You probably know the feeling of being “in the zone,” whether it be the result of working out, drawing, writing, playing sports, or even problem-solving. Though hours may fly by, it feels like a mere few minutes due to your undivided concentration. This state of complete immersion in the task in front of you is actually called “flow,” and it can serve as a powerful tool in maintaining your mental wellbeing.

Experiencing flow can greatly reduce stress, increase happiness, boost creativity, improve performance, and overall help in the regulation of emotions. So it’s no wonder why people often unconsciously chase the feeling, in order to maximize its potential.

Listen to “Flow: the Experience Sampling Method – Feelings Matter Episode 6” on Spreaker.

Recognizing flow is fairly simple, if you can identify the three main characteristics. The first quality, as mentioned before, is losing track of time. The second is intrinsic motivation – in other words, is the task something you want to do, or is it something that someone else told you to do? Lastly, a high level of focus is the final indicator of flow. When these characteristics align, it is almost certainly a signal that you are experiencing flow.

Activities that can put you in a state of Flow

  • Art – drawing, painting, writing, even coloring

  • Sports – running, swimming, cycling

  • Dancing was Michelle’s favorite way to experience flow

  • Creativity – workshops and design thinking can help work groups experience flow

The origin of Experience Sampling Method – inspired by technological developments

In the early 1970’s, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was inspired by the new technology of pagers used by dispatchers to stay connected with their on-demand workers like physicians and police. He realized that pagers could be used by study participants to prompt a self-report of a person’s experience in the moment – allowing him to study the mind state of flow by gathering both the context and content of a moment in life. This opened doors for researchers to begin mapping the complexity of what people do and how they feel about it from the perspective of how those thoughts and feelings shift from moment to moment in relationship to their current activity. This is known as the study of psychological phenomena (Hektner et al., 2007).


A great idea with unacknowledged problems

The original challenge with this method of data collection is that the study itself becomes a contextual point in the participants’ life as they form thoughts and feelings around the idea of being randomly prompted for a self-report throughout their normal day. Overall, literature shows that researchers have been reluctant to consider repeated interruptions on their participants as a confounding variable and in some cases blatantly under-report the attrition levels in their studies. These studies highlight the need for a modern, consistent method for delivering prompts and a faster, more enjoyable way for participants to respond.

  • “The incessantly beeping watch” loses 7.6% of participants

  • “Buried in the inbox” loses 55% of potential data

  • “The nagging approach” loses 38% of participants

Smartphone technology has provided the solution to many of those problems. MindfulAppy utilizes a version of the Experience Sampling Method in a streamlined way by having users convey their feelings with emojis. Combining emotional communication via emojis could improve machine learning, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. The emojis also provide better context and understanding of emotional affect that the traditional survey forms cannot provide. Rather than reporting on a limited set of basic emotions, the emojis people already use on their smartphones provide insight into intensity of emotion in the moment as well as mood.

Mindful Appy is built to simplify the data collection process and ultimately gauge your Net Emotional Index (NEI).

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Hektner, J., Schmidt, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2007). Experience Sampling Method. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Liu, W., Song, Z., Li, X., & Liao, Z. (2017). Why and When Leaders’ Affective States Influence Employee Upward Voice. Academy of Management Journal, 60(1), 238–263.

Trougakos, J. P., Beal, D. J., Cheng, B. H., Hideg, I., & Zweig, D. (2015). Too drained to help: A resource depletion perspective on daily interpersonal citizenship behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(1), 227–236.

Zautra, A. J., Berkhof, J., & Nicolson, N. A. (2002). Changes in affect interrelations as a function of stressful events. Cognition and Emotion, 16(2), 309–318.

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash