Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (the researcher who coined the term "flow") originally set out to study exemplary people because he wanted to understand what constitutes those "peak experiences" often described by champion athletes, recognized artists. However, what he discovered was a state not just where psychic entropy is absent (he calls this state "negentrophy") but where optimal experiences happen.
What Csikszentmihaly uncovered was that the state of flow differs greatly from all other states of consciousness
- such as psychic entropy, where information conflicts with our existing intentions or prevents us from carrying them out. In the state of flow, the entirety of our attention is devoted to the task at hand.
The example that Csikszentmihalyi gives is the difference between being distracted at work by the flat tire you will have to deal with on your way home, and being completely immersed in what you are doing. Csikszentmihalyi describes this type of experience as "the order of consciousness", where all of the information that comes into awareness is congruent with our goals.
In this state, psychic energy flows in the direction of our intentions. That is to say, we operate without distraction, worry, self-doubt, or questioning ourselves (Csiksentmihalyi, 2005).
According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow experiences result when the challenge in front of us perfectly matches our skills.
Describing what he calls a "flow channel", when our skills exceed the task we face, the result is boredom, and on the other hand, when the task is too challenging, we experience anxiety. To have flow, then, challenges must fall into the "channel" just enough to challenge us, but not too much to overwhelm us.