Less Ebb More Flow: Creating an Optimal College Experience

Since beginning the Certification in Applied Positive Psychology program through The Flourishing Center I have made huge strides in both personal and professional growth. The program follows Martin Seligman’s theoretical model of happiness and flourishing; the PERMA-V model.


During our class on Engagement I was excited to learn more about Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s work on Flow. Wikipedia defines Flow as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, Flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does”.

I highly recommend viewing Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s Ted Talk Flow, The Secret to Happiness: 

As an artist, I go into a state of flow almost as soon as I pick up a paint brush, but I wondered when and if I had ever reached a state of flow as a higher education professional. I reflected on that thought and decided to present on methods of creating flow in the workplace, specifically for higher education professionals like academic advisors.

I presented “Less Ebb More Flow: Creating an Optimal College Experience” at the 20th Annual Advising Conference at the University of Texas at Arlington on February 21, 2017.

Here is the abstract:

Studies have shown that student success depends heavily on their experiences with the campus community. Academic advisors, student affairs staff and faculty encourage students to emerge themselves in a full college experience including student organizations, study abroad, study groups and more, but is that enough?

In this session, attendees will learn about Mihaly Csikszentmihályi’s mental state of flow. We will discuss questions of personal contributions to the college experience and student exposure to campus community members with optimal experiences in their professions. Do students witness academic advisors “in their zone” or faculty in complete absorption of creativity and innovation? Furthermore, we will discuss what is possible when individuals and teams are working with less ebb and more flow in the workplace.

Attendees will have an opportunity to experience flow during a fun, user experience involving art-making. Supplies are limited.

I focused on the 3 conditions that Csikszentmihályi contributes to the achievement of flow in the workplace:

  1. GOALS are clear
  2. FEEDBACK is immediate
  3. BALANCE between opportunity and capacity

Instead of handouts with PowerPoint slides, everyone received a small coloring book that I made with the key terms.


I also discussed the importance of PLAY. In a workplace setting, team members should have time to engage in serious play; this includes team building exercises, role playing, and more.  These types of experiences provide opportunities for creativity and curiosity with low-risk results.

Conference attendees in my session where given an opportunity to experience a state of flow and make some art (on a small scale).

The conditions:

  1. GOAL: Create a work of art that would encourage a student within 20 minutes.
  2. BALANCE: Participants were told to consider the level of challenge and their capacity. No detailed instruction was given on imagery or text to include. Participants could choose their materials; they could choose from a 2″x 2″ canvas, a 4″x 6″ sheet of watercolor paper or a 1.5″ wooden disc. Markers, watercolors and crayons were available.
  3. FEEDBACK: We all gathered at the end to talk to each other about the works and provide constructive criticism. This led to talks of their future endeavors.
  4. I also turned on some calm instrumental music: Vitamin String Quartet


Once the 20 minutes concluded, I talked about ways that higher education professionals could use these types of experiences to enter states of flow at work and with their teams.

In regards to the experience of college students, I discussed how important it is for students to not only be engaged on campus with student organizations and their peers but to see faculty and staff in the zone (in flow) at work. This helps students see the dedication and passion that higher education professionals have for their work. Plus, they are witness to optimal experiences in the workplace -it can and does happen!  I asked that participants reflect on the information given and decide to take action to make changes, if necessary, to create time for states of flow at work.

I plan to develop this presentation into a longer workshop.

I have made the Prezi available to the public at Less Ebb More Flow. Please check it out, leave feedback and feel free to share the information.

For more positive psychology methods and messages follow me on Twitter: @AdvisorSoyla




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