Nonlinear Dynamics of Flow at Work and Leisure Activities
Lucia Ceja Barba
University of Barcelona
Last modified: August 5, 2007
Building on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi´s (1990) flow theory and the nonlinear complex systems theory this study aims at looking to the experience of flow from a nonlinear dynamics approach. As defined by its creator the term flow refers to “a particular kind of experience that is so engrossing and enjoyable, that is worth doing for its own sake even though it has no consequences outside itself” (Csikszentmihalyi, 199, p. 824). Csikszentmihalyi (1982) stresses that if flow is absent from a person s life, there would be little purpose for living. It strongly influences an individual subjective well-being and increases a person’s happiness, positive affect and life satisfaction. In light of the dynamic history of motivation and the temporal nature of the flow experience, it would follow that flow experiences tend to fluctuate over time in a dynamical fashion, thus the potential for chaos is strong. This hypothesis proceeds from the core elements of the nonlinear complex systems theory. In this line the present study intends to contribute to the positive psychology movement by taking the study of flow one step further conceiving it as a dynamical process, paying especial consideration to its dynamical characteristics. The sample was composed by 19 full time/part time employees from different organizations and work backgrounds. The sample showed heterogeneity in terms of gender, age, occupation, location and organizational background. The Experience Sampling Method (ESM) was used for data collection, each participant was given an electronic agenda and was randomly signaled 6 times per day, asking about the activity they were performing at the moment being signaled, the level of skills/challenges related to the activity, level of interest in the activity, enjoyment and absorption in the activity, over a period of 21 days. Results showed that in 78% of the cases, flow presented a chaotic dynamic, more specifically; flow experiences delineate a complex dynamic whose patterns of change are not easily predictable. These findings give rise to important issues regarding the current research on flow and the need to incorporate time as a core factor to describe the dynamical nature of flow. Limitations of the study and future research are discussed.
Key words: Flow, nonlinear dynamics, work, leisure activities, experience sampling method.