Flow Experiences and Flowing Exercises in the Classroom

Term Paper 2013 16 Pages

English - Pedagogy, Didactics, Literature Studies


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The theory of flow
2.1 Eight characteristics of flow experiences

3. Planning of a lesson – Mein, dein, unser Reich
3.1 Learner’s prerequisites/ general preparation
3.2 Aim of the lesson

4. Presentation

5. Reflection

6. Conclusion

7. Literatur

1. Introduction

“Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire happiness and we all shun sufferung.“ [1] []

This quotation from Dalai Lama speaks out what representatives from different religions, philosophs and psychologists propagate since centuries: The human being is on the quest for happiness. All our thoughts and actions strive for happiness. The constant questions which comes up is: What is happiness and how can we find it and keep it? Questions like that keep scientists and philosophs since centuries busy and the answers are manifold such as mankind themselves.

Nevertheless there are methods and examples that show evidence to bring ‘happiness experiences’ to humans.

Our consumption-orientated society suggests us that we can find happiness and fulfillment through wealth, but in reality we know that this is not the way to meet these experiences.

Happiness is always an inner, subjective occurrence.

Mihaly Csikszentmihaliy describes it as follows: “What satisfies people is to feel comfortable in their own life.“[2]

To proof these statements and the fact that the topic flow experience was very interesting for us among the ‘Schulfach Glück’ themes, we choose a flow activity for our lesson. Being in a flow is something everyone should try to achieve in everydays life, but it is always a short experience and it is difficult to keep up for a longer period of time and especially in a teaching environment it shows a big challenge.

Over the years, the concepts and methods of education have changed and we can see a trend away from only memorizing content and facts for a short period of time towards more alternative methods such as different motivational approaches which helps the students to memorize contents for a longer period of time. Elements of Positive Psychology (Martin Seligman) and Flow Experiences (Mihaly Csikszentmihaly) are principles which now occur in the school curriculum of many schools in Germany. ‘Schulfach Glück’ includes those principles and is a concept to foster the students’ autonomy and their abilities to reflect on themselves and helps the students to actively incorporate and participate in the classroom by being a welcome change of the usual framework.

The first part of this paper deals with the psychological aspects and backgrounds of flow including the eight characteristics of flow experiences.

The second part will examine the flow experience class taught in the seminar, the planning process of the lesson, as well as the didactic and methodic considerations of the class. I will also evaluate the implications that this topic had for me and my future teaching and reflect the taught session and the topic.

2. The theory of flow

Flow is a theory that was started by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly who defines flow as a state of mind/experience that we feel when we are involved in what we are doing’.[3]

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly teaches psychology at the University of Chicago and is one of the leading researchers in positive psychology. In the early 70s of this century he began to investigate what makes people truly happy. He has contributed pioneering work to our understanding of happiness, creativity, human fulfillment and the notion of flow as a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work.

Csikszentmihaly uses the theory of flow to support his belief that in order to feel complete happiness and fulfillment individuals must change their actions and mindsets.

In his opinion everyone is capable of reaching the state of effortless concentration and enjoyment where is no room for conflicts and contradictions.

Initially, flow is not a forced experience,- it rather is universal and can be found through anybody.

Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. Some might experience flow while engaging in a sport such as skiing, tennis, soccer, dancing or running. Others might have such an experience while engaged in an activity such as painting, drawing or writing.

These exceptional moments, called ‘ flow experiences’ are a metaphor for something that many people have used to describe as a sense of effortless action. Athletes refer it as ‘ being in the zone’, religious mystics as being in ‘ecstasy’ and musicians as ‘ aesthetic rapture‘. The happiness that follows flow leads to increased complexity and growth in consciousness and it is a source of mental energy that focuses attention and motivates action.

In most of Csikszentmihalyis’ books he underlines experiences, where the person itself is responsible for the fulfillment of an action, where is a deeper understanding of interrelations and interdependances and where someone is in harmony with itself as flow experiences. On this form of happiness humans have influence themselves. The main motivation lies in the activity itself and flow activities are not influenced by external goals and rewards, they are done because of the sake itself and are called ‘autotelic’.

The best chance to reach flow is when an individual is faced with a task that has clear goals and that requires specific responses. A good example is the game chess: For the duration of the game, the player has very specific goals and responses, allowing the attention to be focused entirely on the game during the period of the game.

Flow helps to integrate the self in the state of deep concentration when consciousness is very well ordered, because thoughts, intensions, feelings and all senses are focused and one experiences harmony. After a flow experience one feels more balanced and ‘together’ than before, which makes the life of people or in our case students much easier and to a certain point better. Stress, hectic and worries are cut out for a while.

The main components of a flow experience are the following eight characteristics:

2.1 Eight characteristics of flow experiences

It is quite interesting that it does not matter what kind of activity is chosen to reach a flow,- it can be an activity like swimming, playing an instrument, playing chess and also research shows that it does not make a difference in culture, age, social class, state of modernization and gender to reach enjoyment in very much the same way.[4]

The following eight characteristics are the key elements which are connected to flow. At least one must be present and some people report of all eight to be present to experience a flow experience.

1. Clear goals and immediate feedback

Flow occurs when one has a goal and with an activity that allows the individual to act toward achieving their initial goal. The experience usually occurs when one is confronted with a task that has the chance of completing. The goal should be clear and the feedback immediate.

Some activities require a longer time to accomplish, but it is always important that goal and feedback are connected.

In a situation where everything is clear and where somone realizes how to act successfully, it is easier to reach ‘flow’.

2. Equilibrium between the level of challenge and personal skill

If a situation offers the best possible challenge, it will be easier to reach the flow. Flow happens in the middle of fear on one hand and boredom on the other hand. (graph on page 8)

That means,- a person is more likely to reach flow if he/she is dedicated to an exercise or a task, which the person is able to manage, but need his full effort and his complete attention.

3. Merging of action and awareness

Crucial for flow is a complete concentration on the momentary task. Therefore it is necessary to cope with the challenges of the situation and the attention should be completely absorbed by the activity. All the main skills are needed to fulfill the action, no excess psychic energy should be left over and all the attention is concentrated on the important stimuli.

4. Focussed concentration

Strong concentration and attention must be present for an individual to step out of everyday reality and focus on that goal. Decisive for flow is the complete concentration on the momentary action. In a state of ‘focussed reception’ there is little difference between the self and the surroundings, between attraction and reaction and between past and future, - activity and consciousness melt together .

5. Sense of potential control

The feeling of competency and control evokes on the impression to be equal to the situation and no worries of failure are present. A feel of power and self-confidence dominates. If someone reaches flow he/she feels powerful and has a feeling of control over his way of acting and his surrounding.


[1] Lama, Dalai: The Art of Happiness, 2009, p.3 .

[2] Csikszentmihaly, M., Flow, 1990, p.2.

[3] Csikszentmihaly, M., Flow, 1990, p.6.

[4] Csikszentmihalyi, M.: Flow, 1990, p. 48.


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University of Frankfurt (Main)
Englische Hausarbeit zum Thema Flow Exercises




Title: Flow Experiences and Flowing Exercises in the Classroom