You know that feeling you get when you’re so absorbed in an activity that after a few hours have passed, it feels like only minutes? It’s what we call being in a “state of flow” or what athletes refer to as “being in the zone.”
That’s true for any area of life–writing an article, reading a bestseller, developing a program, cooking a meal or studying for an exam–it’s those instances where nothing distracts from our total focus on that particular activity.
What if we could bring this state of flow into the classrooms where our children enjoy both peak experience and peak performance?
In other words, what if we, as teachers and parents, could get our children to experience pleasure, satisfaction, enjoyment and perform at their very best so they can learn better, develop faster, improve quicker and move toward their purpose?
Well, you can, but only if you eliminate two things from your children’s learning and life experiences: boredom and anxiety.
What Science Says
According to research by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, when our children are placed in an educational setting where the difficulty of a school assignment is high and their skill level is low, they will experience anxiety, which limits that state of flow. On the flip side, if a child’s skill level is high and the school work or task is low, that child will experience boredom, also severely hampering flow.
The magic happens when the difficulty of school work and a child’s skill level match up. Lessons, activities, and homework should, as often as possible, be designed to meet the skill level of each individual student. And this can only happen when neither boredom or anxiety is part of the experience. Easier said than done, but now you’ll find that they’ll be in the zone, experiencing flow for the first time.
First Order of Priority: Get Rid of Anxiety
According to Csikszentmihalyi’s research, educators and parents alike need to be intentional about avoiding creating a stressful or high-pressured environment for their kids. This is the sure path down anxiety lane.
If educators and parents are pushing a child too hard beyond her capacity to stretch, she will associate schoolwork with the pain and anxiety she is experiencing, which will lead to unhappiness over time.
Rather than experiencing the joy and satisfaction that comes with a positive state of flow, this child learns to obsess over the outcome or destination, rather than enjoying the learning process or journey.
As the child grows up in this state of anxiety, she quickly adapts to the rat race, finding it difficult to experience a state of flow throughout her life.
Second Order of Priority: Get Rid of Boredom
The research states that when children are placed in a learning environment devoid of some adversity and challenge, they’ll become bored, which will disengage them from experiencing flow.
The repercussions of too little struggles and uphill battles are no less harmful than too much struggle that leads to anxiety. Here, teachers, especially parents, mistake struggle or adversity with pain, and will try to protect their kids from perceived pain by rescuing them from the challenges of life.
By growing up in privileged and affluent homes, children are denied the chance to struggle, overexert themselves, and overcome challenges on their own–a grand opportunity for experiencing flow lost.
For me, I’m sold. Children learn and experience things differently according to their natural bent. What better way to support them getting to their state of flow than creating this type of environment–both in school and at home?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.