. For deep insight into flow and how he came to discover its powerful effects, I highly recommend reading Csikszentmihalyi’s 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Better yet, his terrific 2004 TEDTalk Flow, the Secret of Happiness, he describes growing up in Nazi-occupied Germany, the long lasting effects of happiness, and how both lead him to the concept of Flow.

FLOW In Play

This winter term, my colleague and I are exploring a second iteration of our passion project program with our students. A previous post discussed our vision for this daily, dedicated, self-directed learning time; personal ‘Flow time’, if you will.

To get started, we recently showed our middle school learners this video:


The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer. And the person who can do this usually enjoys the normal course of everyday life.  ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Awareness and Process Matters

After a much deeper discussion about how Flow can be achieved and how many already felt that they had achieved it in their sports, hobbies, and even “doing math” (!) we needed them to go deeper. And not only do we want our students to get lost in the Flow of their passion projects, we want them to be able to identify how to maximize their ‘optimal experience’. It’s one thing to be ‘in Flow,’ but quite another to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’. We hope to that our learners might even further develop their personal meta-cognitive skills in the process.

Students were then asked to watch the following video that breaks down the Four Fs of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi actually identifies eight factors to achieving Flow; but we agreed that these four were most easily made relevant and personal to our students.). Afterwards, learners were given ample time to consider how these might apply to the passion project of choice. How could they leverage these powers to get into or maintain their Flow during passions time?

Passions Time with Purpose?

Before the end of the session, students were asked to individually consider and then write a sentence, label examples, draw pictures, and/or list words (or word clouds) that might address ways to:

  1. Increase their FOCUS during passions time;
  2. Harness the power of FREEDOM in what they choose to do during passions time;
  3. Explore ways of receiving FEEDBACK and how might it help to sustain their Flow during passions time; and
  4. Add an element of the FOUR % CHALLENGE (increase the complexity) to add richness of their chosen passion.

Next week, students will begin to track their daily Flow during passions time in order to develop habits of mind (a metacognition of sorts) that, we hope, will help support themselves as they sink more deeply into their chosen passions; into their Flow.

Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.  ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Going with The…

Where we are going with this Flow exploration?

What do we hope to experience?

What do we hope for our students and their experiences?

I think Csikszentmihalyi himself best sums up our intention:

To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.

Never were truer words ever spoken.



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