Personal Development

Have you ever been so consumed with an activity that time just disappeared? Well, you might’ve experienced your place of optimal performance.

In Positive Psychology this state is called ‘flow’.

When you're in a flow state, your knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs are managed so well that you can completely focus on the task at hand. You may have experienced this whilst managing a workplace task, talking to a friend or participating in a hobby, or when an event challenges you to step just outside your comfort zone.

In this state, people are fully immersed in what they are doing. This is characterised by the ego slipping away and a feeling of great focus, concentration, motivation, energy and enjoyment. Flow occurs when a person's skills match the level of challenge involved in the activity at hand. In positive psychology, a flow state is also known as being in "the zone."

The state of flow was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and has become a popular topic in corporate life and the sports arena.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1934 and has written extensively on the concept of flow, or the state of being completely absorbed in an activity. In flow, something fascinating happens to our conscious awareness and with it, the line between our unconscious or subconscious becomes very faint.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's other work includes studying creativity and happiness.

In his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience", Csikszentmihalyi lays out the factors that contribute to flow. These include a sense of control over what's happening, a clear goal, feedback on progress, and a sense of flow itself being intrinsically rewarding.

Unfortunately, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi passed away in early 2018 at the age of 87. However, his work on flow will continue to be influential in the field of psychology.

Flow has been described as an "optimal state of consciousness" where we feel our best and perform our best. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is "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.

In order to achieve a flow state, you need to be in an environment that is conducive to it. This includes having clear goals, being able to see how your efforts are contributing to these goals, receiving immediate feedback, being appreciated and working at a manageable level of difficulty.

This environment needs to be one of high support and high challenge. This means that team members feel supported in their efforts, but are also pushed slightly outside their comfort zone to improve.

I found that the state of flow was beautifully demonstrated in the 90s classic 'The Matrix'. During a training session, underworld leader Morpheus challenges Neo's reality and mindset, and Neo takes the first step towards living in a flow state.

Although fiction (?!), it's a great representation of a mindset being opened to what's possible. The clip gets good at 2 minutes 50 seconds and peaks at 3 minutes 20 seconds.

... is when time melts away and our skills, behaviours and knowledge are being equally challenged just outside of our comfort zone.

Being in a flow state...

... is when time melts away and our skills, behaviours and knowledge are being equally challenged just outside of our comfort zone.

When people are not in flow they may experience anxiety, boredom or apathy. This is typical in environments where tasks are insufficiently challenging, or conversely when the challenge is high, but with little or no support. This can lead to the job taking over and a loss of purpose and connection.

If you want to create a flow state in your team, ensure that their work environment meets the criteria of high support and high challenge. This will result in increased productivity, creativity and enjoyment.

Understanding personality types can also help you to create flow states. For example, with the colour model, if you know that someone leans towards Sunshine Yellow energy then they may need more novelty and variety in their tasks to stay in flow.

On the other hand, if someone is of the Fiery Red energy persuasion, they may need tasks that are more challenging in order to reach the required state of flow.

With Earth Green energy, ensure values and beliefs are aligned and impact remains visible.

If you’re managing or leading those who lead with Cool Blue energy, make sure you give time to assimilate information, don’t leave out the detail, and provide time away from distraction for them to crush the ‘to do’ list.

The truth is that we all have the ability to reach a state of flow, but some of us may need different conditions in order to do so.

If you want to learn more about flow states and how to achieve them, Positive Psychology is a great place to start. There are many books and articles on the topic that can provide you with further insights.

At Unify we help teams create an environment where flow can flourish by helping teams and leaders become more self-aware and in-tune with others needs. This starts with self-awareness and a greater understanding of not only your own behaviours, but the impact they have on those who work alongside you.

Get in touch
James Hampton (He/Him)

James Hampton (He/Him)



Our areas of specialism.


  • Self-awareness

  • Resilience

  • Personal Development

  • Change

  • Decision making

  • Growth mindset

Team development.

  • Hybrid team working

  • Communication

  • Meetings

  • Feedback

  • Collaboration

  • Trust

Leadership development.

  • Leadership styles

  • Psychological safety

  • Leading change

  • Mission, vision, values

  • Culture

  • Mentoring