The Grandfather of ‘Immersion’ – Being in a State of Flow

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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When last did you experience something you were so involved with, that nothing else seemed to matter?

I was saddened to discover that Mihaly “Mike” Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist known for his work on ‘flow’ passed away on 20th October 2021, in Claremont, California. He was 87 years old.

A pioneer of psychology…

As a teacher, I discovered his work around 10 years ago, largely as a result of blogging on this site, being immersed – in the true definition of ‘flow’ – in countless education theories and ideas from conversations with my professional learning network.

I have written about Csikszentmihalyi before, discussed his theories in my book publications and spent many times watching some of his amazing talks online (see below from 2008). I also take great pride in the fact that I can now pronounce his name! E.g. Cheek-Sent-Me-High)

Watch Csikszentmihalyi discuss ‘flow’…

Csikszentmihalyi discusses ‘flow’ in detail around 19 minutes.


In a state of immersion…

There’s a great article on the University of Chicago website, honouring this pioneer of psychology.

“In Csikszentmihalyi’s exploration into the concepts and causes of optimal and positive experiences, he became intrigued by artists who would get lost in their work—so immersed that they would disregard basic animal cues for food, water, and sleep. Several of his interview subjects described their experiences through the metaphor of a water current carrying them along. Thus, the term and positive psychological concept of a “flow state” was born.”

What happens in the classroom?

In essence, his research and theory suggest that when ‘flow’ takes place, 5 things happen:

  1. Pupils are intensely focused on an activity
  2. The teacher designs the activity but offers pupils a choice, that is
  3. Neither under challenging (boreout) nor over-challenging (burnout), that has
  4. A clear objective that is linked to clear success criteria, and receives
  5. Immediate feedback.

His research unpicks immersion: when we are at our most creative, productive or happiest, we are in a state of flow (immersion) – a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

Thanks to Csikszentmihalyi’s research, I’ve become more aware of what ‘flow’ looks like in the classroom, how to ensure I keep students in this optimum zone and the things I can do to support or hinder this state of being…

Main image credit: TED Talks

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