What is flow?

Reconsideration of the state of optimal functioning beyond flow theory

Authored by: Masato Kawabata , Clifford J. Mallett

Routledge International Handbook of Sport Psychology

Print publication date:  February  2016
Online publication date:  February  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138022423
eBook ISBN: 9781315777054
Adobe ISBN: 9781317692324


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How to function optimally is considered a central question for the study of human behavior, including sport performance. An optimal functioning situation might be occasions in which individuals are fully and efficiently functioning in a task. In contemporary psychology, such a situation is described as “being in a flow state” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975/2000, 1990). Flow is a metaphorical term to illustrate the feeling of a state of mind that individuals similarly report when they are acting effectively with focused and intense involvement (Kawabata & Mallett, 2011). Athletes in English-speaking countries refer to the state as “being in the zone” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). Given that the flow state is considered intuitively to be associated with optimal performance, it is critical to understand mechanisms to lead to and maintain a flow state.

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