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Educator Corner: Excellence and Flow

Educator corner is a feature on the blog that appears regularly. Each entry will feature 1 of the 9 Leadership and Civic Engagement educators from around the state providing space for their thoughts on what may be useful for leaders and followers practicing in their communities and organizations.

dstromme.jpgMy office window looks out on the high school athletic fields and being a former P.E. teacher and coach I find myself taking breaks from the computer at that window to gaze at the activity below. When I do, it's obvious to me when a student is in 'the zone', or what Hungarian positive psychologist and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow".

In experiencing flow, the student is absorbed in twisting her Lacrosse stick right and left, high and low until the perfect moment to propel the ball ever so slyly into the upper pocket of the goal. She is creatively using her skills to meet the challenge at hand. She is oblivious to what is going on around her on the field and if asked she would have no idea of the passage of time. The happiness she feels after this moment of flow comes from within.

Flow happens naturally. It is more apt to occur however, when you are engaged in a task that is intrinsically rewarding and one that offers high challenge and requires high skill. According to Csikszentmihalyi, it is the full immersion of flow that creates excellence in life.

What creates flow in your life? When do you exercise creativity? What do you get lost in? If you cannot think of many examples, then perhaps it's time you found more opportunities in which you too can experience flow.
Csikszentmihalyi states that to experience flow, the following conditions need to exist:
  • There must be clear goals for which to strive. These goals provide structure and direction.
  • There must be immediate feedback for you to adapt your efforts to maintain flow.
  • You must believe you possess the skills to address the perceived challenges of the activity. Not necessarily to conquer the entire task, but enough to contend with it and continue to make progress.
So tackle that editorial on community involvement that's been buzzing in your head. Get out that game of Scrabble and challenge Aunt Ellen, the family champion, to a grudge match. Dust off that sewing machine and make art kits for the local school. Paint a canvas, a bench, the local homeless shelter. The simple truth is that experiencing a little more flow will go a long way in your life and perhaps more importantly in the lives of those around you.

And luckily, you don't have to be a 15 year old high school Lacrosse player to make that happen.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York: Basic Books.

Denise Stromme, educator for Central Minnesota, works out of Extension's regional office in Brainerd.

Any use of this post must include credit to Denise Stromme. For questions, please contact Eriks Dunens, University of Minnesota Extension, at (612) 626-5943 or

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