Take a moment right now to remember how you saw the world when you were a child.

Remember the curiosity. Remember how everything in life was a mystery that you couldn’t wait to uncover.

Remember wanting to know. To learn.

Do you still experience that intense curiosity in your current day-to-day life? If so, you’re one of the lucky ones.

For many people, however, anxiety and concerns about succeeding keep them from experiencing joy when learning. Moreover, if the task at hand is too difficult, it may make some people feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, if a task is too simple, it can quickly become boring.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont University, well-known for his work on happiness and creativity, has coined the enjoyment of learning the “flow experience”[1].

Five characteristics of this flow experience were found: focusing on the task, matching tasks to one’s current ability (i.e., the task is not too difficult or simple), being in a calm state, lessening one’s fears of failure, and feeling in control [2].

As a student, keeping in mind that the enjoyment of learning has these five characteristics can enhance your study experience.

Indeed, focusing on the task at hand can be improved by removing distractions in your surroundings. So, try putting away your cell phones and social media apps when studying.

You will also be able to focus better if you match your level of ability with the task you are attempting to complete. If a task is too difficult, it may help to break it down into several steps that are at the right level for you. Likewise, if the task is too easy for you, it may help to increase the level of difficulty (i.e., by completing the task in a shorter time span or by approaching the task with greater depth).

Furthermore, a positive attitude can go a long way. Believe that it is possible for you to complete the task successfully. Understandably, students may be concerned with the final outcome (e.g., grades), but focusing too much on whether or not you will succeed can lead to disengagement with the task, negatively affecting your performance [3]. When you are studying, it may help to have an extra piece of paper with you where you can express everyday concerns that may be unassociated with your task. Writing it down will provide you with an outlet that may help to alleviate the anxiety, enabling you to better focus on your studying.

Following these five “flow” characteristics can renew your love of learning. In fact, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research, people who reported being in this state also said that this immersion in the activity made them forget about themselves. They were not an individual “doing” something, they were an individual “interacting” with something. A writer doesn’t write, he or she interacts with the story and the characters within the process of writing.

Likewise, a student who studies doesn’t study and read passively, he or she interacts with the material he or she is reading by asking questions, recalling related personal experiences, and considering exceptions. Therefore, in order to improve the learning experience, you can think of the material as something to interact with and look for ways to make the material as pertinent to yourself as possible.

Interacting with the material (e.g., asking questions, finding take-away messages that are relevant to your life) is the key to keeping you engaged in the learning process.

As a student, you will need to spend a lot of time learning and it may be useful to take a step back and think of ways in which you can maximize your learning experiences.


By: Ioana Arbone
Edited by: Alisia Bonnick
Image by: Marian Sia



[1] Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Literacy and Intrinsic Motivation. Daedalus, 115-140.

[2] Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology: the Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Claremont, CA, USA: Springer.

[3] Krane, V., & Williams, J. M. (2006). Psychological characteristics of peak performance. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance, 207-227. New York: McGraw-Hill.