TIME

The science of ultimate human performance has a bad name–literally. “Flow” is the term used by researchers for optimal states of consciousness, those peak moments of total absorption where self vanishes, time flies, and all aspects of performance go through the roof.

Unfortunately, even though research in this area holds considerable promise, unless you’re studying toilet bowl dynamics or lubrication theory, “flow” doesn’t sound like a sober scientific topic. And who hasn’t used the term colloquially, thinking that “going with the flow” was more hippie holdover than a technical description of actual experience.

Yet, it was University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who selected this term, and he did so for a reason. In the 1970s, Csikszentmihalyi embarked upon what would soon become one of the largest psychological surveys ever, running around the world asking people about the times in their life when they felt their best and performed their…

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