Flow and Reading

There are many ways to approach reading, and it all depends on the text itself and why we are reading it in the first place. The Hungarian American professor of psychology Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the originator of the concept of flow and the theory behind it. In Denmark, psychologist and PhD Frans Ørsted Andersen has further developed flow research.

What is flow?

Flow is a positive, concentrated mental state where all attention is focussed on one specific activity. This activity is so engaging that the sense of time and self is altered. It brings with it a sense of mastery and well-being and typically leads to intrinsic motivation.

What do flow and reading have to do with each other?

Flow has many shared characteristics with deep reading – a state characterised by focus, concentration, engagement, calmness and immersion. Flow in reading occurs in situations where the text captures us completely and we forget everything around us – we are completely absorbed in the universe of the text.

To reach a state of flow there needs to be a clear balance between competence and challenge. You need to be in the range where you are challenged just enough to be in flow. In the context of reading, this means that the text you are reading is appropriate for your level, that the topic interests you, and that the context and environment you are in invites you to engage in the reading activity.

What are the benefits of flow mode/deep reading?

Flow offers a number of benefits that particularly address some of the issues we see in relation to children and young people’s mental wellbeing. Research shows that flow:

  • Counteracts stress and anxiety
  • Benefits learning and development
  • Promotes innovation and creativity
  • Is physiologically healthy
  • Strengthens the self and increases mental resilience

What is defined as being in (reading) flow?

  • When the individual feels that they have successfully mastered the challenge (of reading) by concentrating deeply
  • When the sense of time and self-awareness changes as a result of reading
  • When reading “fills everything” – there is nothing else but the reading that grasps hold of your attention

Flow reading is beneficial for the student’s mental, physical and professional development. It makes sense then to work and focus on creating a framework that allows students to get into a flow state when reading.

Happy reading!

Hanssen, N. & Andersen, F. Ø. ‘FLOW in everyday life’ (2013). Danish Psychological Publishing House