Ask anyone who’s played an escape room about their perception of time and you’ll often hear that IT FLEW BY. People often forget about their basic human needs like eating, drinking, even using the restroom for upwards of 2 hours. It’s a whirlwind of an experience! What’s going on mentally that makes us so hyper-focused and driven?
Turns out that players usually tap into a mental state called FLOW, a positive psychology state name by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975. No, it’s not just a new-age term to describe your yoga practice. It’s a psychological state in which a person is completely absorbed in an activity for their own pleasure or enjoyment. Time flies and actions, thoughts, and movements follow one another. A balance is struck between the challenges of the task or activity and our skills for solving them. Research has repeatedly shown that individuals are more like to declare higher job satisfaction after experiencing flow at work.
The study of flow started in the early 1900s, when researchers documented how the brain alters consciousness to improve performance. During the 80s and 90s, Mihaly led the research on flow and vouched for it as a way to improve performance and affective experiences in schools and businesses. He became fascinated by artists who got “lost” in their work to the point of ignoring needs such as food, water and sleep.
Flow has even been researched in the brain. Researchers have found that during flow, the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for self-reflective consciousness, working memory and integration of temporal information, shows decreased activity. This results in distortion of time, loss of self-consciousness, and loss of an inner critic. It also allows more brain areas to communicate freely, increasing the capacity for creativity!
To experience flow, your skills need to match the task at hand. If you’re being asked to derive calculus and that happens to be the class you skipped all semester in college, tough luck finding enjoyment in this task. On the other hand, if the task is too mind numbingly easy and repetitive, like entering data into a computer, you’re likely to find time is passing slower than ever before.
The activity should also be inherently pleasurable. If you have a serious phobia of blood but (for some unbeknownst reason) chose the career of a phlebotomist, it’s unlikely you’ll ever experience flow on the job! Oftentimes, it’s easier to access flow while enjoying leisure activities and hobbies. But once you get a feel for it, you can become more skilled at channeling this mental state in general.
Here are some quick tips to help get you into the flow of things:
- Pick something you enjoy doing
- Make sure it’s something meaningful
- Make sure it’s challenging but not too hard
- Find your quite peak time
- Clear away distractions
- Learn to focus on your task for as long as possible
- Enjoy yourself
- Keep practicing
Escape rooms are an ideal place to access flow, for multiple reasons! The goals are well-defined, and the rooms are full of finite puzzles that signal their completion once solved. This offers positive reinforcement throughout the path to escape. Additionally, the puzzles require different skill sets, so there are many opportunities for members to find a challenge that is an optimal match for their skills.
Tldr; Flow is an ideal state of mind where time flies by, you’re hyper-focused and you’re being intellectually challenged at a level that matches your skill set. Escape rooms offer plenty of opportunities for flow to occur, and research has shown that employees who experience flow report higher job satisfaction. So what are you waiting for? Book a team offsite at Reason and channel your flow!