Have you ever been so completely engrossed in an activity that you become lost in it? Maybe you had no sense of time and hours seemed like minutes—you forgot what you were doing, and even the normal, scattered wandering of your mind stopped and you were completely focused on the task at hand. Chances are, whatever you were doing, you did well, even though you might not have been able to explain exactly how you did it. This state of flow is a common thread in elite performance, regardless of the context or the field: the professional athlete who sees the whole field at a glance and effortlessly seems to be at the right place at the right time, the professional musician playing an hour-long concerto from memory with effortless perfection, the line cook in a busy kitchen balancing completion of a dozen dishes at a time for hours on end, the video gamer sitting in front of his screen, or the religious mystic sitting on a wooden floor praying for days on end—these experiences are united by a common state of mind. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi was the first psychologist to seriously investigate this state, though it has certainly been a part of the human experience for millennia. He has identified a few commonalities to the flow experience:
- We are completely focused and completely absorbed in what we are doing.
- There is a sense of great inner clarity.
- The task must have clearly defined goals, so we know what must be done and how much progress we are making toward accomplishing those goals. Feedback is immediate and direct, so that our activity can be readily adjusted to match the task.
- Though the flow experience is connected to complex tasks, we know that our skills are adequate—we are up to the task. There is a sense of easy self-confidence, sufficiency, and no worries.
- There is a loss of our sense of self. We may perceive ourselves becoming one with the task, or even lose sense of the boundaries where our consciousness ends.
- We lose sense of time, and, in some cases, have a feeling of standing outside of time. This, together with the loss of self, sometimes is described as an expansion of consciousness.
- It feels great. Actually, that is a dramatic understatement. Many people report the flow experience as being one of sheer ecstasy. There is an ineffability to the state; many times we are simply unable to find words to convey the experience and it defies all explanation.
- Because of this, activities that produce flow become their own intrinsic motivation. We are driven to excel in these activities simply to achieve the state of flow—flow becomes its own reward.
(from pg 364 of The Art and Science of Technical Analysis)