02/01/2012 11:51 am ET | Updated Apr 02, 2012

Flow: Unlocking Creative Potential

When we bring our students into contact with the unique spark of life that they are, by means of helping to create states of flow with them, we optimize the potential that the light will turn on for them. Whether they light up around math, international policy, spelling, psychology or literature is for their essence to understand. It is our job as teachers to assist our students to access that spark, such that it can light up and burn as passionately as possible, eventuating a life purpose.

Flow is a source of mental energy in that it focuses attention and motivates action. Flow is a state -- a fleeting experience of various qualities. Flow theory, developed by Mihaly
Csikzentmihalyi, has been characterized as having these qualities:

• Effortless concentration and enjoyment
• Complete immersion
• there is no room in your awareness for conflicts or contradictions
• Flashes of intense living against the dull background of everyday life
• Effortless action that some people feel stand out as the best in their lives.
• Athletes refer to it as "being in the zone," religious mystics as being in ecstasy, artists and
musicians as aesthetic rapture.

Csikzentmihalyi asserted that "the happiness that follows flow is of its own making, and it leads to increasing complexity and growth in consciousness," which is the whole point.
Higher stages of human development have been found to resemble this list of attributes, according to Hartman and Zimberoff.

Descriptions of people functioning at an optimal level include:

• increasing flexibility
• conceptual complexity
• tolerance for ambiguity
• recognition and acceptance of internal contradictions
• a broader and more complex understanding of the self, others and the self in relation to
• internalized self-control
• emotional self-regulation
• transcendence of ego boundaries
• transparency;
• "post-ambivalence" i.e. total whole-hearted and un-conflicted love, acceptance, and

This is our aim. To evermore embody increasingly higher levels of complexity, with greater ease and fullness... and to model this for our students, colleagues and the administrative leaders with whom we work. "Flow happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable," according to Hartman. And Zimberoff.


We create flow by offering an opportunity in which a student/learner must stretch to acquire a new skill, whilst using all of her previously attained skills, and this with a refined level of support for facing the challenge.

According to Flow theory, Flow activities allow a person to focus on goals that are clear and compatible, and provide immediate feedback. The clarity of the goal has been found to create a "self-contained universe," where everything is black and white. Flow tends to occur when a person is engaged in their favorite subject. Surprisingly, flow states occur more often at work than at leisure. Flow dissipates when the level of challenge is too low, or too high. A person's skills must be fully involved to create flow.

A note on embodying flow: When one allows oneself to relax into the mystery that we are, there is an effacement -- an opening -- an allowance to being touched by a silent, dynamic force which has an intelligence that, again when I allow it, or soften into it, has an unerring potency and inherent knowing. Flow itself seems to have the "answers," the way, the depth and breadth to move us into new, deeper contact with life. There is a sense of intimacy, immediacy, wholeness and "rightness."

There will always be opportunities to create flow for at least one or two of the students in your classroom. You'll know it by their expression, and their shared enthusiasm for the activity.

Most of all, enjoy YOURself -- that will surely support the level of engagement in your teaching practice.