By Maren Johnson
Hopefully at some point in your Sewanee career, you will feel Flow as study. This mental state is where one feels completely focused on one thing, there are no outside distractions, and usually during that state there is a complete loss of sense of time. Attention is limited to one process, during which action and awareness merge. For many, the reward of Flow is the experience. After having this experience, one feels elated, accomplished, or content. This presentation, “Flow: Finding Optimal Experience in Daily Life” was given by Dr. John Coffey, professor of Psychology here at Sewanee since 2005. His research provides some hope for the overwhelmed college student, who may feel like studying is just a chore.
To experience Flow, certain conditions must be met. One of the most difficult ones to meet for the average American student is the balance between challenge and skill. “The influence of the American psyche on how students experience Flow was the most interesting part of the presentation to me,” said Lauren Crider (C’17). A product of American culture, many Americans prefer to feel ‘safe’ when they are completing a task, rather than doing something harder and risking failure. This is a different mentality than students have in many other countries. Coffey mentioned a study done that compared American and Italian students, and the Italian students reported to have many more Flow experiences than American students. Coffey emphasized the need for a shift to the idea of “losing pretty” which looks at a failure not from the perspective of what was lost, but what was gained along the way. It seems that American students could get a lot more out of their educations if they changed their mentalities.
Unfortunately, there are many barriers to experiencing Flow in everyday life, especially in the life of a college student. Emotions, lack of time and planning, pressure, exhaustion, and other responsibilities can severely limit a person’s ability to fully engage. Interestingly, another theme that came up, as it has in many other Wellness Colloquium events this semester, is how much of an impediment technology is to having ultimately positive experiences. Students are constantly attached to their phones and computers in an effort to stay on top of the communications expected of them, and this attachment proves detrimental to getting the most out of an experience. Coffey’s presentation stressed the importance of vital engagement throughout daily life. Having these Flow experiences will ultimately add much more meaning to life overall. For some students, it is already affecting how students think about their work. As Crider said, “I will be much more aware of how I can maximize my time, even when I can’t find the time to channel my attentions to get a Flow experience.”