Activities that allow you to access a ‘flow state’ make time pass more quickly and pleasantly, new research finds.
A flow state is the experience of being fully engaged with what you’re currently doing.
Psychologists found that playing a computer game that put people in a flow state also reduced their stress, while they waited for uncertain news.
They felt more positive emotions, less negative emotions and were less likely to be bored when the game was just hard enough for them.
Many other activities can provide flow states — in fact anything that engages the attention, stretches your skills a little and that you are doing for its own sake.
Professor Kate Sweeny, study co-author, said:
“Flow — if it can be achieved — incurs benefits.
And video games are perfect for flow as long as it’s a game that meets and slightly pushes the skill level of the player.
Flow requires a delicate balance.
Flow is most readily achieved with activities that challenge the person somewhat, but not too much; have clear, achievable goals; and that provide the person with feedback about how they’re doing along the way.”
For the study, 290 participants had their photo taken and were told they had to wait while it was being evaluated for attractiveness.
Naturally, this made them nervous.
In the meantime, they played a distracting computer game called Tetris.
Some played at an easy level, some at a hard level, while for some the game adapted to them.
The results showed that people got through the waiting period in the best mood when the game adapted to their level.
Because the game adapted, it put them into a flow state.
Professor Sweeny said:
“The Tetris study is key because it experimentally manipulates flow and shows effects of that manipulation, which provides convincing evidence that flow actually causes well-being during waiting periods, not that it just happens to coincide with well-being.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Emotion (Rankin et al., 2018).