If you played a sport, or played an instrument, or  created art while you were growing up, think back about your own experience “in the zone.” If you have ever done yoga, you were likely in the zone during class.

Professor Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi (pronounced `Me-hi Chicksent-me-hiee’) introduced the concept of flow (in the zone) in the 70s and wrote many books on the subject including a book titled: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Dr. Czikszentmihalyi sought to explain what makes some experiences enjoyable and others not and what makes some people enjoy activities and others not.

He defined “flow” as: “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost for the sheer sake of doing it.”  Czikszentmihalyi interviewed more than 100,000 people over many years and came up with several key states or elements that enable people to experience “flow.” Those elements include:

  1. Clear goals with immediate feedback
  2. Balance between challenges and skills-If it is too easy it is boring. If it is too difficult it is frustrating.
  3. Action and awareness merge-When there is a balance between the challenges of the activity and our skills, we must focus on the activity.
  4. Concentration on task without being distracted-This is closely aligned with the merging of action and awareness.
  5. Sense of control
  6. Loss of self consciousness-focus is on the activity not on anyone’s evaluation of your performance.
  7. Altered sense of time-In large part because doing the activity is so enjoyable people lose track of time.
  8. Autotelic experience-auto (self), telic (goal). Motivation is from the self rather than from external sources administered as rewards and punishment.

Dr. Czikszentmihalyi later subdivided these elements into characteristics of flow and conditions of flow. Characteristics of flow refer to what people feel at the time and conditions of flow refer to what the environment must be like to be conducive to flow.

Looking at the list above, the characteristics of flow would include merging of action and awareness, concentration on the task, sense of control, loss of self consciousness, and altered sense of time. The conditions of flow include clear goals with immediate feedback and a balance between challenges and skills.

Are you in the zone when you are practicing law? If not, what could you do to get “in the zone.”