“Use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.” –Martin Seligman


In the first game of the 1992 NBA finals, the Chicago Bulls were playing the Portland Trailblazers and Michael Jordan had just sunk his sixth consecutive three-pointer. In that moment, Jordan looked over at announcer Magic Johnson and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I have no idea what’s happening, it’s just happening.” Spectators would describe Jordan’s performance as “mindless, effortless and otherworldly,” while other athletes would describe him as being “in the zone.”

Psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman have dedicated much of their lives researching “flow” and often reference today’s athletes use of the term “the zone” as meaning the same thing. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi identifies flow as a “self-surpassing dimension of human experience that’s characteristics include deep concentration, highly efficient performance, emotional buoyancy, a heightened sense of mastery, a lack of self-consciousness, and self-transcendence.” What’s interesting, is that both Csikszentmihalyi and Seligman’s theories suggest that flow is an experience that is available to everyone from all walks of life, not just for super human athletes. And what’s equally as important is that the psychologists believe that flow goes beyond inherit ability and can be taught and learned as a skill set.


In his article for pursuit-of-happiness.org, Seligman describes his formula for getting in flow as:

  • having a sense of satisfaction and well-being with the past, hope and optimism for the future, and happiness in the present
  • discovering our signature virtues and strengths
  • employing our unique strengths for a purpose greater than ourselves


In the pbs.org article The Emotional Life, the elements of being in flow are describes as follows:

  • Clear goals every step of the way—you know exactly what to do next
  • Immediate feedback—when you’re in flow, you can tell how well you’re doing
  • Balance between challenge and skill—the task is not so easy that you get bored, but you have enough mastery to be engaged and successful
  • Action and awareness merge—you’re concentrating completely on what you’re doing
  • Distractions fade away—you’re so absorbed in the activity that you’re not aware of other things
  • There is no worry of failure—you’re too involved to worry about failing; you know what to do and just do it
  • Self-consciousness disappears—you’re not thinking about yourself or protecting your ego because you’re too wrapped up in the task at hand
  • Time flies—you may look up after being in a state of flow surprised at how much time has gone by
  • The activity is meaningful for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end

Seligman is very convincing in his pursuit-of-happiness.org article when he asks his readers to “use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.” It’s a challenge for each of us to live a life of meaning and contribution, a life that matters. And flow is both the means and ends to such a life.



Mark Fernandes

Mark Fernandes

Having a passion for inspiring people to believe in themselves and become everything they are capable of becoming, Mark works with individuals and organizations to inspire transformation. @MarkSFernandes

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