Adding Flow to a Positive Education

In recent years, researchers have identified predictors of success as well as keys to living a satisfying, happy life. At Ridley we are infusing the best of this research – centred on grit and flow – into a Ridley education to help instill in our students the lifelong habits they need for success in our global community. At Ridley being a student is about more than passing tests and meeting standards, it is about flourishing.

Flow is an optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is appropriately challenging to their skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction.

If you’ve ever heard someone describe a time when their performance excelled and they used the term being “in the zone”, what they are describing is an experience of flow. It occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal.

Flow can be experienced in any task, in any field of activity, including academics, athletics, and the arts. Teachers at Ridley try to understand flow in order to help their students optimize their learning. The experience of flow is universal and it has been reported to occur across different classes, genders, ages, cultures and it can be experienced in many types of activities, making it a perfect tool to incorporate into the multinational learning culture at Ridley.

Flow was first recognized by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned psychologist and distinguished professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University. Inspired by Carl Jung, he has spent more than 25 years researching flow, a state of “intense emotional involvement” and timelessness that comes from immersive and challenging activities. Through his research he found that people were most creative, productive, and often, happiest when they are in this state of flow.

Flow is one of eight mental states that can happen during the learning process, which Csikszentmihalyi outlines in his flow theory. In addition to flow, these mental states include anxiety, apathy, arousal, boredom, control, relaxation, and worry.

Flow is the optimal state for learning, as it is where skill level and challenge level of a task are at their highest. This creates an opportunity for learning and intense focus, where learners can even feel that they lose track of time because they are so immersed in the task. Flow is a constant balancing act between anxiety, where the difficulty is too high for the person’s skill, and boredom, where the difficulty is too low.

“Inducing flow is about the balance between the level of skill and the size of the challenge at hand.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow is a dynamic rather than static state, since a properly constructed flow activity leads to increased skill, challenge, and complexity over time. Since skill doesn’t remain static, repeating the same activity would fall into boredom; the flow reward inspires one to face harder and harder challenges, as skill increases.

The experience of flow in everyday life is an important component of creativity and well-being. it is also intrinsically rewarding, the more you practice it, the more you seek to replicate these experiences, which help lead to a fully engaged and happy life.

“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. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow is more likely to happen when students find the right balance between the skills they have and the challenge they face. Pursuing this path can enable them to flow, focus, finish, and as a by-product, flourish.

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