Have you ever participated in a leisure activity such as snowboarding, playing the guitar, or meditating, where you lost all sense of time; your ability and the challenge were perfectly matched; you became totally unaware of your surroundings; or you just seemed to get into the rhythm of things, on the ball, in the zone, or in the groove? This is called the flow theory. The nine factors of flow are these:
1. The challenge level and skill level are matched.
2. A high degree of concentration is present.
3. Self-consciousness is lost.
4. Sense of time is distorted.
5. Successes and failures are apparent.
6. Clear and obtainable goals are present.
7. The person has a sense of personal control.
8. The experience is intrinsically rewarding.
9. The person becomes absorbed in the activity.
Not all of these factors are needed for flow to be experienced. When an expert skier skis on a bunny hill she is likely to be bored; when a beginner is on a black diamond hill, she is likely to feel anxiety. The optimal situation for flow is when the person is in the middle, matching her skill level with the challenge. The borrowing and merging of psychological theories and leisure are too expansive to discuss in this text; however, you can almost take any major theory of psychology and use the theory to better understand leisure behaviors.
The psychological perspective of leisure shows us that leisure is a time for building purpose in our lives, is individually determined, and should have beneficial results. Some of the psychological benefits of leisure might include, but are not limited to, increases in self-actualization, self-identity, self-esteem, or self-concept; personal enjoyment and growth; reduction of anxiety and depression; enhanced feelings of spirituality; and improvements in overall psychological well-being. Additionally, it is well documented that as a result of leisure engagement, people make significant gains in informational knowledge, visual learning, problem solving, creativity, and recognition memory. Interestingly, much of the research to support these statements comes not only from human trials but also from psychological studies on animals.