Peak Flow Experience: What is Optimal Experience for You?

We have all, individually or as a group, been so engrossed and engaged in an activity that we lose sense of time. We are fully absorbed and feel such concentration with a deep involvement that the effort is extremely satisfying. It is often referred to as being in a flow state or optimal experience. It's a peak flow experience. It may even be challenging, but at the end of the effort, we feel energized. People report feelings of being totally involved; in a state of flow; at one with the experience, as, for example, when an orchestra or band plays music so brilliantly that the audience and musicians are transported.

Flow Theory

The following quote about "flow" and "optimal experience" comes from Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, positive psychologist who developed Flow Theory.

“It is easy to enter flow and feel energized in games such as chess, tennis, or poker, because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done. Flow also happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges.”

Talking about a "peak flow experience" was my topic choice for my second Meetup, Appreciative Inquiry: Where Inspiration Meets Action. I'm delighted to report that the number of attendees grew from six to nine. We had 5 returning and 4 new members. I was most excited by that.

Conversation can lead to peak flow experience
Conversation can lead to peak flow experience

To Explain or not to Explain

Since I had just over 50% returning participants, I chose not to go into any detail about Appreciative Inquiry which is the process I use in designing and facilitating the meetings. That I realized was a mistake. People were most interested to learn about Appreciative Inquiry, not only do it! So I found myself beginning to drop into teaching mode more that facilitation mode.

My original intention for this Meetup is to provide the experience of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) more than teach the methodology. Why? Because AI is such an outstanding framework for generating deep conversations. My desire is that through the structured experience I design with AI, the attendees will be enlivened by the conversation and develop a capacity to do it themselves.

Below is the interview I designed. Please try it in your own group. If you do, I'd be so appreciative if you'd share your experience with us by leaving a comment below.

Joy from sharing stories of peak experiences
Joy from sharing stories of peak experiences

Discovering Peak Flow Experience

1. Think back to a time when you had a peak or optimal experience when you felt this sense of flow, when you were at one with the experience and there were no boundaries between you and the activity. You felt truly energized and satisfied by what you had done. What’s your story of such an experience?

  • What was happening?
  • Who was involved?
  • How did you participate?
  • In what ways did you experience that sense of oneness with the activity and it was satisfying?

2. In your story, what was it about you and your effort that made it a peak experience?

  • Without being humble, what did you value about yourself in that story?
  • If others were involved, what did you value about them?
  • What were other contributing factors that may have helped keep you stay engaged and in that flow state?

Expanding Conversations

  1. Interviewers introduce their interview partners and share highlights of their partners’ stories of “peak experience.”
  2. As you listen respectfully, focus on the common themes that come up across the stories.
  3. What factors come across as key to experiencing that flow state – factors that seem to bring it on? Is it level of skills, your will, the challenge, support you felt, your belief, conditions that allowed it, opportunities that emerged? Get as clear as you can about the factors that bring out your best.

Reflection and Debrief

  1. Reflecting on what it takes to feel in that flow state, when you are doing your best work, or having an optimal experience, what will help you get there more easily? Do you need greater or less challenge; fewer or more learning opportunities; increased or decreased autonomy?
  2. If you had three wishes to bring on more peak flow experiences, what would they be?